UCLA’s Kiki Rice lands Jordan Brand’s first name, image and likeness deal
The incoming UCLA freshman will headline new sneakers on the court and connect with the Los Angeles community through a new partnership with Jordan
Kiki Rice likes being the first.
Just as her freshman season in Westwood, California, gets underway, the top recruit and women’s high school player of the year has landed a first-of-its-kind shoe deal, becoming the first name, image and likeness athlete to sign with Jordan Brand.
She led Sidwell Friends High School team to its first state championship in Washington, D.C. The country’s top guard then surprised many by committing to UCLA, where she’s hoping to help lead the Bruins to their first trip to the NCAA Final Four and potentially even its first national championship.
While Jordan Brand already sponsors the UCLA basketball program, Rice can proudly head to the hardwood knowing she’s the brand’s first individually sponsored collegiate athlete.
“It doesn’t even seem real yet,” she said. “Growing up, I used to scroll through Jordan Brand’s website and see the athletes they had, or watch TV and be like, ‘Oh, they’re a Jordan Brand athlete.’ ”
Rice has shown leadership ability on and off the court that appealed to the company. That’s besides her elite all-around play as a 5-foot-11 point guard.
“Kiki brings energy and excitement to the brand as our first NIL signee,” said Jasmine Jordan, daughter of basketball legend Michael Jordan, and Rice’s brand rep. “She is a dynamic player on the floor and has a high basketball IQ. She has an eye for the game that can’t be taught, and it shows through her work ethic and drive to elevate herself day in and day out.”
The deal also marks a new approach for Jordan Brand and its willingness to sign more NIL deals with college athletes.
“Kiki is a signing for us that we’re extremely excited about, and it’s more than just who she is as a player,” said Jordan. “We’re interested in athletes like her because what really makes her stand out is her commitment to team, community, and people.”
Andscape caught up with the UCLA hooper just ahead of the announcement.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What was your reaction when you heard that Jordan wanted to sign you, and how exciting was it that the deal materialized in time for the start of your college career?
It was extremely exciting when everything started to come together. I’m superappreciative of Jordan Brand recognizing me for my work on the court and their investment in me as one of their next-up athletes. For me, working with Jordan Brand is the ultimate dream come true. Especially as the brand’s first NIL athlete, that makes it even more special.
When you first realized those NIL changes were going to take effect, was signing a shoe deal one of your priorities?
When NIL started, signing a shoe deal wasn’t the first thing that came to mind. As it progressed, I saw fellow athletes sign with big brands. It was like, ‘Ok, the top athletes in this area are going to be able to profit from NIL and connect with bigger brands.’ I started to think, ‘What would I be interested in signing with?’ It materialized pretty quickly.
What about Jordan Brand makes it the right fit for you?
It’s the fact that Jordan Brand is not just about performance and not just lifestyle off the court. I think it’s also the fact that there’s so much purpose behind Jordan Brand and its mission. To be part of a brand that will help me give back to the community and give back in areas that matter to me more than basketball, I think that’s something that drew me to them and separated Jordan Brand.
Are there any specific causes that you were already involved in during high school or that you’re looking forward to being more involved in now?
Just being a mentor and inspiring younger kids, especially young female athletes. Also, I’m passionate about racial equity and creating change in the Black community. Seeing Jordan Brand’s [10-year, $100 million] Black community commitment that was announced in 2020, they’ve already started to work in an area I’m already passionate about. That showed there’s already so much alignment between us two.
We’ve seen some brands sign players, but a different brand sponsors their school, so they can’t wear the shoes in games. How exciting is it that you can wear Jordan 24/7 around the clock?
That made it even more perfect. The fact that I have to wear Jordan Brand products on the court anyways because our school requires it, now I’m going to be able to do it and have it feel like even more of a partnership. Off the court, I’ll be able to take advantage of all the awesome gear and shoes when I’m not playing, so I’m excited about that.
I’ve seen you wearing Jordan 1s off the court and the Union Retro 2s – what are some of the models that have stuck out to you recently?
I definitely like the Union 2s right now, for sure. I always go with Retro 1s and 3s, also.
What was up with the History of Jordans poster you got? And how would you grade your knowledge of that history so far?
I have that poster in my dorm room right now, so I see it every time I’m in my room. I was at a flea market, saw that poster, and said, ‘I have to get that, it’s perfect for me.’ It was crazy how I got that.
As you started to get on the floor, what performance models have you liked the most?
I wore 36s a lot last year. I loved them. We got the Zion 2s, and I’ve been practicing them. I’m excited to try the Luka 1s too.
You visited the Nike campus recently – have you been before? What’d you think of the scale of everything?
That was my first time in Portland, and it was great to be up there. Driving up to campus was incredible. You see all the technology, recovery tools, and all of the assessments they can do for your body and your feet.
Taking advantage of that will be huge. Seeing the campus’ size and gravity was pretty cool. I went into the LeBron building and worked out on the fourth floor. That was so cool.
You played in the Jordan Brand Classic – are there any memories that stick out from that game?
The Jordan Brand Classic and the whole All-Star circuit of my senior year was superfun. Meeting a lot of the people that work behind the scenes at Jordan and getting a sense of what being a part of that group would look like was supercool for me and a great experience.
I also liked how at the game, first of all, how they set up our lockers and all the gear we got. That was sick. And the environment that was there, it was a really fun and competitive game. I remember that only some of those All-Star games are supercompetitive. They did a cool thing with the scoring and resetting [after each quarter], and we got at it for sure.
When you were in high school, I saw that you won a state title for the first time in your school’s history. In committing to UCLA, what was your mentality behind wanting to go there and being the first UCLA team to potentially make it to the Final Four or even a national championship?
The biggest thing that drew me to UCLA was the opportunity to do something that hadn’t been done here and the idea of being part of a trailblazing group. UCLA was a place where I felt I would be pushed on and off the court to become a pro and also have more opportunities in the LA market. We had the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, and this program has a lot of potential to take it to the next level.
Does it feel like there’s a bit of a buzz on campus with your roster?
I think we’re going to be good this year. Early on, we go to South Carolina, and then we have a tournament in the Bahamas with Texas, Tennessee, and Louisville. Early on, we’ll understand what competing at that level is like. I’m excited.
I saw one of your goals after playing basketball would be to become an NBA GM. Where does that interest in the business side of basketball come from?
I’ve been involved in basketball for my whole life. After I’m finished playing, I dream of working on the business side. I love working with people and working in sports, and I feel like it wouldn’t feel like a job.
I’ve always loved the idea of constructing a team and managing a team and people. Being a part of and working with Jordan Brand will give me some great insight into the business side of sports. That’s another huge thing I’m looking forward to working on with everything between us.