NEW YORK • LeBron James will be in the Nike stable for the rest of his basketball career - and beyond.
The world's largest sporting goods company signed the four- time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player to an unprecedented lifetime contract on Monday.
Terms of the deal were not released but sports agent David Falk, who represented basketball legend Michael Jordan for most of his playing career, estimated its value at US$400 million (S$563 million) to US$500 million.
Nike said in a statement that the 30-year-old Cleveland Cavaliers forward provides "significant value to our business, brand and shareholders".
The company signed James after he went professional out of high school in 2003.
His first contract spanned seven years and was worth US$90 million, according to ESPN, with a seven-year extension in 2010.
Nike signed James after he went professional out of high school in 2003. His first contract spanned seven years and was worth US$90 million, according to ESPN, with a seven-year extension in 2010.
Nike has released at least 13 versions of James' signature shoes.
What kind of return does Nike get from the deal with James?
That depends how you measure, said Matt Powell, an analyst at research firm NPD Group.
If you go by what James brings in through sales, versus what they are paying him, Nike is probably losing money, he said.
"But he's the face of the brand, and he's the most popular player in the league, so it makes sense," Powell said.
James let lapse his endorsement deal with McDonald's this year, instead throwing his weight behind the Blaze Pizza chain, in which he is an investor.
Last week, his multimedia venture, called Uninterrupted, secured a US$15.8 million investment from Warner Bros Entertainment and Turner Sports.
His lifetime deal with Nike could eventually become something similar to Jordan's.
Six-time NBA champion Jordan, 52, is officially the chief executive officer of the Jordan Brand, which continues to release new shoes.
Sales of Air Jordan brand shoes topped US$2.6 billion last year, according to Forbes.
Athlete endorsement contracts have exploded in the past few years. Last year, after a bidding war with Under Armour, Nike extended Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant's deal to a 10-year, US$300 million one.
Houston Rockets guard James Harden left Nike before the season for a 13-year, US$200 million contract with adidas.
However, an open-ended deal is very rare.
Retired football star David Beckham reportedly has a lifetime deal with adidas, according to ESPN.
Retired NBA star Allen Iverson at one time signed with Reebok in what the Associated Press called a "lifetime deal" - although that sometimes refers to a player's career, not his mortality.
James, a two-time NBA champion, has averaged 27.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game in his 13-year career.
He has been to four other NBA Finals and won two Olympic golds.