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Monday, August 11, 2003
Updated: August 12, 3:12 AM ET
Gatorade pulls out of LeBron sweepstakes

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

LeBron James grew up emulating Michael Jordan, but the 18-year-old -- who already has signed two endorsement deals worth approximately $100 million -- won't "Be Like Mike" in the sports drink category.

On Monday, Gatorade, which named James as its Boys' High School Basketball Player of the Year for the last two years, announced it was pulling out of the race to ink LeBron to a deal.

"We decided last week that we were taking ourselves out of LeBron sweepstakes," Gatorade spokesman Andy Horrow said. "Pretty simply, the value that we place on individual athlete marketing is very, very far from where his people think he should be."

James' agent, Aaron Goodwin, declined to comment on the state of negotiations.

"One person does not define this brand," Horrow said. "The time when Michael Jordan was the only spokesperson is well behind us."

Gatorade, which has been an NBA sponsor since 1984, has signed a host of athletes since making Michael Jordan its first endorser in 1991. Jordan, Houston Rockets center Yao Ming and Vince Carter of the Toronto Raptors are the three NBA players the brand currently has under contract.

Through the first quarter of this year, Gatorade owns 83.1 percent of the market while Coca-Cola's Powerade is a far second with a 14.1 percent share, according to Beverage Digest, an industry trade publication

As Monarch Beverage Corp. owns All Sport, which claims about .5 percent of the sports drink market, the only major player left seems to be Coca-Cola.

"We do not comment on rumor and speculation," Coca-Cola spokesman Scott Williamson said. "But as a global beverage company that is heavily involved in sports marketing, we are always talking to athletes, agents, properties and venues about potential relationships that can build bridges between our company, our brands and our consumers."

James, who will make $12.96 million over the next three years with the Cleveland Cavaliers, signed a seven-year, $90 million endorsement contract with Nike and a five-year, $6 million deal with Upper Deck in May.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com.