CONGRATULATIONS® °NBA Star Ja Morant Welcome’s first baby ’





Only two NBA players have risen to billionaire status: Jordan and LeBron. Can Ja join them? The 23-year-old is charismatic and electric on the court and seems to be building wealth for the long run. But the obstacles are many.




When the Memphis Grizzlies’ Ja Morant walks onto the Chase Center floor in San Francisco on Sunday for his first Christmas Day game in the National Basketball Association, something will be different about the high-flying guard.


The shoes.


Morant, 23, will be sporting his first signature sneaker—the Ja 1.


Terms of Nike’s arrangement with Morant weren’t publicly announced, but if they’re in the same arena as other sneaker deals that involve young NBA stars, Morant can chalk up 2022 as a pretty good year. The Pelicans’ Zion Williamson, 22, and 23-year-old Luka Doncic of the Mavericks were each reportedly paid $75 million.





For Morant, there’s also the $194 million contract extension he signed with the Grizzlies in July, a portfolio that includes equity in recovery-device maker Hyperice and sponsorship deals with companies that include Panini, HasbroHAS and Apple’sAAPL Beats by Dre headphones. It adds up to an estimated take for Morant of about $40 million for the 2023-24 season. Happy new year indeed. But to Morant, just one of many more.


“Me and my mom started a saying right after the season,” Morant tells Forbes. “Be a billionaire by 30. That’s my goal. So I have seven years.”






You want to tell Morant how ridiculously difficult that will be? It would be like stepping in front of him when he’s driving the lane for an acrobatic dunk. This is how ridiculously difficult it is: Only three athletes, Jordan, Tiger and LeBron, have ever landed on the Forbes list of billionaires—all of them known by one name.


Sort of like “Ja.”



“I see unlimited potential,” says his agent, Jim Tanner of Tandem Sports + Entertainment, who, to be fair, would most likely get a cut of that billion. “I just look forward, like everybody else, to seeing how far he can take it.”


So many factors are aligned against Morant’s reaching billionaire status, not the least of which is his heedlessness on the court. It’s what makes him an electric player, the kind that fans can’t take their eyes off and companies love to sign for endorsements. But it’s also worrisome because his bravado could at any moment contribute to cutting short his career with an injury.





At a listed 6 feet 2 inches and 174 pounds, Morant is quick, “a beautiful player,” according to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, but a popsicle stick compared with Williamson, the only collegian chosen ahead of Morant in the 2019 draft, who’s listed at 6-6 and 284 pounds. Morant doesn’t seem to think twice about coming full speed at bigger and taller competition. When he goes airborne, it can suddenly turn into a highlight, like that playoff dunk against the Minnesota Timberwolves in April.





“He plays with joy,” New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum tells Forbes. “He’ll do a 360 layup, with 20 seconds left, [the Grizzlies] down two. He’s a fearless, carefree basketball player.”





Morant grew up in Dalzell, South Carolina, a town of about 3,000. He came from a family of athletes. His father, Tee, played with two-time NBA champion and Basketball Hall of Famer Ray Allen in high school. Tee initially chased a pro career but abandoned the goal after Morant was born.





The father’s basketball passion rubbed off on the son. Tee trained Ja privately in their backyard. One of the drills involved the younger Morant attacking the rim and Dad hitting him with a pad. It taught Ja to absorb physical contact while finishing a play in late-game situations.


“The negative things I had in me I wanted to keep out of him,” Tee told his son’s college newspaper at Murray State University in Kentucky. “I wanted him to focus on his dream. I didn’t put 100% in mine.”






Tee Morant’s extra tutelage paid off. By averaging 24.5 points and 10 assists a game in his sophomore season at Murray State, Ja became the first player to average at least 20 and 10 in a season since the NCAA began to officially recognize assists in 1983-84. It was also the way he did it, with jaw-dropping passes and eye-popping dunks. Tee’s son was drafted by the Grizzlies, and so began his quest to be a billionaire.






If charisma guaranteed a payoff, write the check today. In November 2019, Hyperice owner Jim Huether took his cofounder to see Morant play against the Los Angeles Clippers. Hyperice, which makes massagers, compression boots and other devices to soothe the sore-muscled athlete, had been looking for the future face of the NBA to be an investor and was torn between Morant and Williamson. The Grizzlies guard wowed the owners.


“He had that Michael Vick, Allen Iverson-type explosiveness on the court,” Huether tells Forbes. “That was when we were like, ‘This guy is going to resonate.’ What we didn’t know was that he would be this iconic from a cultural perspective this fast. But we did know he had the potential.”


Morant’s deal with Hyperice was designed as an endorsement agreement, but Morant took cash upfront and put it back into Hyperice, says Huether, who declined to detail the size of Morant’s stake. Also as part of the deal, Hyperice sent $25,000 to Murray State to build a recovery room

for athletes.


On the metrics front, the TV viewership Morant has helped attract has made the NBA very happy. Sinclair’s Bally Sports Southeast, which broadcasts Grizzlies games, is seeing a 133% viewership jump over last year. Even better, Morant is appealing to the league’s future audience, Generation Z. The NBA says Morant’s digital highlights are among the top in social media engagement, with 351 million views across its platforms. He trails only four-time NBA champion Stephen Curry, who has 485 million views.


It’s true that the only billionaires the NBA has spawned won multiple championships: Michael Jordan had six, and LeBron James has four. To get even close to that record, Morant needs a talented supporting cast. Before their Saturday game, the Grizzlies were tied for the top spot in the NBA’s Western Conference. But Morant also needs something not every player is blessed with: health.


Williamson missed an entire season because of a foot injury, and has yet to play more than 61 games in a year out of 82-plus. Derrick Rose, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2010-11 at age 22 and a high-flying guard much like Morant, was never the same after a 2012 torn knee ligament. Morant is a dominant athlete, but players, even beefier ones, who invite too many battles at the basket often are at higher risk for leg injuries. Scouts advise that players like Morant be more like Mike and master the art of the jump shot to avoid constant contact, the way Jordan did.


“It’s always about protecting your brand and your image,” Morant tells Forbes. “That’s the top thing [Tee] taught me. Now, I’m a brand. I’m a business. I have to protect my image to have a good business.”




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