We’re at an interesting time. We’re at a point in human society where we’ve become used to being in close proximity to strangers, to being able to travel easily, pick up things or have things delivered when we want them. I’d like to believe our community: the global community, the NBA, and the footwear community will come back, and do so even stronger than before. And in the spirit of that, I want to take time to acknowledge a brand that many people thought was down and out when it comes to the NBA and footwear community overall. A brand that many of us, myself included, looked at as a joke. A brand that I didn’t think could hang with the big boys when it came to athleisure and the NBA footwear community, and with that, I’d like to give a special shoutout to New Balance.
The toughest thing to do as a person is to acknowledge your biases and move past them. It took some time, but I have moved past my bias of New Balance. In the summer of 2018, when the trade was announced for Kawhi to go to the Toronto Raptors, an additional announcement was made that he would no longer be a part of the Jordan brand. Kawhi already had numerous accolades at the time including 2-time All-Star, 2-time Defensive Player of the Year, and NBA Finals MVP, but he was not known for making an impact in the footwear industry. At the time it didn’t make sense for him to leave Jordan brand, it is well liked by many in both the NBA and the footwear community overall and it seemed like a no brainer for him to continue to stay with the brand and have his player exclusive shoes. When he announced he was instead going to sign with New Balance, it was received with shock and some ridicule. Why would he choose to be with a brand that is more associated with dad shoes than NBA basketball legends? Headline: “Boring man chooses boring company”.
Then something miraculous happened. At an introductory press conference where there was a laugh heard around the world (you know the one.. Ha ha ha). For the first time fans got to witness some personality from Kawhi. This was shocking for us, Kawhi has even been called a cyborg by Coach David Fizdal, but now he was here giving us a glimpse of who he is as a person. Then as Toronto was picking up some momentum, people started acknowledging their talent, but not willing to think they could go all the way just yet considering their past history. Then before All-Star weekend, something interesting happened, a big announcement from New Balance: Kawhi would be debuting his New Balance shoe, the Omni Ones. On Instagram the sneaker world went, wow, this is interesting, not bad. Post All-Star weekend he brings out various colorways and New Balance offers a limited release of his shoes, while at the same time Kawhi was really picking up speed with Toronto and the discussion started going to how far could they go, are they a big threat in the East? The dialogue around him started to shift, and his shoe became very desirable.
As the season ended with Kawhi holding the Bill Russell trophy as the Finals MVP, and on the parade showing that he is a force and that he does indeed have a personality, a very unique one that he was able to gain fans through more than just his game. Now he’s moved to the Clippers and he’s continued to gain momentum back home. New Balance cleverly released his new shoe at All-Star break this year in Chicago with strong reception from fans. New Balance has really shown they can hit the ground running (no pun intended) with how they’ve handled the Kawhi relationship. They are also stepping up their game with other collaborations such as those with Jayden Smith, Coco Gauff, and Ronnie Fieg. They’ve also announced a digital/televised ad partnership with the NBA, meaning the door is open for players to wear NB gear for commercials. Overall New Balance has really done with changing their image and branding to the footwear community and quite frankly is shocking.
This was an article that is important for me to talk about because I believe it’s important to give people credit when credit is due. New Balance has shown a great example of how you should treat your athletes. The jury is still out on how well the Kawhi shoes will do long term, but so far it’s looking good. They aren’t quite in first class, but they have shown they are willing to put in the work to get there. I applaud them for allowing Kawhi to be authentic and create a partnership with him that showcases who he is as a player and a person. I can say I look forward to purchasing a pair myself, and no I won’t be cutting grass in them!