SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Lonzo Ball is set to make his summer league debut. A not-so-side story when he takes the court in Las Vegas on Friday night will be his shoes.
There will be a few eyes on Ball’s feet; he’s expected to make his debut in his ZO2 sneaker that is sold under the family’s independent fashion line: Big Baller Brand.
There seem to be as many questions surrounding the shoe as there are buyers.
Some players say they wouldn’t buy it, but admire what the Balls are doing.
The shoe and the brand have been the subject of much talk due to the boisterous personality of LaVar Ball, Lonzo’s father and family promoter. The initial price tag of $495 has also generated much conversation . The shoe is only available through the Big Baller Brand website, along with other apparel.
“I was just kind of like, ‘Wow, this guy is out of his mind,'” Finish Line content manager and creative strategist Brandon Elder said about LaVar. “From his marketing strategy of just kind of being loud and out there and aggressive to just the apparatus of having to build your own brand without having any remote experience in design and production and shipping.
“But I think LaVar definitely quieted a lot of people in the last few months. He showed a lot of people, ‘I’m serious.’ When you see someone like Darren Rovell tweet that his brand had three times more impressions than Under Armour in the month of May, that’s powerful.”
LaVar Ball has said he turned down multiple multimillion dollar deals from major shoe companies because he previously asked for a billion dollar co-branding deal. Now the price is up to $3 billion after Lonzo was selected No. 2 overall by the Lakers in last month’s draft.
No players were seen playing in the shoe during summer league action in Orlando, Florida, and Salt Lake City this week. Consumers have been able to pre-order the product that isn’t scheduled to be shipped until November.
It’s unclear how many pairs have been sold since they’re only available through the website and those numbers haven’t been made public.
Ball’s shoe falls into an odd grey area when it comes to sales.
The price falls in line with luxury, lifestyle brands, but the model is clearly a basketball sneaker. The price immediately takes the majority of people, especially young basketball fans, out of the mix. But LaVar has said the line is only for “ballers.”
While some of the summer league ballers aren’t fans of the shoe, they support the concept.
“I would never buy them, but he’s doing his own thing, especially at a young age,” 76ers guard Melo Trimble said. “That’s pretty awesome for him. A lot of people are going to criticize him because of his dad, but he’s a really good point guard and for him to start his own shoe is a big step … that’s crazy.
“I’m happy for him. I wish I could do the same thing. I don’t like (the design), but as far as coming up with the idea, that’s cool for him.”
Semi Ojeleye, the 37th overall pick by the Celtics, said he wouldn’t wear them either, but “If (Ball) plays well, then he can definitely get something going with that brand. … I haven’t seen anyone wear them yet. I’m interested to see them live and in person.”
If professional basketball players are somewhat leery of the shoe, then the average consumer likely is — for now.
Corey Bullough, owner of Fice Gallery and Boutique in Salt Lake City, said he was unimpressed when the line was launched and didn’t take it seriously. He believes the design is basic and simple with a lot of elements from other models. The shoe does bear some resemblance to some Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan models, while the sole looks similar to the Adidas boost technology.
Bullough doesn’t believe he would stock them if that was an option, saying the price tag is a long way from Utah or middle America. He acknowledges things could change with Ball’s success.
Not teaming with a major apparel company is risky, but it could pay off.
“We all look at bottom line. How much did they profit off it?” Elder said. “How much would they have made if they signed with a Nike and Adidas? What’s the difference? If they made $7 million more, that’s obviously a huge success. … That’s the easy answer. The other one comes down to cultural relevance.”
The Finish Line strategist said the challenge for the Balls will be to find the balance where his game is still at the forefront and this is just a good way to boost him up. What would not work, Elder said, would be treating this like a merchandise tour, where companies throw a logo on a T-shirt and charge $60 for it.
“That’s going to be the difference between this being successful for a year,” he said, “and this being successful for a decade.”