LaVar Ball’s dream of a Big Baller Brand signature shoe has come to fruition. Lonzo Ball will apparently sport the ZO2 in his rookie NBA season, without backing from any of the dominant brands: Nike, Adidas and Under Armour all reportedly balked at licensing the Big Baller Brand name.
Alright — so Ball went it alone. Cut out the middle man, DIY. Revolutionary stuff, right? Perhaps we’re seeing the wave of the future. Maybe, but I feel more like I’m seeing a repeat of the 1990s.
For the first eight years of my life, I shared a bedroom with my older brother. Reality for a younger sibling living in the same room as his older and much larger brother dictates Big Bro decides what posters get on the wall.
One I vividly remember hanging from the Kensing Bro. abode was the iconic Converse ad, with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird back-to-back. Each had his own color variation of the Converse Weapon, an underrated sneaker that made a brief comeback in the mid-2000s. I owned a few pairs: one for casual wear, the other as my intramural and pick-up shoe while in college.
The Weapon and its ad campaign coincided with Nike’s more aggressive marketing strategy in the 1980s. Starting with the Dunk and leading into the Terminator — the best version of which, Georgetown rocked at the height of its notoriety — Nike began establishing itself as the preeminent basketball shoe manufacturer. But the first Air Jordan launched the Swoosh brand into rarefied air no other company has been able to reach.
Many tried, especially in the 1990s.
The ’90s were rife with manufacturers trying to get in on the burgeoning basketball shoe market. Let’s walk down Memory Lane in the litany of off-brand signature shoes.
Bobby Hurley’s ITZ
The serious automobile accident that cut short the former Duke star and current Arizona State head coach’s NBA career certainly played a role in Bobby Hurley’s shoe never taking off. However, it was produced by Foot Locker, and only available at Foot Locker. A signature shoe limited to a single retailer didn’t stand much change (as Stephon Marbury’s “Starbury” line ran into through its marriage to Steve & Barry’s).
Glen Rice’s Nautica Sport Tech and John Wallace’s Karl Kani
I remember the latter-half of the 1990s for garishly bright and absurdly baggy clothing. Two of the more notorious offenders were Nautica and Karl Kani. Both produced some forgettable signature basketball shoes that reflected the companies’ penchants for gaudiness.
Any signature shoe worn by a Charlotte Hornet was hamstrung by the franchise’s oh-so-late ’80s/’90s color scheme, but the Glen Rice Nautica Sport Tech kicks managed to be both loud and clunky. I don’t remember Lugz ever producing a basketball shoe, and The Google Machine did not return results to suggest otherwise. I imagine Glen’s Nauticas look how a Lugz sneaker might have, though.
As for John Wallace, I contend he’s one of the most underrated and under-appreciated college basketball stars of all-time. He willed Syracuse to the 1996 national championship game, blending a face-up game with a tough-nosed, inside presence.
His NBA career never took off as I’d anticipated, though he hung around seven seasons — and in that time, he got a signature shoe. Unfortunately, it was the ugly Karl Kani Wallace ’97.
The only shoe on this rundown of which I owned a pair was the Ewing. They were affordable, came with a pretty sweet basketball key chain, and circa 1994, I remember thinking they were cool. The shoes are still produced today, and I have to admit, I would wear a pair as casual shoes.
Hakeem Olajuwon’s Spalding
Big Baller Brand asking $495 retail for the ZO2 is absurd. For the price of a Big Baller Brand ZO2, a shopper could purchase an XBox One, with enough left over to cop a pair of LeBrons. The $495 tag is more than my monthly payment on a 2013 Toyota Prius.
Somehow, I doubt Big Baller Brand can boast similar mileage or longevity. The high price is part of the marketing, however.
Shaq — who left Reebok after it produced a few generations of pricey and mostly butt-ugly signature shoes — had his own line in the 2000s, a decade before Big Baller Brand. His price-point was also part of the marketing strategy, though the Shaq Brand came in significantly lower than most basketball sneakers.
— SHAQ (@SHAQ) May 4, 2017
A decade before Shaq Brand was available at Walmart, another of the NBA’s all-time greatest centers had his own signature shoe, sold at lower cost and retailed via big-box stores. Spalding made “The Dream,” Hakeem Olajuwon’s kicks. I remember two versions of the shoe: a very generic incarnation, pictured below, and a redux with a huge, gaudy “34” stitched on the sides.
For one of the best NBA players at the time to have a shoe available at K-Mart was commendable. Nevertheless — and this is completely unfair, but was a reality — The Dream had a social stigma when I was growing up. The same commercialism LaVar Ball seeks to leverage with the $495 price tag for the ZO2 seeps into children’s psyche at an early age.
The advertising on our after-school cartoons, and later, MTV or ESPN, initiated us to socioeconomic dynamics, but only at the most superficial level. Young minds came to understand this as: Jordans = Expensive; your family is middle class. Hakeems = Inexpensive, sold at K-Mart; your family’s poor.
For kids, status and basketball shoes go hand-in-hand. My family moved from the house in which that Converse Weapon poster was plastered to a bigger home, where each of us had our own rooms.
My parents — public school teachers — did what they could to provide us that larger home. In the same manner, they worked to buy Converse Weapons; Nike Airs; as I got older, I wore Jordans and Kevin Garnett’s Nike signatures while I played varsity — and while my parents silently fought going underwater on the house we’d moved to when I was a kid.
I think of all those signature shoes that are relics of the ’90s and my childhood and get a chuckle. I can appreciate most were affordable. I can’t help but feel Big Baller Brand will go the way of ITZ sooner than later. At $495? Sooner is preferable.