It's a new era for Puma.
The athletic brand is relaunching its basketball division and, to that end, has made a big splash in the days leading up to the NBA draft, announcing Monday that it has officially signed Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III, considered by many to be the top two players in this class.
This marks the first time Puma has signed a men’s basketball player since Vince Carter entered the NBA in 1998. Puma had previously signed Skylar Diggins Smith in August. Puma's history in the sport dates back to the 1970s, though, when Walt "Clyde" Frazier famously rocked his Puma Clyde shoes on the court while playing for the Knicks and Cavaliers.
Now, Ayton and Bagley will be the face of Puma basketball and kick off a new generation of Puma basketball athletes.
In exclusive interviews with B/R Kicks (edited for clarity and length), Ayton and Bagley explained their decisions to sign with Puma, why it was significant to get in on the ground level and what we can expect from their Puma partnership.
Bleacher Report: It's the question on everyone's mind. Why Puma?
Marvin Bagley III: I chose Puma because I wanted to be different. I saw an opportunity where I could come in and build from the jump and work to get to a certain level. I saw myself doing that. They have some real nice stuff. I'm very excited about it, and I can't wait to get to know everybody, keep working with everybody and keep improving.
Deandre Ayton: Puma was the best deal. To me, anybody can make your shoe. Anybody can make the best shoe for you and put the right fit in the shoe. We were dealing with Nike people, Under Armour and all the other shoe companies for a pretty long time. We ain't really got bad blood with any of them, but it's not bad to start something new. We just thought Puma was the right fit. My mom had a friend at Puma, but we didn't really know she was with Puma. But as I started to get more exposure to the world and basketball, she told us she was with Puma and knew people there. Just knowing all of these people personally, my mom felt comfortable. Another thing is that all these other brands got all these other superstars. It's good that I'm one of the few that's signed with Puma.
B/R: Why is it significant for you to get in on the ground level with Puma?
Bagley: You see a lot of guys going with what's normal. There's a lot of brands that are well-known now that have worked their way up, and it's known now. I had a vision when I first decided to sign, which is that someone has to start it off and build it up where people would want to buy their stuff and wear the shoes. That's what's exciting to me is being able to help do that, be a part of that and build something special. I'm very excited. You know, [Michael] Jordan had to start with Nike somewhere. I'm not comparing myself to Jordan at all, but he started with something that wasn't normal. Somebody has to start it, and I just think this is the perfect place for me to come and help build it and get things going.
Ayton: I don't want to be under nobody else. If I'm over here trying to bring on my shoe, and you've got somebody like LeBron [James] out here, you got the [Kevin Durants] out there, I'm not trying to be really competing with those guys like that. It's always good to start your own thing and try to be great in it.
B/R: What was the process like as you tried to find the right brand for you?
Bagley: This was a perfect opportunity. You have Nike, Adidas, Under Armour and all those brands, but I felt like Puma was the perfect place for me to start over, start fresh and to be able to do something big to get the brand going.
Ayton: Nike is Nike. Adidas is Adidas. I've played in their circuits and stuff like that, but now it's a business. You don't want just product. You're not a kid anymore. You're really trying to get bank. That's about it.
B/R: What kind of legacy do you want to create within basketball and sneaker culture by creating your own lane and signing with Puma?
Bagley: I think that's big for me, personally. I love stuff like that—just being different, not being a follower and just being a leader any way I can. I remember when Lonzo and LaVar Ball first came out with Big Baller Brand and Lonzo's shoe, then LaMelo's shoe, everybody was bashing them for it and talking down on them for it. I kind of respected it, because it was different and it wasn't what everybody was doing. They were trying to do something good for Lonzo and the rest of the family. I just think being different is a big thing for me, and that's my motto. Be different. I had a vision, and I'm just trying to follow the vision and put as much as I can to it.
B/R: What does it say about you that you would rather go against the grain instead of following the trend?
Bagley: I'm just different. It's good to be different, not in a crazy way. Everybody is kind of made to be different, and I think this is a perfect opportunity to show that you can go against the trend a little bit and try to do something new, try to build something. That's what's exciting about this whole thing.
Ayton: It don't mean nothing. I'm a foreigner. You should expect something like this. I don't really care what people think. It's about me and my family and what they think. We're comfortable with our decision, very comfortable with our decision. We have no worries at all.
B/R: Puma is such a global brand. Is that important to you, Ayton, coming from the Bahamas, and the possibility to hold basketball camps back home?
Ayton: Most definitely. Coming from a different country, a lot of people know about Puma. Everybody knows about Nike, too, but Puma is known overseas. It's another huge step. It's not like it's foreign to the country I'm from. It's lit. It's nice to have a global brand everyone knows about.
[Basketball camps] would be a huge step. That would be me giving back. I was the kid in basketball camps wanting to see the new gear that comes out or the gear that the camps give. I'm going to be giving them the best. I'm going to be giving them stuff I'm interested in and will be able to hear from the kids' perspectives about what they want.
B/R: What can we expect from you and Puma? Is there a certain attitude or demeanor you want to display?
Bagley: I want to show people that Puma is a big brand. It's a stylish brand. I've seen a lot of different stuff, and I think that we can work together and create a lot of different things. Everybody throws ideas in, and we can create. I think that's the main thing is to create and let people know that we're serious about it, and everybody will eventually gravitate toward it. That's the goal, to make sure everybody knows that we're here and it's going to be a long ride. It's going to be a fun ride as well.
Ayton: I want to try to be the rookie coming in with his first signature shoe as early as possible. That's one of the goals I'll try to set. That's about it. That's just about me making my first shoe. I'm trying to work hard and get my first signature shoe out there.
B/R: How do you think people will take the news that you signed to Puma?
Bagley: I think it'll shock a lot of people. A lot of talking and a lot of rumors going around, but I think once they find out and once they see how serious this is—that we're going to put a lot of work into it—I think people will kind of stop taking it for a joke, take it more serious, gravitate toward it and start wearing it. It'll be a big brand, and that's the goal. That's the vision that I have right now.
B/R: There will be people that view this decision as a money grab. How do you respond to that?
Bagley: Nah. Absolutely not. I don't do it for money. Everything I do is because I have a vision and I love to do it. This was a great opportunity to put a vision out there, see where it is now and see where it could get with the basketball side. That excites me. That's why I wanted to come here and work with Puma.
Ayton: That's on them. I don't really care. Anybody can really make your shoe. We're not kids anymore. We're not looking for product. Of course, the brands are going to do their best to give you the best product they have. At the end of the day, it's a business. You've gotta take care of your people, so that's involved. Of course, if Adidas is giving you like $2 mil and Nike is giving you $1 mil, who would you pick? If you have history or chemistry with Nike, I can see that. But when it comes to business, business is business.
B/R: When did you test Puma's on-court shoe (which will be unveiled at a later date), and what did you think of it?
Bagley: I first tried it a couple weeks ago. I was actually here in New York. I tried it on, worked out in it a little bit, got some shots up and jogged around in it. It felt pretty good. It felt good around my feet. I'm very excited where it can get to. It's a great shoe. It's stylish. You can wear it on the court, and it looks like you can wear it off the court. It's going to be a good shoe, and I'm excited for it to be released.
Ayton: I don't remember when I tested them, but when I had them on, they were different. It was like a shoe that was mad comfortable. Usually when I try on a shoe, I have to wear my custom insoles in them. I didn't really have to try any insoles to put them on or play in them. It was pretty neat and comfortable.
B/R: Is it important to have a shoe with on-court and off court appeal?
Bagley: Absolutely. It's a plus. If you can go out and have a monster game in the same shoe you can go out off the court in, that's a big plus. I think when people see that, they kind of respect it more and want to be able to go get it, buy it and rock it the same way.
Ayton: Most definitely. You don't want only an on-court shoe. Most of your lifestyle is off the court, so you want to wear something that really catches viewers' eyes and is really swaggy. I like colors, so I'll add all types of stuff in the shoe off the court.
B/R: How long have you envisioned having your own shoe?
Bagley: Ever since I was young, fifth or sixth grade—just going out in the backyard, where I had a hoop, and just shooting in the backyard while picturing myself in my own shoe. It's crazy. I've always had that vision.
Ayton: I forgot when it was when LeBron was looking back when he made his first shoe. I was like, Damn, I would like to make my first shoe, too. I think it was two years ago. When I was in high school, I was thinking about getting ideas and making my first shoe, how it would be and what brand it would be.
B/R: What do you look for in a basketball shoe?
Bagley: Just something that I can play my game in—run fast pace, cut, jump. Every little thing that I do in my game, if I can do it comfortably in shoes that I'm comfortable in, that's a big thing.
Ayton: That they've got everything I want. They've got the colors. They've got different designs. They've got a different look from every other shoe. That's what I like, having a different look to catch people's eyes like, What are these? People are going to be looking at my feet every day.
B/R: What is it like to have two of the biggest names in this class joining the same team in Puma?
Bagley: It'll be cool. I've known him for a long time now. To be able to get to this point and be here, it'll be a very good experience.
Ayton: That's a problem. That's going to catch everybody's eyes. That's a huge step for Puma, too. To have the top two prospects in the NBA draft is amazing. Everyone is going to be like, What? Puma? The world is already going crazy about speculation Bagley would sign. It's all over the place. Just imagine when they hear my name in that, too. They're going to be going crazy over that. It's great for Puma and for us as well, with more exposure and the world is talking about us. The only thing we've gotta do is do what we gotta do on the court. That's natural. We've been waiting for this for how long? I've been knowing Bagley for a pretty long time. I know what he can do, and he knows what I can do. We're both about to be doing our thing.
B/R: Are there any artists signed with Puma that you would like to collaborate with?
Bagley: I haven't thought that far down the line, but I definitely listen to Meek Mill, obviously Rihanna's music and a lot of different artists. I like making music as well. So to be able to work together with those artists, like Nipsey Hussle, will be a good thing for me.
Ayton: I've seen some of the few guys on there. I've seen Big Sean, the Weeknd, Rihanna. I think Gunna just signed with them. I was like, Yo, he signed too? It's neat. I would most definitely collaborate with Gunna. I listen to him a lot. I would like to meet dudes like that.
B/R: So when will Puma link you guys up with Rihanna?
Bagley: I don't know, man. Eventually. Just not right now. It's about hooping and getting better.
Ayton: Shoot, when is Rihanna gonna link up with me? I need to see Rihanna. I need to talk to her for a little bit and do a little collab. But yeah, that's gonna be litty. That's gonna be real lit.