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Why 2 up-and-coming NBA stars chose to be the faces of Puma over other big-name brands

14 February 2019, Bavaria, Herzogenaurach: A basketball with the logo of the sporting goods manufacturer Puma SE is exhibited in the company. On 14 February, the sporting goods manufacturer will present its balance sheet for the year 2018. Photo: Daniel Karmann/dpa (Photo by Daniel Karmann/picture alliance via Getty Images)

In 2018 sportswear brand Puma (PUMSY) let the world know it was ready to take back a piece of the basketball pie that it long ago ceded to the Nikes (NKE) and Adidases (ADDYY) of the world. The first step was signing the 2018 first overall NBA draft pick Deandre Ayton and NBA All-Star DeMarcus Cousins. 

The next was signing more up-and-coming NBA Stars. RJ Barrett of the New York Knicks and Kyle Kuzma of the Los Angeles Lakers can attest to this. The pair who signed deals with the brand in 2019 are two of the youngest and newest members of the Puma basketball family, and signing with Puma over its larger competitors was a natural choice. 

“I met with a lot of the other companies, but when I was talking to Puma, I saw it had a family feel,” Barrett told Yahoo Finance in a new interview. Barrett, who was the 3rd overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft, had some added incentive to sign with Puma — a brand that has a long New York Knicks tradition. 

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 28: RJ Barrett attends Knicks Rookie RJ Barrett Announces Puma Partnership on August 28, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Shareif Ziyadat/WireImage)

In the past, when most people thought of Puma, they thought of running — and with good reason. The face of the brand for years was and arguably still is “The fastest man alive,” Olympian Usain Bolt

As far as basketball sneakers go, Puma was a brand that was usually overlooked — especially by sneaker enthusiasts. Few in the sneaker game would have thought the brand would dip its toes back in the basketball waters.

By all accounts, it looks like Puma’s strategy of modernizing its classic look and signing young NBA players like the 19-year-old Barrett and the 24-year-old Kuzma is working. Senior Industry Advisor at the NPD group Matt Powell tells Yahoo Finance that the brand outperformed in 2019 and its growth has been substantial. In Q3, Puma’s Footwear business grew by 17%, and CEO Bjørn Gulden cited the strong performance of the brand’s newer styles.

In June 2019, Puma had less than 1% of the U.S. sneaker market, according to NPD group data. By November 2019 the brand had 1.5% of the market share, which Powell said represents substantial growth for a brand that seemed like it was too far gone to make a comeback. 

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 01: Kyle Kuzma #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers Mikal Bridges #25 of the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center on January 1, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Lakers won 117 to 107. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

Despite Puma’s surge, the brand’s market share is still tiny in comparison with rivals like Nike which together with its Jordan brand account for 42% of the U.S athletic shoe market, according to NPD Group.

Puma’s first major NBA star was Hall of Famer, NBA Champion and fellow New York Knick Walt “Clyde” Frazier. At the time of the signing, Frazier was a huge move for Puma due in no small part to the fact that he was one of the most fashionable NBA stars of his time.

“I feel like I’m carrying on a tradition just to be connected to somebody that great and, and such a great franchise. It feels amazing,” Barrett said.

Fellow NBA player Kyle Kuzma, who signed a $20 million deal, said his decision to go with Puma came down to the brand’s uniqueness. “It was just something different, something that expresses who I am as a person, especially when it comes to fashion and the lifestyle aspect of Puma,” he said.

The rap and sneaker icon Nipsey Hussle, who was killed in March of 2019, was also a member of the Puma family. The late rapper not only helped design special edition Puma sneakers but apparel as well in conjunction with his “The Marathon Clothing” brand.  

Kuzma spoke with Yahoo Finance about the influence Nipsey had on him and his decision to go with Puma.

“We were good friends. He kind of paved the way a little bit with taking Puma to another level,” he said. “For me, it’s just cool to be aligned with a brand that has character and was representing at that time.”

Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.

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