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GreenBay Packers Davante Adams is a Jumpman athlete. ESPN Illustration
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‘Hooper at heart’: Packers’ Davante Adams realizes childhood dream with Jordan deal

Could the Pro Bowl wideout have fulfilled his basketball dreams in the NBA?

One night on a whim back in March 2015, Davante Adams had the itch to hoop. So just before midnight, he pulled up to the basketball court at a local 24 Hour Fitness near his hometown of East Palo Alto, California. In front of a crowded gym, during the offseason following his rookie year with the Green Bay Packers, the NFL wide receiver displayed his NBA-caliber athleticism.

“I went over there just to shoot around,” Adams recalled. “But I decided to try a dunk for the first time, just because I was feeling it.”

The dunk? A 360-degree, between-the-legs throwdown, similar to the slam that Adams’ fellow California native Paul George broke out a year before in the 2014 NBA slam dunk contest.

“I made the dunk and told my boy to record it as I did it again. I thought for sure I was gonna miss, especially in a gym full of people. But I ran it back and made it again.”

The video, which attracted approximately 8,000 likes, is buried on his Instagram page, but Adams can still break it down frame by frame. He also realizes the footage now has more meaning, given the swag he rocked to the court that night — a black T-shirt featuring Michael Jordan’s iconic Jumpman logo on the chest and a pair of “Columbia” Air Jordan 11s.

“I got the Jordan shirt and shoes on in the video, but that wasn’t an endorsement,” said Adams, who signed with Nike when he entered the NFL in 2014. (The Jordan Brand is a subdivision of the Swoosh, which gave him the ability to wear Jumpman gear without violating his contract.) “That wasn’t, ‘Lemme show off what I’m getting from Nike.’ That was actually stuff that I got myself and loved to wear. … It just goes to show you how obsessed I’ve always been with the Jordan Brand.”

Nearly five years to the day after posting that video of his dunk in the 11s, Adams — now a three-time Pro Bowler, with 431 receptions for 5,194 yards and 44 touchdowns in six NFL seasons — took to Instagram to announce his new endorsement deal with Jordan Brand. The star wideout is officially — and finally — a Jumpman athlete.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Adams said. “I knew at a young age, or felt in my heart, that I was gonna play pro sports. But playing pro sports doesn’t guarantee you the ability to sign with brands or get the type of endorsements that you always wanted. I’ve always wanted to sign with the Jordan Brand since I was a young kid.”

Adams joins an exclusive group of NFL wide receivers — from Hall of Famers Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens to current athletes Alshon Jeffery, Sterling Shepard and Michael Thomas — to rep Jordan on the gridiron.

“With three consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, Davante has solidified himself as one of the best players in the NFL,” said Jordan Brand president Craig Williams. “His work ethic, mindset and style of play — much of which he’ll tell you he developed playing basketball from a young age — represents what Jordan Brand is all about.”

Adams doesn’t hesitate when he makes the assertion: Basketball — not football — was his first love when it came to sports. In his mind, he’s still a point guard. And on NFL Sundays, he’s playing one-on-one with defensive backs.

“I’m a hooper at heart,” he said. “That’s basically what I’m doing out there on the football field — playing basketball. That’s the reason why there’s a little bit of a different feel for some guys guarding me. Just cause it’s a whole different type of movement, which I definitely try to use to my advantage.”

The question is: Could Davante Adams have turned his hoop dreams into a career in professional basketball?

“In an alternate reality, I think I could have made it to the NBA,” said Adams, who averaged 9.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists in 16 games during his senior season on the varsity basketball team at Palo Alto High School. “I’m 6-1, 6-2. That would’ve been the toughest part. But with a 43-inch vertical, I think I would be able to make up for some of the height.”

The NFL.com analysis of Adams’ workout at the 2014 NFL draft combine essentially reads like a scouting report of a basketball player: “Has a rangy build with good body length and big hands to palm the ball. … Terrific athlete with good leaping ability and anticipation to properly time jumps and highpoint the ball.” And Adams’ hand length measures at 9 inches — the same size as LeBron James’, and above the average of guards who entered the NBA in 2014, the same year he was drafted into the NFL.

“We’ll see after I’m done with my football career, I might give the NBA a try,” Adams joked. “I’m B.S.ing, but I really think I could play.”

Adams started hooping at around 4 or 5 years old, before football eventually began competing for his time and attention. “I played Pop Warner for a couple years and broke my arm,” Adams recalled of the injury he suffered in the fifth grade. “I was over football, because I had never broken a bone before.” That same year, Adams broke his left arm again, but on the basketball court. He returned to the football field in eighth grade and broke his arm a third time.

“I figured, ‘I’m just gonna stick with hooping,’ ” he said. “I didn’t play football again until my junior year in high school. My whole life was pretty much based around basketball.” He credits his father, Doug Adams, for sparking his passion for the game by introducing him to the greatest player of all time.

“When I was real, real young, my dad had a Michael Jordan poster in his room,” Adams recalled. “… I loved Michael Jordan so much, because he looked a lot like my dad. They’re both tall, black, bald dudes. And that was my dad’s favorite player growing up. So Michael Jordan has been a part of me and my whole family since I was young. … In the Adams household, you saw a lot of Jordan — footage, posters, shoes. … My dad was actually the one who got me into shoes.”

Adams also has his favorite football player to thank for his affinity for Air Jordans. In 1999, when Adams was 6 years old, Moss became the first football player to sign an endorsement deal with the Jordan Brand.

“One of the biggest reasons I’m so all-in for the Jordan Brand the way that I am is Randy Moss — my favorite wide receiver, the best wide receiver, of all time,” said Adams, who wore Moss’ jersey in his fourth-grade school photo. “Him wearing those purple and white Air Jordan 11s when the Vikings played on AstroTurf — I still remember those games and seeing him running certain routes, wondering how this man was getting in and out of his breaks so crazy. Then I look at his feet and see that he’s wearing basketball shoes.”

In 2006, when he was 13 years old, Adams got his first pair of Air Jordans. His cousin managed a local Foot Locker and shared his discount so young Davante could cop a pair of the “Candy Cane” Air Jordan 14s. But there was a catch.

“The left shoe was a size 7.5 and the right shoe was a size 7. One shoe was a little too big and one was a little too small,” Adams said. “But I didn’t want to not be able to have them … so I didn’t say anything. Growing up, I’d only get shoes like Jordans and Nikes with my cousin’s discount. Other than that, I wasn’t getting shoes.”

A few years later, Adams swapped basketball sneakers for football cleats after returning to the field to play his junior season. “I knew about him because he was a basketball player,” Earl Hansen, Adams’ football coach at Palo Alto High, told ESPN in 2016. “A really good basketball player.”

Adams vividly remembers breaking out Jordans at the end of the school year for his junior prom.

“They did not look good at all with what I was wearing,” he said. “It was a black suit with pinstripes, then I had some white Js on. It was exactly how I mapped it out in my head, but it was junior year of high school and swag wasn’t really a thing yet. It was the style then, but it wasn’t swag or drip.”

During his senior year, Adams led the Palo Alto football team to a state championship as a two-way starter — playing cornerback on defense and his natural position of wideout on offense. In just 25 games in two high school football seasons, Adams recorded 92 catches for 1,578 yards and 18 touchdowns. He committed to play at Fresno State, where he emerged as the 2012 Mountain West Conference (MWC) Freshman of the Year, a two-time first-team All-MWC selection (2012 and 2013) and was awarded the 2013 Paul Warfield Trophy as the top collegiate receiver in the nation. The Packers selected Adams 53rd overall in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft. Ahead of his first season of pro football, he inked an endorsement deal with Nike. Yet Adams set a goal for himself to one day become a part of the premier company of Jumpman athletes in the NFL.

“It was a dream come true to be able to sign with Nike as a rookie,” Adams said. “But it’s about the exclusivity of being with the Jordan Brand. Not a whole lot of athletes. The brand spends more time with each individual. It’s a different type of elite status when you get to the Jordan Brand. I’ve thought about being a part of the brand since I was young, but it became more realistic over the past three or four years.”

Adams used New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas’ journey to joining the Jordan Brand as a blueprint. After beginning his NFL career in 2016 endorsing Nike, Thomas — now a three-time Pro Bowler, two-time league receptions leader and the 2019 NFL Offensive Player of the Year — switched over to repping the Jumpman in 2018.

“Michael Thomas is one of my good friends,” Adams said. “We had similar situations. Because he was mid-contract with Nike, as well, and made the jump. That’s what actually gave me the idea this was even possible.”

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams gets ready to spike the ball over the goalpost after scoring a touchdown against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Jan. 1, 2017, in Detroit.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Also in 2018, Adams played one season in Green Bay with backup quarterback and Jumpman athlete DeShone Kizer. Having him as a teammate gave Adams a firsthand look at the biggest perk of repping the Jordan Brand in the NFL — player exclusive (PE) Air Jordan cleats, personally designed by each athlete in his team’s colors.

“I’d see DeShone’s stuff and it’d just make me envision customizing my own Jordan cleats,” Adams said. “I think back to that because now it’s a reality. It’s right here.”

In early March, Adams’ move to the Jordan Brand became official. He traveled to Nike’s global headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, where he posed for photos in Jumpman gear, laced up pairs of unreleased Jordans with his wife, Devanne, and 6-month-old daughter, Deija, and sat down with a team of designers to work on his new cleats. On the field this upcoming NFL season, Jumpman athletes will rock cleats using the Air Jordan 10 silhouette, which Adams has experience wearing, not on grass, but on the hardwood.

“The Air Jordan 10 is my favorite Jordan to wear as far as hooping and making athletic movements,” Adams said. “So it literally works out perfectly that we’re starting off the year with these. I’ve had designing experience and PEs with Nike, but it’s different when you’re putting a No. 17 on a Jordan. I kept getting butterflies throughout the whole experience.”

Adams now awaits the next time he can step foot on the field of an NFL stadium, finally a part of the brand the hooper-turned-wideout always dreamed of repping.

“After all these years,” Adams said, “it’s going to be a good feeling to be able to lace up my own Jordan cleats.”

Aaron Dodson is a sports and culture writer at Andscape. He primarily writes on sneakers/apparel and hosts the platform’s Sneaker Box video series. During Michael Jordan’s two seasons playing for the Washington Wizards in the early 2000s, the “Flint” Air Jordan 9s sparked his passion for kicks.