In every generation, one athlete makes a bold move, laces up a new pair of shoes never seen before, and does something that turns the footwear industry on its head. In 1936, Adi Dassler came to the Berlin Games with a suitcase of track spikes and persuaded Jesse Owens to give them a try. When Owens won 4 gold medals, he was catapulted to superstar status along with the adidas shoes he was wearing.
32 years later, when Tommie Smith took the 200M gold in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, he stood on the podium with a clenched fist high above his head and a pair of Puma suede shoes at his feet. Walt Frazier would also don Puma shoes that year, triggering a fan base a million strong to follow “Clyde’s” impeccable style.
On the heels of Michael Jordan, basketball-newcomer Nike soared past the competition in 1985 with the release of the Air Jordan line. As we approach the silver anniversary of MJ’s grand entrance into the NBA, Nike still reigns supreme in the sporting goods industry. History tells us that can change instantly when a star athlete bucks the norm to begin a different movement. The next seismic shift in the shoe landscape could be on the horizon, or overseas to be more exact.
Brandon Jennings has been a trendsetter since he skipped out on college hoops to play professionally in Italy for his “purgatory year” between high school and the NBA. On the business side of the game, Jennings signed a deal to be Under Armour’s first basketball endorser. The Maryland-based company is betting millions that Jennings can be a catalyst for a new generation of shoes and are promoting Brandon with his very own website (wheninrome.underarmour.com) and the “Young Money” prototype kicks that have all the sneaker blogs buzzing.
The Under Armour of today parallels the pre-Jordan Nike in many ways. Both built strong brands in other markets (Under Armour in performance apparel and football, Nike in running) before breaking into hoops. To gain entry into the lucrative basketball shoe market, they signed young standout players on the cusp of entering the league. Both Jordan and Jennings were innovators mentored by the sneaker guru himself, Sonny Vaccaro. Will the similarities end there? We won’t know for some time, but the battle over the feet of ballplayers and the thousand of kids that follow their steps is overdue for the next big shoe craze. Maybe the next big shoe tagline will read, “Be Like Brandon.”
Book to Read: Sneaker Wars by Barbara Smith (http://www.amazon.com/Sneaker-Wars-Brothers-Founded-Business/dp/0061246573)
Article to Read: The Last Don by Ric Bucher (http://espn.go.com/magazine/vol5no23vaccaro.html)