Happily accepting an invite to adidas headquarters for a tour and an exclusive interview with Rockets-Star James Harden we found ourselves in Herzogenaurach on August 22nd. This is a summary of that special day…
When you ask people about the first thing that comes to their mind when they hear the word “headquarters” most of them probably say “an office with people”. And why shouldn’t they? It is where people work and workplaces usually look like offices. So you can imagine our surprise when we stepped foot on adidas base and it looked like a peaceful, well-kept park. It looked more like Central Park or English Garden than the headquarter of one of the biggest, well-known companies in the world.
A life-sized statue of adidas Founder Adolf Dassler (or more commonly known as “Adi” Dassler, hence the name adidas for those of you who did not know) welcomes you right after you step through the entrance. There is a small wooden bridge that leads over a big pond, and there are geese who can be quite vicious we were told. Robot lawnmowers patrol the area like automatic sentinels and immediately I ask myself, “where are all the people?”. We move on to “Stripes” cafeteria for a quick bite and I am impressed. This place is beautiful! Smacked right in the middle of the campus it is the place where all adidas employees can grab a meal, meet with colleagues and relax. An oasis made of glass surrounded by water and trees. Yeah, that beats our Döner lunchbreaks at KICKZ HQ by a mile. But the place is also quite empty. No people. Must be the time of day, I thought, and we moved on to pick up the winners of our Meet-James-Harden-competition.
Every time you get an official guide assigned to you, you know this will be fun. It basically means there is so much to see and to talk about that they have a designated person whose only job it is to show you stuff and explain it to you. And yes, some of the things we saw needed a lot of explaining, because frankly I did not know what the hell I was looking at. But more about that later. Among the things I was able to identify was the basketball court we walked by. There was also a beach volleyball court and a soccer field.
And then we stood in front of a large shiny black building that looked like it was taken right out of a science-fiction movie. From the outside it was just a black glass cube that did not allow any guesses about what was going on inside. If they told me it was the adidas company swimming pool I would have just as well believed it as “this is the adidas airport terminal”. That thing was just massive. It is called the “adidas consumer center”. Among other things this was where adidas did product presentations and two steps inside I understood why. It was the size of an airplane hangar with a wall of LCD-screens that literally spanned as far as the eye could see. My first thought was it would be awesome to play a video game on this LCD-wall but then I realized standing on the right I would not be able to see what happened on the left. You would have to be standing outside of the building to see the whole thing.
We made our way into the narrow walkway between the screens and learned that the presentation “hangar” doubled as an adidas exhibit. That meant everything there was to know about Adidas history and of course this was where our guide truly shined. Due to time constraints (NBA players tend not to wait) we did not cover every station extensively, but here is a short recap of what we saw. The first track & field shoes for artificial flooring (Adidas Titan), Uwe Seeler’s soccer shoe (Adidas Achill), Kareem Abdul-Jabbars basketball shoes (Adidas Superstars), Reinhold Messner’s trekking shoes, the first Stan Smith shoe, numerous soccer balls from every World Cup and shoes or apparel worn during the Olympic Games. All of them.
THE HARDEN EXPERIENCE
After our trip through the adidas exhibit we went straight to the creative hub, where James Harden would be officially welcomed and introduced to the adidas crowd. My question “where are all the people” was answered. They were all here! An indoor basketball court was being prepared for a shoot-out, people gathered around the makeshift stage and the crowd was waiting for James Harden on three separate airwalks over our heads. The air was filled with that certain kind of buzz when an NBA player is around. And then he came! The crowd errupted with applause and people started chanting his name, music blaring from the speakers as if to announce the Rockets starting five. No matter how famous you are, it is moments like this that will still take your breath away and James Harden was visibly touched by the wave of love and appreciation.
After thanking adidas for inviting him to their headquarters and thanking everyone who was working on his gear for the hard work and support Harden stepped on the court where he met his “opponents”. Five adidas employees who challenged him to a three-point shootout. He came in third. Let’s file this under jet lag. What followed was an extensive opportunity for handshakes and selfies and I was instantly impressed of how much time James Harden took to greet his fans one-by-one. I am lucky to say that I have met quite a number of NBA players and without naming any names, I can tell you that it’s rare. The schedule is packed, people are pulling you from all sides and sponsors have to be happy. It is often the fans that get the short end, but not here. I can’t count the amount of selfies Harden took but it must have been in the hundreds. Nice!
About 15 minutes later we were ushered into a private room where James Harden and his entourage had lunch and some refreshments. Of the hundreds of people in the creative hub only about twenty of us were allowed in this area. Only people who worked directly on his stuff, marketing and PR people, division heads, the winner of our competition and us were left. After a short while the Rockets-Superstar came out from his part of the room to meet us. He shook hands with our winners, gave some autographs and posed for pictures. All in all it was a surreal experience. It was like a guy just crawled out of my television and stood right next to me. I don’t care how many NBA stars you have met, that’s not something you get used to or could ever find boring.
Then we had the interview. I won’t spoil everything now, you have to read the full interview in next month’s FIVE magazine, but Harden surprised me with how candid he answered all our questions. He took his time to think before answering. A lot of celebrities – athletes especially – have a routine when doing interviews. That has partly to do with the fact that most of the time they get asked the same questions, but it’s also a personality thing. Usually I can tell immediately if the guy in front of me will just give me the same exact soundbites or if he is truly interested in a conversation. Harden belongs to the latter, which made the whole interview so much easier and dare I say – better.
THE VAULT & THE END
After the interview there was one stop left on our adidas tour. And not to step on Mr. Harden’s toes, but as a sports history buff this was the stop I had marked red, underlined and circled in my mind. It was our visit to the famous Adidas brand archive.
After a brief introduction of what waited behind that green door and my admittedly dumb question if that Ivan Lendl tennis racket lying in front of me was real, we were allowed inside and this was probably the closest thing to time travel I have ever experienced. Chances are you will not be lucky enough to ever be allowed inside, so let me give you a little overview what it’s like in there.
First of all it’s cold. 18 degrees Celsius and 50% humidity. All to conserve the unique items of sports history. Like one of the very first Adidas Superstar shoes, a basketball boot from 1949, Boxing gloves from Muhammad Ali and his boxing shoes, an original Adidas Mutombo worn by Dikembe Mutombo, Tracy McGrady’s shoes, Dirk Nowitzki signed Jersey, all matchballs of all major soccer tournaments, worn and signed soccer jerseys, Stefan Edberg’s tennis bag, Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s original track suit, stuff worn by Olympic gold medalists and world champions. Basically every piece of adidas sports history is here.
Even if you can’t go inside you can still see what’s there by looking on the website: https://www.adidas-archive.org/
All in all the day at Herzogenaurach was not one we will soon forget and we learned a lot, too. Headquarters aka Adidas base is nothing short of impressive. James Harden is really a nice guy and the adidas brand archive is a place where I want to go for my next vacation.
Thank you, adidas, for a great day!