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RJ Hampton’s Not In The NBA Yet, But His Brand-Building Skills Are At An All-Star Level

The future 2020 NBA lottery pick, and current Australian NBL player, signed a lucrative shoe deal with Chinese brand, Li-Ning.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Back in May, RJ Hampton, who was ranked as the No. 5 recruit in ESPN’s Top 100 announced on ESPN’s Get Up show that he won’t be going to college. 

Instead, the 6-foot-5 baller joined Australia’s NBL as part of the “Next Stars” program.

RJ’s power move was another example of basketball players empowering themselves, rather than become working slaves under the rigid and often exploitative NCAA policies. He continues to reap the fruits of his power moves by signing a 5-year, multi-million dollar signature shoe, and an apparel endorsement deal with Chinese brand Li-Ning.

The deal is Top 5-draft pick worthy and comes a year earlier than anyone in his class, and without the significant exposure platform of the NCAA. 

Hampton follows in the footsteps of  Lonzo Ball, Zion Williamson and other young stars who carved out a million-dollar bag before ever stepping foot on an NBA court. The 6-foot-5 point guard is currently projected as the No. 6 pick in the 2020 NBA draft according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, but beyond hoops, his business acumen must be applauded.

He freaked a system that usually pigeonholes young African-American athletes with revenue-generating talents from cashing in until after the NCAA and TV outlets exploit them for millions. 

“My No. 1 goal is to play in the NBA,” Hampton said during his NBL announcement in May on ESPN’s Get Up. “I wanted to be an NBA player before I ever wanted to be a college player. This is about getting ready for the next level faster and more efficiently.”

Hampton is the first player to go overseas out of high school and be able to get a bag without academic eligibility issues. He comes from two college-educated parents and had the standardized test scores to go to any school in the country. 

He isn’t however, the first player to skip college for an overseas pro team and flip it into a shoe deal. 

Eleven years ago, Brandon Jennings went from high school ball to in Rome before becoming the No. 10 overall pick in the 2009 draft. Emmanuel Mudiay chose China, later being selected No. 7 overall in the 2015 draft. In 2016, Terrance Ferguson became the first to play in Australia, before going 21st in the 2017 draft.

All three players signed lucrative shoe deals with Under Armour prior to their overseas seasons.

Hampton’s savvy. His thought process as far as branding himself is outside the box and his end game is becoming a global brand. The US market is jam-packed with stars and celebrity faces as it is. 

“Everyone [knows] Nike, Adidas or Under Armour, but I want to be the face of something global that’s bigger than just the US,” Hampton said. “I think with Li-Ning that I can do that.”

Once Hampton decided to go pro in May, his agent, Happy Walters at Catalyst Sports, set up a series of meetings pitching Hampton’s brand to various sneaker companies, including Nike, Adidas, Li-Ning, Puma and Under Armour.

Hampton settled in on Li-Ning, a brand that boasts the signing of Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade in 2012 as well as Shaquille O’Neal and Baron Davis, and more recently partnered with CJ McCollum, Evan Turner and a crop of other players.

“I really like their shoes,” Hampton said told ESPN. “[With] CJ and Dwyane Wade, it’s going to be great.”

According to the news outlet, “The brand boasts more than 6,600 monobranded stores in China and primarily sells it shoes throughout the Asia market since being founded in 1991. Coincidentally, the company’s stateside sports marketing rep, Tony Leng, is based in Dallas, a roughly 45-minute drive from Hampton’s hometown of Little Elm, Texas.”

RJ Hampton hasn’t displayed his incredible talents to the NBA market, but his brand-building is already at an All-star level.

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