With less than two months before another NBA season begins, all eyes of fans and sports commentators are focused on one French 19-year-old rookie, Victor Wembanyama.

The Frenchman arrives in the United States as the number one pick in the 2023 draft and heads to the San Antonio Spurs as the most hyped NBA prospect since LeBron James.

Wembanyama stands at 7 feet 4 inches and possesses an elite skillset that allows him to be a weapon on both offense and defense. He joins the NBA after breaking many records in France and winning several personal accolades.

Wembanyama, who goes by “Wemby”, has already made a huge impact on social media, having surpassed 2 million followers on Instagram to become the most followed Spurs player on the platform.

The popularity of Wemby is expected to have a massive effect on the franchise commercially, with the five-time NBA champions predicted to make millions more from ticket revenues as fans flock to the Frost Bank Center to watch the Frenchman perform.

Overall, the team could earn up to an additional $80 million annually over the coming years, which would be roughly the same figure as when James moved back from Miami to Cleveland.

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Having a player with the talents of Wemby and the dominance that he could bring to San Antonio is set to increase the value of the franchise. In October 2022, Forbes valued the Spurs at $2 billion which made them the 20th most valuable NBA franchise at that time.  

It comes as no surprise that globally recognized brands have already been eager to secure commercial partnerships with Wembanyama. The Frenchman currently has deals with NIKE, Barcode, Fanatics, and 2K Games.

His deal with Barcode is estimated to be worth $500,000 annually and has made Wembanyama the new face of the plant-based sports energy drink, a company that was co-founded by fellow NBA player Kyle Kuzma.

Wembanyama’s agreement with Fanatics is a memorabilia and trading card partnership that GlobalData estimates is worth $5 million per year. His deal with 2K Games, a leading US video game publisher, is valued at $3 million a year.

The new star NBA, before even stepping out onto the court to participate in his first competitive game in the league, has supposedly agreed a deal worth $100 million with Nike which is expected to eclipse the deal that James signed with the brand 20 years ago. The partnership will be the biggest contract ever handed to an NBA player who has yet to play in a regular season game.

Despite being hugely in demand from brands across the globe, Wembanyama has allegedly made the decision to turn down various endorsement deals to put all his efforts into having the best rookie season on record and take the NBA by storm with his performances on the court rather than developing his own personal brand.

Without playing a game, the number one draft pick is clearly one of the most in-demand players in the NBA commercially in 2023. There is an expectation that Wembanyama has the potential to hit the levels that James has reached not only on the court but off it.

Former sports marketing executive, Sonny Vaccaro believes Wembanyama’s exceptional ability could draw “historic” riches across the length of what will be a fascinating career.

James’ success across his 20-year NBA career has allowed him to generate huge amounts of sponsorship earnings, as one of the most commercially attractive athletes in the history of sport.

GlobalData reports that his total income from endorsement deals is roughly $901 million from 72 individual deals. Some of his most lucrative deals have been with brands willing to agree major multi-million partnerships.

Nike, Crypto.com, PepsiCo, Chase Bank, and AT&T have all managed to partner with the Los Angeles Lakers star. At present, the 38-year-old has 12 active deals in place which are believed to be worth a combined $71.53 million annually.

Another NBA star who has experienced huge demand from global brands is Kevin Durant of the Phoenix Suns. The 15-year NBA veteran has secured 67 deals thus far across his illustrious career, with a combined value of $767 million. The Suns star is currently in partnership with three brands – Nike, BBVA, and Dapper Labs.

Like Victor and LeBron, Durant also has in place a lucrative lifetime shoe and apparel deal with Nike. This deal is estimated by GlobalData to be worth $30 million annually. As part of the agreement, both parties will also focus on community and philanthropic collaborations.

Clearly, there is an expectation that Wembanyama, a player who many believe is a Hall-of-Fame lock, will end up earning sponsorship revenues that eclipse any athlete who has ever competed in the NBA.

Wembanyama opens many doors to becoming one of the most sought-after European athletes of all time. Some of the biggest brands closely associated with many globally renowned athletes, such as Nike, will be excited by the prospect of working with Wembanyama over a long-term period which will include showcasing the Frenchman in advertising campaigns across European cities, especially Paris.

Nike will already have created plans to use Wembanyama to further establish its dominance of the sports apparel sector, competing against rival brands such as adidas and Puma.

While there is no doubting the marketability of Wembanyama, he is under the type of pressure that has not been placed on a player since James. If Wembanyama reaches the heights of his playing potential, he could well become one of the highest-paid athletes in world sport.

However, if he fails to blossom in the NBA and is seen as a ‘bust’, brands will move on to different NBA players who shine in the league, highlighting how competitive it is for athletes to secure multi-million dollar sponsorship deals in the long term.

Image: Mike Lawrie/Getty Images