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Nike Signs Liberian President “Chuck” Taylor to Lucrative Endorsement Deal

MONROVIA, Liberia (SP) — Embattled Liberian President Charles Taylor may be about to leave office, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be taking a pay cut.

Above: Liberian President Chuck Taylor shows how to throw the no-look pass.

Yesterday, Nike Inc. announced that it had signed the controversial African head of state to a shoe endorsement contract worth an estimated $92 million (U.S.). Taylor’s signature shoe is expected to hit retail outlets across North America by early September.

The signing comes on the heels of Nike’s acquisition of rival shoe company Converse Inc. early last week. For decades, Converse’s most popular shoe has been the “Chuck Taylor All Stars”, named after a prolific Converse shoe salesman. However, after acquiring Converse, Nike decided that the shoe needed a fresh face to front its marketing campaign.

"With all due respect to Chuck Taylor, the deceased shoe salesman, our market research indicates that very few members of the shoe-buying public even know who he is,” said Nike President and C.E.O. Phil Knight. “On the other hand, in the last several weeks, Chuck Taylor, the Liberian President, has been one of the world’s most high profile public figures, appearing in national newscasts on almost a daily basis. He also happens to be a heck of a basketball player.”

Taylor honed his basketball skills while living in the United States. In the 1970s, he obtained an economics degree from Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., where he played intramural basketball and developed a reputation as a formidable opponent. “He could shoot from long range with deadly accuracy, but he was also a strong physical presence,” recalled Sonny Hewson, a college classmate of Taylor. “I heard that he was also a good basketball player.”

Filmmaker and basketball aficionado Spike Lee also attested to Taylor’s skills on the hard court. “He got game,” said Lee. “I’ve seen him go one-on-one with Pol Pot and Idi Amin, and they ain’t got nothing on him!”

Nike also announced that the name of the Chuck Taylor shoe would be changed from “All Stars” to “All Scars” in recognition of Taylor’s support of a vicious rebel group in Sierra Leone known for disfiguring its enemies.

Above: It's hard to find a place that hasn't already been branded with the Nike logo.

Taylor, whom many believe committed crimes against humanity while ruling Liberia with an iron fist, has received asylum from Vietnam, where most of Nike’s shoes are manufactured. While in Vietnam, Taylor is expected to personally oversee the production of his line of shoes, to ensure that they meets his illustrious standards. “How appropriate that a man accused of treating the citizens of his country like sweat shop workers should end up working for the world’s biggest sweat shop,” said child labor advocate Craig Kielberger.

In an effort to overcome its reputation as a heartless, profit-obsessed corporation, Nike has promised to provide a free pair of Chuck Taylor shoes to every man, woman and child of Liberia. “Most Americans known something about the problems in Africa regarding poverty, starvation and AIDS, but not many are aware of what I refer to as the ‘footwear famine’,” said Knight. “Very few of their department stores even have athletic shoes in stock, meaning that most Africans are forced to walk most of the time in their bare feet. As a result, the numbers of foot blisters, calluses and hangnails have all reached epidemic proportions!”

Nike has also offered millions of dollars in economic relief to Liberia, but like the relief package recently presented by the Bush administration, it comes with certain strings attached. Namely, Nike has asked Liberia to replace the lone star presently depicted on the country’s national flag with the famous Nike ‘swoosh’, and has suggested that it rename its capital city, from Monrovia to Niketown.

Nike has also pledged to introduce an employee shoe discount program in Vietnam, whereby all factory workers will be able to purchase Chuck Taylor shoes for 50% off the suggested retain price. However, this would still make the shoe a rather luxurious expenditure, given that it sells for $199.99 and the average factory worker makes $0.11 per hour.

Traditionally, lucrative shoe endorsements have been the exclusive domain of professional athletes. However, there have been indications that the Taylor deal may be merely the first of many major endorsements by political leaders. Nike and Reebok have both aggressively lobbied President Bush – an avid runner – to wear their respective brands of running shoes. Reebok even went so far as to manufacture a prototype of the proposed presidential shoe, which it called ‘the Dubya’, with the slogan, “Darned good!” Thus far, the President has not responded to any of these overtures.

Deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is another hot commodity in the competition for shoe endorsement supremacy. If Hussein is in fact still alive, and if he ever comes out of hiding, it’s believed that he would be able to command a shoe deal worth millions of dollars, possibly even exceeding the $25 million bounty that the United States government recently placed on his head.

However, the individual most wanted by shoe manufacturers to endorse their wares is coincidentally also at the top of the FBI’s most wanted list: Al Qaeda terrorist network leader Osama bin Laden. This is despite the fact that there is no clear consensus on whether bin Laden is a talented basketball player.

Above: Osama bin Laden (with an unidentified associate) - impact player or fly swatter?

Former NBA all-star Charles Barkley is one of the skeptics. “Sure, he might be six foot seven with really long arms, but the fact is that he needs two canes just to be able to walk upright,” said Barkley. “He’s basically just Manute Bol for the new millennium: a glorified fly swatter.”

However, Hall of Fame Centre and network television analyst Bill Walton is of a much different view. “With his height and incredible wingspan, he’d be dominant on defense,” said Walton. “Now that David Robinson has retired from the San Antonio Spurs, I could easily see them signing bin Laden as a free agent. Together on the basketball court, bin Laden and Tim Duncan would constitute a new and improved version of the twin towers!”

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