The world of high school and collegiate sports can be as much a seedy environment as a spectacle of youthful athletic glory.
However, Merl Code, convicted former executive at Nike, running their grassroots hoops division, and a consultant with Adidas, is releasing a tell-all book, “Black Market: An Insider’s Journey into the High-Stakes World of College Basketball,” which has implications to shake up the college basketball world.
Whew, I see Merl Code has a lot of people sweating and panicking with the anticipated release of his book Black Market. 😄😄😄😄
— Jonathan Watford (@HOOPSScout) March 19, 2021
The Collegiate Code
Code is a former college basketball player who played point guard for Clemson before he turned pro. After going undrafted in the 1997 NBA draft, Code was the final cut in the Denver Nuggets training camp, then played in the CBA and overseas for a few years.
After retiring in 2004, he transitioned to a shoe rep for Nike, utilizing his insider’s knowledge and innate marketing skills to set a new business course.
The corruption at Nike was rampant with Merl Code and increased with his apprentice DeBose after Code left for Adiddas. Those above DeBose knew all about the payments. Nike conspired to route many of the payments through a convicted felon. Nike then lied to the government.
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) March 26, 2019
However, as he built relationships equally with the young athletes and the corporations who wanted their budding marquee value as prospects, influencers began to broaden his understanding of how deals get done.
Web Of Deceit
What he saw was a web of exploitation that preyed on young athletes of color. The racist undertones of corrupt systems in place to “help” these young talented players advance were overt to Code, and he became immersed in that world.
Adidas executives Jim Gatto & Merl Code and player-school-agent matchmaker Christian Dawkins found guilty on all counts in college corruption case. Will guilty verdict change the seedy world of high school & college basketball? Definitively no.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) October 24, 2018
The world of choosing and courting future ambassadors for the most prominent shoe corporations like Nike and Adidas is complex, and everyone plays a position in the system. Code began to slide into the shadowy world of profit-driven college basketball programs as a shoe rep.
The college game’s most prominent coaches’ interests were intertwined with the shoe and apparel companies that had dealt with the school. The NCAA rules put in place to protect its athletes were being bent regularly and with abandon. These amateur athlete rules, which have evolved regarding sponsorship opportunities, were not being observed, but the results were not necessarily to the athletes’ benefit.
Corporate sponsors became the buffers to bypass standard NCAA ordinances. According to Code, he and other employees like him were caught in the middle to their detriment.
With Code releasing his book in March 2022, his story has the potential to shake up the sponsorship and corporate shoe and apparel worlds. Labeled as an “explosive story of college basketball’s dark reality,” Code’s message is coming from someone who knows more than most about this subculture.
The maximum sentences the 1st set of defendants face in the FBI NCAA basketball corruption case are as follows:
Christian Dawkins: 200-years
James "Jim" Gatto: 80-years
Merl Code: 80-years
There are people who have raped and killed and faced lighter sentencing guidelines.
— Alicia Jessop (@RulingSports) October 24, 2018
In March 2019, Code, then an Adidas consultant and basketball organizer, Adidas director of global marketing James Gatto, and client recruiter Christian Dawkins were given prison sentences. The three became targets of an FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball recruiting.
Code was behind the most significant recruiting efforts for future basketball stars; his revelations will showcase how today’s stars came up in the system.
The Never-Ending Story
From Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zion Williamson, and Anthony Davis, Code recruited them for shoe endorsements. However, it was also that access and opportunity that made him “the fall guy for a bribery scandal involving payments to college and high school athletes,” according to his book description.
Code finds it ironic that the game’s most prominent coaches, who he says were also under surveillance and implicated by the FBI, were not charged.
Collegiate sports will always have a corrupting influence when you factor in corporate interests, gambling, or another financial gain.
However, Code’s book is an exposition. As sports become more transparent, so too will its fallouts.