LOS ANGELES- The Puma basketball re-emergence is fully upon us. While swooshes, three stripes, and the Jumpman are the standard hardware on the floor, it’s been a while since the “formstrip” made waves … specifically, you’d have to look back to the immortal Vince Carter’s rookie year in Toronto 20 years ago.
Now, the Puma basketball re-emergence has come about via key moves throughout 2018 that brought back the brand’s culture and spirit. Jay-Z was announced as the creative director. Then, Puma went heavy into the 2018 NBA Draft pool, adding DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Kevin Knox, Michael Porter Jr., and Zhaire Smith to their roster. With Celtics guard Terry Rozier, Spurs swingman Rudy Gay, and WNBA star Skylar Diggins-Smith on board, Puma put together quite the squad in a relatively short amount of time.
At the beginning of the movement, though, was west coast hip-hop icon Nipsey Hussle, who started collaborating with Puma in 2017.
“I’ve been working with Chief before, just on fashion collaborations and marketing, too,” Nipsey told Dime of his initial involvement with Chief Johnson, who heads Puma’s entertainment marketing arm.
“It’s part of me being an L.A. native,” Hussle is quick to point out. “Certain sneakers were a part of our culture growing up. The Puma Clydes, the Puma Suedes, some of the classic silhouettes we just grew up wearing them. I just told him, I wear Puma, anyway.”
Beyond style and performance, it’s Puma’s rich history the weaves the brand with sports culture. Before the likes of Russell Westbrook or James Harden were making off-court fashion statements, 70s drip icon Clyde Frazier was decked out in fedoras and mink coats with Pumas on his feet.
Puma’s past defines where it is going as it navigates new but familiar territory. The move is to commit to the roots of the game, especially the vibrant playground game that Hussle holds dear.
Puma and Nipsey worked in collaboration with street artist Drew Visuals to refurbish and enhance a court in South Los Angeles that was similar to a project Visuals put together in his hometown of Evansville, Ind. In L.A., he reimagined a court to inspire another generation to make the court their canvas, a concept that brings young hoopers to the game the way kids of Nipsey’s era did in the city. Hussle also presented a $10,000 check and 200 backpacks to kids at a South L.A. elementary school on behalf of Puma.
“In Cuba you probably play baseball, in Africa or Mexico you play soccer,” Nipsey said. “We play basketball in L.A. Everybody growing up, that was our Fortnite, that was our Minecraft. We played on all these courts — Crenshaw High School, Hyde Park, 54th Street Elementary — the schools we went to. We revolved around the basketball court.”
At its core basketball has always been a neighborhood game — my five against your five. As the Puma basketball re-introduction continues, its commitment to the hoops community will be as essential as the players they add to their roster. Puma is working to restore the spirit of the playground game, one which Hussle believes has always existed. In his eyes, as you look to the past, Puma has long been about more than what people rock on their feet — it’s the deeper spirit that makes the company so special to Hussle.
“You see the history, the involvement in moments, like the (1968) Olympics when they took a stand,” Hussle said, referring to the famous moment in which Tommie Smith and John Carlos threw their fists in the air on the medal podium to protest injustice and racism. “That was a Puma moment. Things like that align with a little deeper fabric of what we represent.”
With future stars on board and signature shoes on the horizon, 2018 has been the splash year for Puma, but living in the now does no one favors. Next up is making sure the future is as bright and colorful as some of their signature kicks.