Top NBA prospects on hand for Puma basketball shoe unveiling

NEW YORK -- Puma officially entered the basketball shoe game Wednesday night, unveiling the Clyde Court, which will be worn by several big-name NBA rookies Puma has signed and will be the model that will first be sold to the public in October.

The German company shocked the sports business world last week by signing Duke's one-and-done Marvin Bagley III to the biggest rookie shoe deal since Kevin Durant inked a seven-year, $60 million deal with Nike in 2007. Other players who will be among the top picks in Thursday's NBA draft followed as endorsers of the brand, including potential No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton of Arizona and possible lottery pick Zhaire Smith of Texas Tech.

On Wednesday, Puma also announced it had signed another projected lottery pick, Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr.

Bagley and Ayton appeared at a Puma pop-up store in Brooklyn for Wednesday's announcement, along with NBA veteran Rudy Gay, who switched from Nike to Puma in order to help guide the company throughout the shoe's development.

Puma garnered even more buzz when the company announced that Jay-Z would be president of its basketball division. His title was later downgraded to creative consultant after some questioned whether him being president was kosher given he owns Roc Nation Sports, which represents Smith.

"We've been trying to figure out for a while when and where to enter the market," said Adam Petrick, Puma's global director of brand and marketing. "As the basketball market softened up a bit, we saw that as an opportunity."

Petrick said there was no question that basketball was the move to drive the brand to more relevance in the United States.

"We had Usain Bolt, but track and field is never going to be dominant here," Petrick said. "We tried football with Jadeveon Clowney, Julian Edelman and Jamaal Charles, but we never made cleats. Basketball was perfect because of what it offered in terms of culture, music, style, gaming and Twitter."

Plus, Puma had some history in basketball with the shoes it made for former New York Knicks player and current announcer Walt "Clyde" Frazier. First signed by Puma in 1973, Frazier inked a lifetime deal with the company Monday.

The "Disrupt" version of the Clyde Court, shown for the first time Wednesday, will hit stores on Oct. 1 and cost $120. Puma will release three to six colorways of the shoe throughout the 2018-19 NBA season. With four out of five basketball shoes typically worn off the court, Puma executives say the goal of these shoes was to be "made for street, built for the court."

It's too early to know whether buzz will translate into business, but there's no doubt Puma's timing in entering the marketplace for the first time since it had Vince Carter in the late 1990s is fortuitous.

Under Armour's challenging business environment made it less of a competitor to sign the top rookies this year. Nike has its stalwarts in LeBron James, Durant and Kyrie Irving, with Paul George and Giannis Antetokounmpo also in the signature shoe game. And Adidas remained focus on signing one player -- Trae Young, the Oklahoma sharpshooter, who is arguably the most marketable player in this year's draft. More of a case would be made if Young goes to the Knicks with the No. 8 pick, as many have mocked up, joining another Adidas spokesman, Kristaps Porzingis.

While Puma came with the money that made it harder for others to compete, Petrick said that the brand felt fortunate because Ayton's Caribbean background -- he's from the Bahamas -- made for an easier pitch. Ayton is familiar with the brand's involvement with Bolt, who is from Jamaica. Bagley, he said, also made for an easier conversation given his love for music and style.