“I am, indeed, a king, because I know how to rule myself.” – Pietro Aretino

There’s a powerful message in the Under Armour “Rule Yourself” campaign. Being the best is hard work!

The most recent iteration of the Rule Yourself campaign features the greatest swimmer of all time, Michael Phelps, who hopes to add to his record number of gold medals at the Rio Olympics later this year. But as the commercial is trying to convey, Phelps’ achievements didn’t come only because he has natural talent, but because he applied an unnatural effort, sacrificed, and then achieved.

A few weeks ago, Under Armour released a commercial featuring members of the US women’s gymnastics team, also putting on display the rigorous training regimen of athletes competed to reach the highest levels of excellence.

There was a time people would say there is genius in the world, that the Mozarts and Tiger Woods of the world were born with talent. They were the chosen ones. There may very well be genetic advantages that can be parsed out. But a more likely explanation is that they worked hard at their craft. And in fact, research has shown that the greatest of the great, in any discipline, have often applied at least 10,000 hours of practice.

outliersOne of the populizers of this hypothesis is the acclaimed journalist, Malcolm Gladwell, who has developed a knack for featuring the best of the best in his stories. In the book, Outliers: The Story of Success, he writes extensively about the 10,000 hour rule, and quotes author and neurologist, Daniel Levitin to explain.

“The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything,” writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin. “In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Of course this doesn’t address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others do. But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.”

Ten thousand hours.

It is as large a number as it seems. If 10 years is 3650 days, and thus 87,000 hours, then to get to 10,000 hours over ten years, you would have to spend nearly 3 hours a day training or practicing. Imagine a 20-year-old woman who makes the Olympic Games. From the age of 10, she’s spending finding time on the rink once or twice day, with longer days on the weekends…for ten years. This doesn’t include the travel time for her and her parents, the pain, the emotional highs and lows, the struggle to maintain school attendance and grades, and an even more heightened sense of self and insecurity as she struggles in her quest through puberty and her teens.

They make it look easy. But it isn’t. For first, you must rule yourself.

barkley and johnson draped in american flag
Picture of Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson with the American flag draped over their shoulders to cover the Reebok logos on their jacket. Barkley and Johnson had agreements with other footwear brands. John Stockton and Chris Mullin, 1992 Dream Team teammates, look on.

Here’s a fascinating article from Yahoo Sports about the sports footwear industry and the NBA, and a few facts:

Fact #1: Only 10 NBA players currently have their own “signature shoe” with a US-based brand. In case you’re interested, they are: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving at Nike; Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony at Jordan Brand; Derrick Rose and Damian Lillard at adidas (James Harden’s shoe will launch in 2017); and Stephen Curry at Under Armour.

Fact #2: A shoe deal for an NBA lottery pick (a person who is in the top 5 or 10 of the NBA draft of high school, college or available international players) could mean earning from USD200 to 700K per year. The article points out that Andrew Wiggins, who signed a 3-year contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers for over USD17million, also signed a 5-year agreement with adidas for another USD11 million.)

Fact #3: Every player in the NBA has a relationship with a sneaker brand; even the benchwarmers, players looking just to make a training camp roster, can get what is called a “merch” deal. Such an agreement with a footwear marketer gets them a free allotment of footwear for practices and games.

Fact #4: Sneaker brands scout out basketball prospects at the college and high school levels, just like basketball scouts do

Fact #5: Nike has dominant share of the NBA player market, as 68% of the 300+ players wear the Swoosh. Adidas is number 2 at 15.6% with about 70 players wearing the three stripes.

For past stories in “The Sneaker Wars” series, see below: