BOSTON -- During a recent preseason game against Charlotte, Terry Rozier was giving the Hornets major problems, dropping bucket after bucket in little to no time.
It led to NBC Sports Boston analyst/Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Tommy Heinsohn to proclaim, “It’s gotta be the shoes!”
That has to be music to the ears of executives with Puma, the shoe and apparel provider for Rozier.
It also serves as a reminder of just how the shoe game of NBA players has been on a steady growth curve in terms of its impact and influence in all facets of the league.
Today, the influence of shoes on the NBA game has never been greater with the league giving players more freedom than ever to experiment with different colors and designs that can be worn during games.
This season, players will provide insight on a host of topics outside the game of basketball, that will be displayed in various forms, color schemes and designs on the sneakers they play in.
It has the potential for players to make their voices, beliefs and convictions on display in a way that the NBA has never seen before.
And for Boston Celtics fans, you can count on a number of Celtics players joining this wave of creativity that will engulf the NBA this season.
“I love the creativity,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown who has a shoe and apparel deal with Adidas. “I’m a creative mind. That’s dope to see other creative people get to express themselves, with their sneakers. And I’m gonna do the same thing, express myself with my sneakers.”
As Brown alluded to, he won’t be alone in using the league’s relaxed stance regarding sneakers as a way of expressing himself creatively during games.
And among Celtics players, the rule change will bring out the competitor in several players all vying to come out with designs and color schemes that stand out and above their teammates as well as the rest of the NBA.
“They’re in trouble,” Boston’s Marcus Morris told NBC Sports Boston, referring to his teammates who will be introduced to Morris’ classic collection of sneakers. “I got something in store.”
But Morris acknowledges the player most of his Celtics teammates will be trying to out-do when it comes to footwear, is Kyrie Irving.
“He comes with 17 different shoes every game,” quipped Morris. “You should see his locker ... and they’re all different.”
A five-time All-star, Irving has had a signature shoe deal with Nike joining high-profile players such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Paul George.
MORE THAN JUST PICKING COLORS
Irving’s talent certainly was a factor in him landing his own signature shoe.
But as Irving explained to NBC Sports Boston, there’s a lot involved in becoming one of the primary basketball faces of a global shoe and apparel maker like Nike.
“It’s a crazy process,” Irving told NBC Sports Boston. “Nike has a mechanic they put you through. When I say mechanic, they have a system that they put Nike athletes through.”
Irving said it involves focus groups that examine various colors as well as stories about an athlete’s life that they consider showcasing on the shoe as well as from a promotional potential standpoint.
“And then they see how that goes and tell you yes or no whether you are going to get your own signature shoe and I was grateful enough to receive that opportunity,” said Irving whose signature shoe debuted in 2014. “And I have been taking full advantage of it. Since day one of the Kyrie Ones, it’s been trying to be more hands-on and have creative input to put things out that would be culturally moving.”
Irving’s inspiration for his signature shoes can be as fun-loving as developing some with a “Lucky Charms” cereal-inspired shoe, or something far more serious such as empowering women which was on display in the “Tiffany’s” Kyrie 3 series as well as the Kyrie 4’s which were worn by Celtics teammate (and fellow Nike client) Jayson Tatum during the playoffs last season.
“Obviously, you have great collaborations with TV shows, or a snack or cereal, but when you have something that empowers females that you can put on a shoe, that really echoes the greatness of how powerful a female is, in all of our lives,” Irving said. “To be able to create life, I was inspired by Tiffany’s. It went from Tiffany’s to, let’s do a woman-empowered shoe.”
SHOES AS A SOCIAL PLATFORM
Jaylen Brown is one of the younger members of the Boston Celtics roster, but it hasn’t prevented the 21-year-old from voicing his thoughts and opinions on a variety of topics off the court.
No one will be surprised if Brown uses the freedom players now have with what they can do design-wise with their shoes, as a platform of sorts to create discussion and discourse on topics of today.
Brown said it means a lot to be with a shoe and apparel maker that you’re on the same page with, akin to relationship between Colin Kapernick and Nike.
“With Adidas and stuff, we have some interesting stuff planned,” said Brown who declined to get into specifics.
There is a heightened level of discussion regarding issues that in the past, professional athletes often stayed clear of talking about.
But in recent years, NBA players have not hesitated to use their platform to discuss various topics of the day, like notable stars such as Los Angeles Lakers LeBron James voicing his opinion on a variety of topics such as police brutality and racism.
“Everybody has things they’re passionate about, outside of what they’re doing at the time,” Brown said. “In 2018 that’s great. I’m part of the generation where some of those old stereotypes that have been embedded for such a long time, are starting to break. Now you see a basketball player can make statements and be taken seriously because of the people that came before us and paved the way.”
‘WE’RE GONNA GET CRAZY’
Terry Rozier was in deep discussions about his shoe deal with Puma before the league announced its rule changes regarding what players could do with their shoes.
The rule change saved him – make that Puma – a lot of money, Rozier said.
During talks with Puma, Rozier said they had every intention of pushing the envelope in terms of the color schemes and designs for the sneakers he would play in this season.
“They (Puma) were gonna pay my fines,” said Rozier who added, “and we were gonna get crazy everywhere we go, so just stay tuned. It’s gonna be nice.”
Rozier said he has already met with marketing folks with Puma, explaining to them what he was looking for in the shoes that he said will come out in January.
Rozier’s meteoric rise from an NBA backup to one of the primary faces of the revamped Puma brand in the NBA, is something that he knows was fueled both by his play and the emergence of the “Scary Terry” brand last season.
The moniker took off, just as his game began to soar to new heights.
There were “Scary Terry” t-shirts, hats, flip-flops … he became a big deal from a marketing standpoint.
“It’s been a blessing that’s been happening,” Rozier said. “Just want to keep it going and it’s been great.”
NBA SHOE, APPAREL COMPETITORS GROWS
And just like Puma is trying to carve out a niche in the NBA shoe game that has been dominated by Nike and Adidas, the same is true for Anta which recently signed Gordon Hayward who joins Golden State’s Klay Thompson and former Celtic Rajon Rondo. Another ex-Celtic Kevin Garnett, wore the China-based company’s shoes near the end of his playing career.
Hayward recalls growing up and wearing the shoes of other NBA players.
“And you dream about potentially having your own shoe one day,” Hayward said. “When you have that kind of opportunity, you take it.”
Hayward added, “It’s like when you’re a kid, you want to be in a video game and you want to have your own shoe. Those two things, right? I think I’m on my way to having both of those.”
Hayward’s multi-year shoe deal only adds to the growing list of Celtics who will be competing to have shoes that make the strongest statement that will resonate with fans and teammates.
Indeed, the battle for shoe supremacy on this Celtics roster won’t be all that different than the pecking order on the floor for games – it starts with Kyrie Irving.
“Those guys are going to try and compete with me,” Irving said. “The competition only elevates the sneaker culture. There’s so many great fashion-forward (players), but you want to find that balance of being culturally provocative and then being a marketing genius when it comes to having those narratives be put out, strategic in who’s wearing them and how they’re wearing them and then being very accessible in being available for anyone and everyone because they are for everyone. They’re not for one specific group.”
HAVIN’ FUN WITH IT
Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, spent 14 seasons (1981-1995) as a player in the NBA. During that time, he said he had shoe deals with Nike coming out of BYU and would later become the first NBA player to sign a shoe deal with Boston-based Reebok.
Ainge will be the first to admit that getting a shoe deal back then, is significantly different – and far more lucrative – these days.
“It wasn’t as big a deal as it is now,” Ainge told NBC Sports Boston. “But, it was … they invested in you and you were partners with them. My big thing has always been, ‘I need to wear a shoe that works.’ It has to feel good and both Nike and Reebok worked with me as a player. The shoes were good.”
All the Celtics who talked with NBC Sports Boston acknowledged that the shoe’s fit and comfort level takes precedence over all other aspects.
But thanks to the NBA, players now have the option of not just being comfortable on the court but cool as well.
“I’m gonna have fun with it,” said Tatum who said he usually wears Kyrie Irving or Paul George shoes when he plays. “I’m excited to see all the shoes people wear this year. It’s gonna be fun.”
And as much as he enjoys donning the shoes of other stars like Irving and George, Tatum acknowledges the thought of having his own signature shoe is one that he has thought about . . . a lot.
“I think about it all the time,” Tatum said. “One day.”
And when that day comes, Tatum plans to be as creative as possible with his designs and color schemes.
“I don’t know what it feels like but it has to be a special feeling,” Tatum said of having a signature shoe deal. “I’m looking forward to it one day.”
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