Deandre Ayton, the projected No. 1 pick in this week's NBA draft, signed a four-year, multimillion-dollar footwear and apparel endorsement deal with Puma, the company announced Monday.
For Ayton, there was plenty of interest in pursuing a shoe deal with Puma, although the brand has been out of the NBA landscape for 20 years since signing Vince Carter in 1998. Ayton shares a connection to two of its biggest ambassadors, Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt of Jamaica and pop star Rihanna of Barbados, after growing up in the Caribbean.
"Puma is pretty popular in the Bahamas," Ayton said. "I've always seen the brand growing up. [Bolt] is one of the first people I saw with the brand. It's important to me that someone I identify with and admire as an athlete is with the same brand."
Ayton also tweeted about the deal.
Ayton's basketball journey brought him to the United States when he was 12. He instantly was identified as the top eighth-grader in the nation. Ayton continued to dominate at each level thereafter, and his lone college season at Arizona saw him average 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game while showcasing a versatile skill set that is tailor made for the NBA's modern offenses.
"He has breathtaking talent and athleticism," ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said. "His motor runs high and he has a terrific offensive arsenal."
While other brands pitched Ayton with their own multiyear endorsement offers, it was the ability to create his own path alongside the relaunch of Puma's basketball category that most appealed to him.
"As I've been in the States, I've seen what they do with entertainers and always liked that," Ayton said. "I see someone like Rihanna recently -- who is a lot like me, we have a similar background -- and she's putting her stamp on the brand. That's something that appeals to me from a creative side. Eventually I want to be a part of bringing this new style of Puma to my people."
The brand's return to the NBA comes as part of a major investment to sign players and launch new products in the market this fall. Puma has been aggressive leading up to the draft, offering multiyear shoe deals to at least six projected first-round picks.
The brand is also set to announce a renewed lifetime partnership with longtime brand icon Walt "Clyde" Frazier, who launched Puma's first signature basketball shoe in 1973. The timeless and clean silhouette, simply dubbed the Clyde, has been re-released endlessly in the decades since.
The worst kept secret: Puma is back in basketball. Company signing their first endorser Walt Clyde Frazier to a lifetime deal. Releasing 73 limited editions pairs at place on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn today. New handle is @PUMAHoops. pic.twitter.com/fmbgi5B0M0— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) June 18, 2018
As Puma relaunches with new products this year, it will be releasing a modernized knit version of the original Clyde, built with today's technology for the current speed and physical forces of the game's top players like Ayton. The heel tab features a "1973" nod to the original. Ayton has already tested out the upcoming basketball shoe, coming away impressed with the performance and comfort.
"Anything that can make me play like Clyde -- I'm with it! This is only my first time getting to experience the shoe, but I'm excited to get a feel for them," Ayton said. "When I first tried them, they were simple and smooth. Felt like nothing was there, which never happens to me. I wear a size 18 and they seem to already know how to fit me. I've told Puma I have some ideas about my basketball shoe already -- fit and style. That's the way Clyde would do it. Make it his way."
As the brand begins to focus its marketing campaigns this week around the NBA draft, Ayton will also look to be a featured athlete in lifestyle campaigns. Being able to expand beyond just basketball was a major factor during the pitch process for him, along with the ability to launch activations and products in his native Bahamas, where Puma has extensive experience.
Ayton is known for his outsized personality and will look to be expressive and outgoing in his marketing from the onset. He likes to think of himself as more than just a basketball player.
"I'm an entertainer," Ayton said. "Puma knows entertainers and the way we move. I like color -- expect to see that. Anything different and new -- expect to see that."
Ayton will join Marvin Bagley III and Zhaire Smith as the first to sign with Puma in its renewed emphasis on basketball. The brand will be introducing its new rookie signings this week in advance of the draft during several activations and events in New York.