Think basketball sneakers today and three brands come to mind first: Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour. Shortly after, you’ve got the Chinese brands: Li-Ning, Peak, and Anta, but none come close to the big three. They’ve established themselves above all else in contemporary basketball gear, to an extent that makes it easy to forget about all the other great brands that have tried their hand at the sport.
Puma is one such brand. In fact, like Converse, Puma’s flagship model is a basketball sneaker: arguably its most iconic, enduring silhouette, the Puma Clyde. But the big cat has long fallen off the grid and acquiesced to the Swoosh and the Stripes, content to focus on running (with Usain Bolt) and lifestyle (with their classic sneakers, and contracts with The Weeknd, Selena Gomez, Cara Delevingne, et al).
Today, howver, Puma is primed for a comeback to the hardwood. The German company just re-launched its basketball division, now known as Puma Hoops. Crucially, Puma Hoops has picked the right partners and finessed different aspects of basketball culture, including hip-hop, streetwear, and even social media. As far as comebacks go, Puma has been making all the right moves, setting itself up to rejoin the giants.
Here’s a recap of the big cat’s resurgence into basketball, and why we think it’s gotten off on the right foot.
They’ve got a pretty sweet logo, and branding is on point.
Every great brand has to look great, sound great, and feel great, and from the get-go, Puma has done well. They picked a cool name: Puma Hoops—it just sound sweet, man. They’ve used a nice logo: a simple but ferocious cat doodle. And they’ve accompanied it with a distinct visual identity that’s in-touch with streetwear culture today: scribbled, messy, and stylish.
They’re snatching up top rookies.
To be great, a Puma should have the talents to build and back up the branding. They’ve got that covered, too. As it launched, Puma Hoops signed three of the year’s best rookies: Marvin Bagley III, Deandre Ayton, and Michael Porter Jr.—all five-star prospects, easily within the top five draft picks of the season. It’s as if they’ve resigned to the fact of many of the current greats are bagged up by other brands, so instead of settling for well-known C-listers, Puma nabbed the stars-to-be.
They scored Jay Z’s name.
It was also a huge move to get Jay Z as Puma Hoops’ creative director (although initial reports were that he would be president—which seems suspiciously like a calculated misdirection). The announcement was made just as Hova dropped his conjugal album Everything is Love, showing that he’s still a very relevant name in hip-hop culture. Say what you want about the Brooklyn Nets, but Jay is a bona fide mogul; he can run companies and get paper. And more importantly, Puma has his name—the power of association alone will do wonders.
They honored their roots: The Clyde.
Even as Puma seems to be going in a fresh new direction, they’ve kept it rooted in their history. The Puma Clyde, signature sneaker of Knicks legend Walt “Clyde” Frazier, is one of the brand’s cornerstones. To launch Puma Hoops, Puma also signed Frazier with a lifetime deal, as a way of honoring the brand’s roots and reminding everyone that they’ve actually already had one of the most iconic basketball sneakers of all time.
They teamed up with a cool, current streetwear label: Chinatown Market.
As if those weren’t enough, they also hit the nail on the head in the streetwear department. One of Puma Hoops’ inaugural activities was a collaboration with Chinatown Market, a leader in the new crop of L.A. streetwear (they’re best-known as the bootleggers who birthed the Swoosh Chucks worn by LeBron James). The Puma collaboration included a smiley basketball and graphic T-shirts in Chinatown Market’s signature styles (already they’re cooler than every Under Armour T-shirt ever).
They signed NBA Impersonator Brandon Armstrong.
Clearly Puma knows what’s up when it comes to social media. The theatrics of NBA impersonator Brandon Armstrong, or @bdotadot5, have gone viral repeatedly, making him an influencer in his own right. By signing Armstrong, Puma Hoops showed an appreciation for basketball culture beyond the game, and a keen sense of how to reach younger basketball fans.
Their first new shoe bangs hard.
None of this would count for shit, though, if the shoes turned out to be whack. Thankfully, the first ones aren’t. In fact, they’re a lot better-looking than most modern basketball sneakers, and even carry an auspicious name: the Puma Clyde Court Disrupt. Time will tell if these hold up on the performance side, but you can already tell that it has the bells and whistles: knit sock-like upper, engineered sole, reinforced heel counter. The basic black colorway is already miles ahead of anything Klay Thompson wears.
So does it mean that Puma can squeeze its way back up into the halls of the big three? Not in the near future, of course, but as far as running starts go, Puma Hoops has been pitch-perfect. If they can sustain this effort over several years and continue to churn out good stuff, tell good basketball stories, and build the careers of young stars, they might just pull off one of the greatest coups in the history of basketball gear.