Grant Hill Rejects Nike Offer, Prefers Great Wall Draft Scene

Exploring Grant Hill's pivotal pre-draft endorsement decision.

by Nouman Rasool
Grant Hill Rejects Nike Offer, Prefers Great Wall Draft Scene
© Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In the competitive arena of the NBA and the bustling world of sports endorsements, Grant Hill's decision to diverge from the expected path and partner with Italian brand Fila in 1994, instead of industry giant Nike, remains a notable chapter in sports marketing history.

Hill, a standout star from the 1994 NBA Draft, was highly anticipated to ink a deal with Nike, mirroring the trajectory of many top collegiate athletes of his time. During a candid conversation on the Knuckleheads podcast, Hill disclosed the rationale behind his unexpected move towards Fila, a brand then primarily recognized for its tennis footwear.

This pivot not only marked a significant milestone in Hill's career but also propelled Fila into the basketball spotlight, thanks to Hill's stellar performance and rising popularity.

Hill's Nike Dilemma

Reflecting on his pre-draft experiences, Hill shared, "I was Nike, all the way.

I went to Beaverton and met you know, did the whole thing before the draft." It was during a meeting with Phil Knight, Nike's visionary, that Hill encountered a proposal that would eventually sway his decision. Knight's ambitious plans to expand Nike's presence in the Far East, particularly China, included a proposal for Hill to appear at the Great Wall of China via satellite during the NBA Draft.

This idea, although innovative, did not resonate with Hill's personal aspirations for the draft experience. "I want that moment with Commissioner Stern. I wanna be there," Hill expressed, emphasizing his desire for a traditional draft moment.

Despite his reservations about Nike's proposal, Hill remained open to their offer. However, the negotiation process left him feeling undervalued, a sentiment that persisted until Fila presented an opportunity. With familial ties to Maryland, where Fila's headquarters were located, Hill approached the meeting with Fila with an open mind but without any expectations.

Fila's presentation, initially perceived as a long shot, took a turn when Hill glimpsed the financial figures on offer. "The money? I was like, 'You know I can wear some Fila,'" Hill recalled, signaling a pivotal moment that would lead to a fruitful partnership.

Hill's alliance with Fila not only made him the fourth NBA rookie to boast a signature shoe but also solidified his place in the annals of sports endorsement history. His debut shoe, the GH1, shattered sales records by moving over 1.5 million pairs, outperforming any rookie signature shoe since the iconic Nike Air Jordan 1.

Fila's market share soared, with the GH2 surpassing its predecessor's success and Fila ascending to the second spot in the NBA shoe market by 1997, trailing only behind Nike. The culmination of Hill's relationship with Fila came in 2018, following his induction into the Hall of Fame, when he signed a lifetime deal with the brand, revitalizing his signature 1990s shoe models and cementing his legacy within both the realms of basketball and sports marketing.