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Here’s how PUMA is trying to get back into NBA sneakers

The company took two decades off, but they’re back, and seemingly better than ever.

PUMA Re-Enters Basketball Category With Launch Party At 40/40 Club In New York City Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for PUMA

After a 20-year hiatus from the basketball world, PUMA has made a giant splash of a return. The lifestyle shoe brand’s biggest star was Walt Clyde Frazier back in the 1970s, but they have been invisible since Nike, Adidas and Under Armour flooded the scene, scooping up all the hoops talent in the past few decades.

PUMA dove headfirst into this year’s NBA draft class, securing four highly-touted lottery picks, including the presumptive first- and second-overall picks in this year’s draft, as well as two additional players expected to go in the lottery. The brand is still strong after all these years, and it bet big on a draft class that could be one of the best since 2003.

Who did PUMA sign?

THEY SIGNED EVERYONE. Well not really, but they might as well have. PUMA snagged Arizona’s Deandre Ayton and Duke’s Marvin Bagley III, expected to be Nos. 1 and 2 respectively in this year’s draft. They also signed Michael Porter Jr., who was a back injury away from a top-three nod but could now fall as low as 10 or even 12, as well as highflying guard Zhaire Smith from Texas Tech. They even managed to pick up Rudy Gay, who becomes a free agent this summer after spending one year with the Spurs.

It’s a huge step for the shoe company that hasn’t signed an NBA player since Vince Carter in 1998, and Carter forced his way out of that contract two years later to join And One. (And by forced, we mean Carter lost a $13.5 million lawsuit for breaching his contract.) The shoe company did, however, sign the WNBA Dallas Wings’ Skylar Diggins in 2017.

The contract PUMA gave Bagley is reportedly the largest rookie shoe deal given to any basketball player since Kevin Durant signed his seven-year, $60 million deal with Nike in 2007.


The NBA shoe-scape is dominated by Nike, Adidas and Under Armour. What reason would PUMA have to compete with those juggernauts? An SB Nation request for comment from a PUMA spokesperson went unanswered, but Ayton and Bagley each had their own reasons for signing with PUMA in an interview with Bleacher Report:

Marvin Bagley III: I chose Puma because I wanted to be different. I saw an opportunity where I could come in and build from the jump and work to get to a certain level. I saw myself doing that. They have some real nice stuff. I’m very excited about it, and I can’t wait to get to know everybody, keep working with everybody and keep improving.

Deandre Ayton: Puma was the best deal. To me, anybody can make your shoe. Anybody can make the best shoe for you and put the right fit in the shoe. We were dealing with Nike people, Under Armour and all the other shoe companies for a pretty long time. We ain’t really got bad blood with any of them, but it’s not bad to start something new. We just thought Puma was the right fit. My mom had a friend at Puma, but we didn’t really know she was with Puma. But as I started to get more exposure to the world and basketball, she told us she was with Puma and knew people there. Just knowing all of these people personally, my mom felt comfortable. Another thing is that all these other brands got all these other superstars. It’s good that I’m one of the few that’s signed with Puma.

PUMA also hired Jay-Z as its president of basketball operations, which is a pretty cool and new title for a shoe company. That just goes to show how outside the box PUMA is trying to be. They have stars on their roster, from Meek Mill and Rihanna to Big Sean. They are endorsed by track sensation Usain Bolt and have collaborated with NFL players Jadeveon Clowney and Jamaal Charles.

Now, they’re diving back into the NBA arena.

Well, what about the sneakers?

We hadn’t really taken PUMA hoops seriously because they’re a lifestyle shoe company that hasn’t produced basketball sneakers this era. But they unveiled their first basketball shoe on Wednesday, and it kept the PUMA style while adding support and versatility needed for a pro athlete.

There will probably be more shoes on the horizon, but it’s a start. There is no word yet as to whether any of the rookies will be given a signature shoe, but it seems unlikely.

The merch

PUMA had an activation in Brooklyn, and we checked out some of the gear they created as part of a collaboration with Chinatown Market.

There’s no clear-cut answer to why PUMA decided this was the year it was jumping back into the NBA, but the talent pumping into the league is as promising as ever. If the talent doesn’t pan out, throwing gobs of money at these kids was well worth the risk. And if it does? Well, PUMA might be a force in the basketball world for a long, long time.