Magic Johnson to leave Converse Basketball star is dissatisfied with shoe endorsement pact.

July 29, 1992|By Boston Globe

A few months ago Earvin "Magic" Johnson was worried about being dumped as a spokesman by corporate sponsors. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

Yesterday on the court in Monte Carlo, Mr. Johnson showed off a new move to reporters: the slam dump. He slammed his shoe company, Converse Inc. of North Reading, Mass., in unusually harsh terms for its behind-the-times advertising, then announced he was dumping the company after 13 years.

"Converse as a company is stuck in the '60s and '70s. They think the Chuck Taylor [sneaker] days are still here," Mr. Johnson told reporters in Monte Carlo after the U.S. basketball team practiced for the Olympics. "I've never really been happy with them. Nike and Reebok pour money into advertising; I've been trying to get out for years."

Another Olympian, the Boston Celtics' Larry Bird, who also endorses Converse, quipped, "I'll probably be next" when told of Mr. Johnson's announcement. Mr. Bird later retracted the statement through his attorney, saying, "I have worn Converse since high school. . . . I will be with Converse until the day I die."

Converse stood by Mr. Johnson after he announced last fall that he is HIV-positive and Converse President Gib Ford said the athlete's statement "came as both a surprise and a shock to us considering the support we have provided him with over the 13 years."

Mr. Johnson said, "It's been 12 unhappy years. I'm calling them all the time, telling them how bad the company is." He said he plans to leave the company after the Olympics.

Mr. Johnson is paid about $2 million for endorsing Converse shoes, while Nike pays Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan two or three times that, industry analysts say.

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