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Brad Simmons

Sonny Vaccaro: Basketball Ambassador or Villain

Posted August 13, 2009

Depending on whom you ask, Sonny Vaccaro could be the greatest basketball ambassador of our era or he could be the problem with basketball in today’s society.

He is probably best known for his time at Nike, where he helped Phil Knight build the shoe company into one of the world’s most powerful companies.

Vaccaro signed Michael Jordan to Nike. Most people would call that a career.

His marketing genius helped jump start outfitting college and university teams into the multi-million dollar business it is today.

You could count Jim Valvano as one of the first coaches to buy into Vaccaro and Nike with much success. Well, there was the unitard, and we all know how that turned out.

Regardless, his time at Nike could be as great a run in business this side of Microsoft.

After an unceremonious split with Nike, he moved on to Adidas where he was instrumental in landing Kobe Bryant as a client. Not too many people can claim both Jordan and Bryant as clients.

He formed the ABCD basketball camp that showcases the top high school players in the country and has turned AAU hoops into the super highway to Division I basketball.

After leaving Adidas for Reebok, he continued his influence with grassroots basketball, helping youth players with advancement in the game.

He has worked with the three largest shoe companies in the world and flourished in all of them. He has been called the most influential man in amateur basketball.

It seemed everything he touched turned to gold.

As big as the ABCD camps, AAU and grassroots basketball has gotten, though their intentions may have been genuine, the reality is they have tested the rules of amateur basketball.

Many view the above mentioned basketball machines as corrupt and any player involved in them have tiptoed the line of eligibility with the NCAA, which has had a long standing battle with Vaccaro.

Most of the basketball players making the jump from high school to the NBA have crossed paths with Vaccaro. Now that the NBA has established an age limit, albeit just one year between high school and the NBA, Vaccaro again is pushing the envelope to get these talented players on professional teams. He was instrumental is getting Brandon Jennings a pro contract overseas for a year until he was eligible for the NBA draft. He also has advised prep underclassman Jeremy Tyler to forgo his final year of high school for the professional ranks.

Most players who have been advised by Sonny Vaccaro stand by him obviously for giving them an avenue to succeed, but others including the NCAA see him as everything that is wrong with basketball.

There may not be another figure in sports that reaches both sides of the public opinion spectrum quite like Sonny Vaccaro.

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  • Hokies94 Aug 15, 6:33 p.m.

    Never heard of him. But, he does know how to make money. If he got the Nike deal for MJ, I say he is pretty damm smart. Villian. Look at our politicians.

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