Inside the visitors locker room of Oracle Arena, a special package awaited Toronto Raptors shooting guard Danny Green.
It was the night of Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, when the Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors to claim their first championship in franchise history and denied the two-time defending champions a shot at a three-peat.
Yet before bottles were popped and Toronto closed the doors of Oracle with a championship celebration, Green was surprised with a gold box in his locker. It came from Puma, the German sportswear company that the 10-year NBA veteran signed an endorsement deal with in October as part of the brand’s strategic return to the sport of basketball for the first time in nearly two decades.
By the end of the 2018-19 NBA season, Green became the first Puma athlete since Detroit Pistons point guard Isiah Thomas in 1990 to win a title.
“I won a lot of games in my Pumas,” Thomas, now a retired Hall of Famer and studio analyst for NBA TV, told The Undefeated in February. “My fondest memories are winning a championship in them and pouring that champagne on my head. … I was killing ’em in those shoes.”
When the Pistons defeated the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1990 Finals, Thomas wore his signature shoe, the Puma Palace Guard, throughout the series to become just the second player, after New York Knicks legend Walt “Clyde” Frazier, to reach NBA glory in Pumas. Frazier, the brand’s first signature athlete, as well as the first player in the history of basketball to get his own sneaker, led the Knicks over the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1973 NBA Finals, marking the last time the franchise won a championship.
Now, Green joins legendary company. So, Puma couldn’t help but spoil Green with some championship swag.
The box contained four items — a Puma hoodie and T-shirt, embossed with “2019 NBA Champions” in Raptors team colors; a custom pair of ski goggles, featuring “PUMA” in bold script across the face, to protect Green’s eyes from celebratory champagne; and, most notably, a pair of custom-painted “Title Run” Puma Clyde Court basketball shoes, crafted by renowned sneaker artist Dan Gamache. They were the same gold model of kicks Green wore throughout the Finals, including in Game 6, when he and the Raptors made history.
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NYC, I’m bring the celebrations home tomorrow! Meet me at @footlocker on 34th Street in Manhattan at 5PM. Purchase a pair of the @pumahoops Clyde Court Title Run to receive VIP access to the meet & greet in the #PUMALAB. Can’t wait to see you there!
“To be able to say that we supported Danny as he was a part of this great championship run,” said Adam Petrick, Puma’s global director of brand and marketing, “it’s special for the brand.”
Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton, Sacramento Kings power forward Marvin Bagley III, Milwaukee Bucks shooting guard Sterling Brown, San Antonio Spurs small forward Rudy Gay, New York Knicks small forward Kevin Knox, Denver Nuggets power forward Michael Porter Jr., Boston Celtics point guard Terry Rozier, Philadelphia 76ers shooting guard Zhaire Smith, Golden State Warriors center DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins and Green of the Toronto Raptors.
These are the 10 NBA players — five rookies, a couple of seasoned vets and a former All-Star — who were signed by Puma for the 2018-19 season, after the brand decided to relaunch a basketball division, which hadn’t seen a player wear its products in the league since the early 2000s.
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“At the beginning of the season, I went and got NBA League Pass because I wanted to be able to watch all the games,” Petrick said. “I swear to God, I probably watched five games a night for the first two weeks of the season … all those meaningless games at the beginning of the season. But I was so excited to see Puma’s sneakers back on court.”
Last summer, after the brand announced its basketball comeback with famed rapper and businessman Jay-Z as creative director of Puma Basketball, Green was suggested by the sports management division of Jay-Z’s entertainment company, Roc Nation, as a potential endorsee. Green, a Roc Nation Sports athlete, had been traded along with Kawhi Leonard from the Spurs to the Raptors in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a first-round pick. And after Green spent the first nine years of his career repping Nike, including during his 2013-14 championship-winning season with the Spurs, his endorsement deal was set to expire.
“Roc Nation told us, ‘Danny’s a good guy, you should meet him,’ ” Petrick recalled. “We took a couple meetings late in the summer last year, and realized he’s very easygoing, very easy to talk to. Another major motivator for us to sign him is he put the shoes on and liked them right away. When you have somebody who’s a real fan of your product, it’s very easy to come to an agreement.”
While rocking Pumas in Toronto, Green helped lead the Raptors to the second-best record in the league. Green was one of seven Puma athletes — along with Brown, Gay, Porter Jr., Rozier, Smith and Cousins — whose team reached the postseason. Three of those players — Brown, Cousins and Green — played in the conference finals. And in celebration, Puma sent each of them a care package that included a pair of the Clyde Court “Title Run” colorway, as well as a gold and diamond Puma logo chain.
“In fashion, entertainment, music, basketball and culture, there’s this notion of the gold chain,” said Evan Olesh, Puma’s head of basketball marketing. “We tried to play that up after doing something similar for all the guys we signed during last year’s NBA draft, when we gave them each a diamond-studded Puma pin as a welcome to the Puma family.”
More perks for @PumaHoops players.
Danny Green unboxes his gold “Title Run” themed Pumas, with an extra gold and diamond Puma Chain included: pic.twitter.com/hpNai81jEe
— Nick DePaula (@NickDePaula) June 3, 2019
Green was captured in a video unboxing his chain and “Title Run” sneakers. And in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Milwaukee Bucks, he became the first Puma athlete to debut the shoe on the court.
“Danny was a focal point for us from a marketing standpoint throughout the entire season,” Olesh said. “Kawhi was such a big part of the success in Toronto, but Danny became the other guy that the fans turned to and started to love … He’s just a constant and consistent guy, who’s always willing to do what we ask of him. He’s a really good partner.”
Last night vs. Detroit, Raptors guard Danny Green debuted the Puma Uproar Palace Guard — inspired by the decades-old Puma Palace Guard, which Isiah Thomas wore during the Pistons' 1989-90 championship season. The Palace Guard OG ($90) and the Uproar PG ($130) will drop March 8. pic.twitter.com/QCmqW0hEz2
— Aaron Dodson (@aardodson) March 4, 2019
When the Raptors and Warriors advanced to face each other in the Finals, Green and Cousins became the first players since Sam Perkins of the Indiana Pacers in 2000 to play for a championship in Pumas. It couldn’t have been a more perfect scenario for the brand.
“To get to the end of the season, and see we still have two guys rocking the brand all the way to the Finals was just so awesome,” Petrick said. “It was such an amazing feeling to know that one of these guys was gonna be a champion.”
Puma commissioned Gamache, who has collaborated with the brand multiple times in the past few years, to create 1-of-1 custom pairs of the “Title Run” Clyde Courts that would be given to the player whose team emerged victorious from Finals.
“For Boogie, Puma had a design already mocked up ready to go,” said Gamache. The theme paid homage to Cousins’ close friend Nipsey Hussle, the late West Coast rapper, community leader and avid NBA fan who was shot and killed in Los Angeles at the age of 33 two weeks before the start of the 2019 NBA playoffs. When Cousins returned to the court in January from a ruptured Achilles injury, he donned a black-and-white checkered pair of player exclusive Clyde Courts, featuring Hussle’s revered motto, “The Marathon Continues.” The championship customs Gamache crafted for Cousins made that tribute come full circle.
“Boogie’s shoes have the checkered print, and I put ‘Marathons Lead to Championships’ on it,” Gamache said. “Unfortunately, it’s one of those pairs that’ll never see the light of day, or you’ll see some kid in Africa wearing them. You know, like the jokes about the T-shirts that are made with the team that didn’t win. It’s a shame.”
For Green’s shoes, Puma gave creative free rein to Gamache, who played around with a few ideas.
“Danny’s Instagram handle is @greenranger14. So I asked, ‘Why don’t we do something with the Green Ranger and Power Rangers tie-in?’ ” Gamache said. “That would’ve worked, but the shoes had to be about the championship. So I went to a straight-up Raptors design.”
On the toe box of the right shoe, he etched “WE THE CHAMPS” in the same font as Toronto’s team slogan “WE THE NORTH.” On the toe box of the left shoe, he painted Raptors claws. Gamache also swapped out gold laces with red ones, and on the midsoles included the abbreviations of all four teams the Raptors beat in the playoffs before winning the Finals (Orlando, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Golden State) that he x-ed out in red.
Gamache completed both pairs and sent them to the Puma Hoops marketing team in Boston, where the two gold championship boxes were put together as the brand, and basketball world, awaited the outcome of the series.
After the Raptors took a commanding 3-1 series lead and returned home for Game 5 with a chance to clinch the title, a member of the Puma team flew Green’s box to Toronto and hand-delivered it to Raptors equipment manager Paul Elliott. But the Warriors beat the Raptors to force a Game 6 at Oracle. Puma entrusted Elliott to transport the box to Oakland, California, and when the Raptors won there, the box was presented to Green to celebrate the accomplishment. Four days later, for the Raptors’ championship parade through the city of Toronto, Green broke out his “Title Run” customs to mark another title run by a Puma athlete complete. First, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, then Isiah Thomas and now Danny Green.
BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS @DGreen_14 pic.twitter.com/yNQbeMJvZv
— PUMA Basketball (@PUMAHoops) June 19, 2019
“I hope to add to that list,” said Petrick after quite the ending to Puma’s first season back in basketball. So, what’s next?
“We’ll continue to support the guys that are currently on our roster, but we’re already looking at players for our second season,” Petrick said. “We’ll certainly be expanding our roster soon … and hopefully, you’ll see more people wearing more Puma product on the court in the NBA.”