Practice was wrapping up Wednesday when Michael Porter Jr. took the floor. On a side goal of the Nuggets’ practice facility, Porter offered everyone a small reminder of why he was the top-rated prospect in his high school class by sliding around the three-point arc and swishing one deep ball after another. Porter’s jumper looked impossibly smooth for a player who’s pushing 6-foot-11.
That silky stroke helped Porter become the fifth player ever to win MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Naismith and Gatorade National Player of the Year awards in the same year. It was also a reason why Puma, the German sportswear company, felt Porter was worth gambling on as it reentered the basketball shoe game after a two-decade hiatus.
In June, Puma announced it inked Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Porter and Zhaire Smith to sponsorship agreements. The move caught many people by surprise; an NBA athlete hasn’t worn Pumas in a game since Vince Carter in the late 90s.
To understand why Puma made this aggressive push back into basketball, BSN Denver spoke to ESPN’s Nick DePaula, who has covered the intersection of kicks and hoops for the last 13 years. DePaula offered insight into why Porter agreed to a deal with Puma, what Puma learned from its falling out with Carter and how many pairs of sneakers DePaula has in his own closet. Here is the interview, which has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
BSN: Why did Puma decide to get back into the shoe game right now?
DePaula: It caught some people by surprise. It’s been the first time in 20 years that they’ve targeted signing an NBA player and will be operating in the basketball space. I think the big thing for Puma is that they’ve had a lot of momentum the last couple years in the music and lifestyle space and in women’s as well as with Rihanna of course. So kind of the progression from the music space is to really tap into the NBA.
Basketball has always kind of been an interesting sport. Puma way back in the day had a tie to the sport with (Knicks legend) Clyde Frazier and the Clyde model, which is kind of a timeless, classic shoe. But it hasn’t really had an imprint in the space lately. The biggest thing for them is they’ve learned a lot from the last time they were in the space, which was in 1998. They had Vince Carter, who they signed to a huge, huge deal. It was a 10-year deal at the time. Vince and Puma broke the deal after only his second season, and they were left without anybody to wear the shoe and were pretty much stuck. The thing we saw this time around was they wanted to be more measured and sign a handful of guys in the hopes that one of those guys develops into a Vince Carter-like player. They’ve had a huge sign off in terms of budget and being really aggressive with their offers. Definitely the financial package was a big part of the appeal for a lot of the players.
BSN: You just mentioned the financial package. Do you have any sense of what else was appealing to Michael Porter Jr. about Puma?