Cleveland Cavaliers’ guard J.R. Smith had a slow start to his season. Through his first 10 games he barely reached double-digit scoring and was shooting a mere 27.5 percent from the field and 23.4 percent from three-point land during that stretch. Then he busted out of the slump with 20 points on 7-for-12 shooting (5-of-7 from deep) in a 124-119 Cavaliers’ win over the Milwaukee Bucks. In the Cavaliers' five games after the Milwaukee win, Smith reached double digits scoring four times and shot 46.3 percent from the field and 43.2 percent from the three-point area.

 What was the magic elixir that spawned this abrupt change in Smith’s game?  Was it the extra time during practice running drills? Or a boost of confidence from the coach or a mentor? Or was it because he started wearing the official Nike LeBron James 15 sneaker? Could there be a better endorsement? What 15-year-old playing on a concrete court in Brooklyn, Inglewood or Wichita, isn’t going to pressure his or her parents into ponying up $185 so they can become the next LeBron James or J.R. Smith?

According to Forbes, endorsement deals in the NBA payout at least $7.5 million to the top dozen endorsers and $233 million cumulatively from endorsements, licensing, memorabilia, appearances and media deals. Clothing, soft drinks and headphones are all common in the endorsement arena. However, shoe apparel companies are the driving force behind the off-court hauls for these players. As Forbes further points out, the United States is the biggest market for a company to produce a signature shoe for an NBA player, but the company will send their shoe stars to China first to product-test among the 300 million people playing basketball.  

Here’s a look at some of the biggest NBA sneaker deals for 2017, broken out by player, total endorsement income and shoe sponsor:

• LeBron James: $55 million (Nike)

• Kevin Durant: $36 million (Nike)

• Stephen Curry: $35 million (Under Armour)

• James Harden: $20 million (Adidas)

• Russell Westbrook: $15 million (Nike/Jordan)

• Derrick Rose: $14 million (Adidas)

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