When it comes to translating endorser popularity into product sales, the general rule of thumb dictates that big men simply don’t sell shoes. While there’s plenty of evidence to back up the stigma, there was once a time when this wasn’t necessarily the case. In the late 80s and early 90s, the NBA was a dense forest of imposing trees – a golden era of dominant big men with the star power to match their physical stature. It seemed as if All-Star caliber seven-footers towered over the league in nearly every city, and the sneaker contracts were in no short supply.
Back then, if you were an attraction on the court, that’s all it took to warrant a shoe deal and it mattered very little, if at all, what position you played. Stars were stars and that’s all that counted, but some gradual shifts in those dynamics have changed the perceptions of marketability criteria forever. The NBA is now home to a generation who grew up watching Michael Jordan play, and the desire to “Be Like Mike” has not only influenced the nature of play on the court, but also the underlying aesthetics of how the game looks.
MJ made it abundantly clear that a nice pair of basketball sneakers will almost always look cooler on a guard or small forward slashing through the lane than the 7-foot center standing in the paint trying to defend him. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but they seem to be pretty few and far between nowadays.
Players like Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, and Shaquille O’Neal among others, all made their mark on the sneaker world, but longevity proved to be a rare commodity with most bigs when it came to moving units past the first few models. The bulky high-tops once needed to protect these massive frames and feet have fallen out of favor and the prototypical star NBA center of the 80s and 90s is all but extinct in today’s game, whether the brands have good shoes for them or not.
The Dwight Howards of the world are few and far between these days, so the big man signature shoe discussion is almost a moot point, but the current popularity of retro basketball models is proving that good shoes were (and are) good shoes, regardless of the height and position of the player who once endorsed it.
Later this month, adidas Originals will be bringing back another reminder of the departed age of the center, the Mutombo – a truly unique piece of sneaker history and one of the last of its kind. Long overdue for a retro return, the adidas Mutombo will finally make its way back to retail shelves and defiantly wag a finger at the notion that big men can’t sell shoes. A detailed gallery awaits, complete with some videos, vintage advertisements and background info, so dig in and get yourself up to speed before the re-release.