Two of the biggest superstars in Thursday’s NBA Draft have signed endorsement deals with Puma.
Yes, that Puma.
Yes, the same Puma that hasn’t signed a basketball player since 1998.
Walt Frazier was the face of the apparel company back in 1973, but since then, Vince Carter has been the only star basketball player to sport the brand. And Carter’s deal with the apparel company lasted just one year.
Now, DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III will join forces to kickstart “Puma Hoops.” Ex-Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith has also signed with the brand.
So why now? Why would two college basketball superstars, both heavily associated with Nike (more on that later), opt for a brand with extremely limited basketball history? Well for one, rap superstar Jay-Z has been named president of basketball operations of the company.
— Complex Music (@ComplexMusic) June 18, 2018
And two, money. Lots and lots of money.
Nike is Nike. Adidas is Adidas. I’ve played in their circuits and stuff like that, but now it’s a business. You don’t want just product. You’re not a kid anymore. You’re really trying to get bank. That’s about it. […]
I want to try to be the rookie coming in with his first signature shoe as early as possible. That’s one of the goals I’ll try to set. That’s about it. That’s just about me making my first shoe. I’m trying to work hard and get my first signature shoe out there.
As for Bagley III, he saw what Lonzo Ball did with Big Baller Brand and used it as inspiration. He wanted to go against the grain.
I love stuff like that—just being different, not being a follower and just being a leader any way I can. I remember when Lonzo and LaVar Ball first came out with Big Baller Brand and Lonzo’s shoe, then LaMelo’s shoe, everybody was bashing them for it and talking down on them for it. I kind of respected it, because it was different and it wasn’t what everybody was doing.
If you’ll remember, both Ayton and Bagley III were heavily involved with Nike in high school and college. They both played on the Nike EYBL circuit and followed it up by playing for Nike schools at the next level.
ESPN reported back in February that Arizona coach Sean Miller discussed paying $100,000 to ensure Ayton signed with the school.
FBI wiretaps intercepted telephone conversations between Arizona coach Sean Miller and Christian Dawkins, a key figure in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption, in which Miller discussed paying $100,000 to ensure star freshman Deandre Ayton signed with the Wildcats, sources familiar with the government’s evidence told ESPN.
Beyond that, Ayton’s recruitment was extremely bizarre. Despite begging for a Kentucky offer as the No. 1 overall recruit, Coach Cal didn’t want to touch him with a ten-foot pole. Other schools were hesitant to get involved, as well.
As for Bagley III, Nike was extremely invested in the elite prospect out of Arizona for years. The apparel company sponsored the Phoenix Phamily, Bagley III’s club team coached and directed by his father, Marvin Bagley Jr.
The Oregonian investigated a loophole found by the Bagley family and countless individuals across the nation year after year where AAU programs and apparel brands are able to funnel money to top recruits’ families.
Bagley Jr. coaches and directs the club program. Nike legally funds the program and pays its staff whatever they want. Money lands in the hands of elite prospects. Easy.
According to the report, Bagley Jr. and his wife filed for bankruptcy in 2008 with a combined family income of just over $44,000.
Though specific numbers weren’t released, tax forms confirmed the family listed a home in Southern California in 2012 that one local real estate broker said could range anywhere from $750,000 to $1.5 million. Bagley III was also enrolled in a private school with a tuition cost of $36,250 per year.
Quite a financial jump in such little time, eh?
The report found that it’s “common knowledge” apparel companies indirectly pays these families and athletes, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. It’s a legal loophole.
Journalist and author George Dohrmann wrote a scathing account of youth basketball after spending eight years with a Southern California club team. “If a dad is coaching an AAU team that is sponsored by one of the big shoe companies, that is plainly just a way for the shoe company to dump a bunch of money in the lap of the parent of the young star,” he said.
“Everybody knows that, right? It’s a joke.”
We hear about apparel companies steering prospects to schools and signing them after college every year. Half the time, a recruit’s apparel affiliation indicates how strong a school feels about their chances. Remember the Harrison Twins and their relationship with Under Armour? Fans thought it was a foregone conclusion they would attend Maryland due to the UA connection, and nothing more.
Unfortunately for Nike, all of their hard work with Ayton and Bagley III over the years has been for nothing. Puma Hoops is back in business.