Footwear and athletic-apparel giant Nike (NKE -0.32%) is always writing headlines. With best-selling product lines like Air Force, Air Jordan, and the Converse brand, this company has earned a permanent place in everyday life in America and worldwide.

It's no surprise that this ever-present brand is a common topic of conversation, or that the robust business inspires plenty of stock talk around the water cooler. Even so, the Nike chatter is heating up above the normal simmer recently.

Here's why everybody is talking about Nike and its stock right now.

Brand ambassadors

Superstars in key sports such as basketball, football, and soccer serve a powerful marketing role in Nike's business plan. Seeing your favorite players wearing Nikes in action boosts the brand's visibility. The message is even clearer when the company designs a signature shoe to that superstar's specifications.

Nike gets plenty of this brand exposure. According to Kixstats.com, 18 of the 20 shoes most often worn on the NBA courts over the last month were Nike models, often featuring  the names of legends like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Kyrie Irving.

Unfortunately, Nike's relationship with these crucial players can be complicated.

For instance, some of Nike's most popular basketball shoes carry the Kyrie Irving brand, including three of the top-20 models mentioned earlier. Despite Irving's massive market pull, Nike has officially ended its signature sponsorship deal with the star. Nike ripped up the deal this Monday and canceled a planned launch of new Kyrie shoes, 11 months before the multiyear contract was set to expire.

Recently, Irving's image darkened amid a stream of antisemitic messages on social media. The Nets suspended him for eight games without pay over these tweets and Instagram posts.

"Kyrie stepped over the line. It's kind of that simple," Nike co-founder Phil Knight said in a CNBC interview. "He made some statements that we just can't abide by."

Nike investors are paying attention to the scant tidbits of available information. The stock has outperformed Nike's chief rivals over the last week, without much news beyond the Irving separation and football legend Deion Sanders wearing Nike gear at a press conference after years in the Under Armour (UA -0.87%) (UAA -0.72%) ambassador.

These celebrity endorsements are important. Slip-ups, strong moves, and surprise appearances can move the market.

Rendering of a futuriscit sneaker under the words Space Matter.

Cryptokicks iRL in the Space Matter color scheme. Image source: RTFKT.

NFTs

One year ago, Nike stepped into the metaverse. The company acquired RTFKT last December for an undisclosed sum, bringing in a specialist in virtual fashion and collectibles. Now, Nike has launched the first real-world product of that metaverse-focused deal.

The Cryptokicks iRL product line is a set of real, wearable sneakers from Nike, based on the limited-release, Back to the Future-inspired Nike Air Mag. These shoes come with Air Mag's auto-lacing technology, whose battery supports wireless charging. Each shoe also incorporates wearable-fitness technology, making the Cryptokicks iRL comparable to a smartwatch for your feet.

Oh, and just like the Air Mags, this product line will only see a limited production run. Nike will make 19,000 of these pairs available, but only after selling non-fungible tokens (NFTs) representing ownership of each unique pair of shoes. The shoe-buying process involves Lace Engine NTFs, a lottery for the rights to buy, and crypto-wallets holding at least 0.5% Ethereum tokens.

Winners walk away with a pair of physical shoes to use in the real world and an NFT that lets your avatar don the same design in the Clone X-compatible metaverse.

The price ranges from $450 to $1,333 per pair, depending on the color scheme and whether or not you entered the drawing with a Lace Engine token in hand. The signup and drawing are happening this month, and physical shoes will be delivered in May 2023.

Nike will surely sell out this small run of big-ticket items. It's unclear exactly how Nike will represent this windfall on its financial statements, but the top-line take should be in the neighborhood of $14 million.

Nike's revenue over the last four quarters add up to $47.2 billion. The Cryptokicks iRL sale isn't even a rounding error in that calculation. It may, however, be the start of a broader NFT strategy for the footwear giant.

Earnings

Finally, Nike will publish its second-quarter results on December 20. Analysts expect revenue to grow roughly 10% year over year, landing near $12.6 billion. Earnings should slide 23% lower to approximately $0.64 per share.

These analyst projections are roughly in line with management's view, which calls for low double-digit percentage growth on the top line and lower profit margins due to high shipping costs and a more aggressive discount program for out-of-season inventories.

This event isn't on everybody's lips just yet, but the chatter volume should rise over the next couple of weeks. Nike has exceeded Wall Street's expectations across the board in the last four reports, despite headwinds including raging inflation and painful currency-exchange trends. Yet share prices have fallen 36% in 52 weeks, and investors seem to have lost their faith in Nike's ability to deliver robust results.

The proof is in the pudding, and that pudding will be served on Tuesday, December 20.