Today’s NBA has become an almost phenomenon of sorts, filled with the best athletes that have captured the hearts of brands and people around the globe. Players have ballooned in influence, transcending beyond sport and into celebratory icons. Signature sneakers have played a large role in this overarching transition. Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and others have proceeded to see their footwear worn by kids, teenagers, and adults across the globe. But before these modern-day icons, players like Walt “Clyde” Frazier would pave the way for a brighter NBA future.
When thinking of NBA superstars with a signature sneaker, all eyes typically point toward Michael Jordan. Chicago’s messiah, Jordan’s long list of accomplishments, like the making of his own signature sneaker brand, have helped to blend basketball and lifestyle together. However, Jordan’s own path wouldn’t have been possible without “Clyde” Frazier’s impact ten years prior.
Frazier, the New York Knick and Cleveland Cavalier point guard, played in the NBA for thirteen seasons. The first ten played in the Big Apple, Frazier dominated the courts with his visionary playstyle and received massive fanfare for his off-court fashion and high-taste in cars. The 1987 Hall of Famer ended his professional basketball career with career averages of 18.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 6.1 assists.
During Frazier’s era, NBA signature athletes received complimentary sneakers from the top footwear brands: adidas and Converse. Underneath them, various other footwear companies wrestled for larger market shares. With the debate about stylish, yet comfortable and functional sneakers escalating with each passing year, such companies continued to struggle with how to penetrate the lucrative market. That was when player signatures were finally developed.
1973 was the year that Puma Clyde history was made. Frazier had just succeeded in winning his first NBA title in 1970 and was on the cusp of winning yet another championship three years later. At the same time, German-based athletic brand Puma had expanded into sport footwear, looking to capture a larger share of the basketball pie. Rather than gift athletes an all-purpose team shoe, PUMA decided to pick Frazier, the NBA’s fashion icon, as their flagship sponsor.
In an interview with One37Pm, the HoF point guard explained how he was pitched his idea: “It was a friend of mine. He just approached me and said Puma would be interested in using me like a spokesman. They’d pay me some money and they’d give me [shoes].”
For Frazier, this was a monumental moment: a moment that had to be executed perfectly. Previously, like other NBA athletes, he had worn Converse high-tops with an orange lace in one shoe and a blue lace in the other. However, with his impending Puma deal signifying Frazier to wear their signature sneaker, the creation of a new footwear product was likely. Puma’s existing basketball silhouette was heavy, clunky, and of most importance, not stylish.
Initially, Puma and Frazier agreed on a re-created Puma Suede. The Suede was light and cushioned enough for his quick movements. As he wore the Suede, the duo was in the process of creating a new sneaker that would transform hoops footwear. The “Clyde,” a newly revised version of the classic Puma silhouette, would go on to be one of the most historic footwear pieces in all of the NBA.
From there on, the Puma Clyde would be rocked for various athletes across the league. Additionally, off-court sales to public consumers would skyrocket Puma’s revenue. The Clyde became a shoe for the masses, particularly for the youth in New York City. While success on-court was exceptional, the Clyde did best with its stylish function on the street.
In the same interview with one37Pm, Frazier exclaimed “You had to sacrifice like it was something special. If you got a pair of Clydes, you were taking the money out of your savings to get those shoes. A lot of people tell me that today.”
In 2018, Frazier signed a lifetime deal with Puma, building upon the precedent the two set in the past. This has become more and more relevant today, as the Clyde signature name continues to be built upon both in New York, the domestic United States, and around the globe.
Today, multiple forms of the Puma Clyde have developed. From the original, modern modifications including Puma Clyde Court, the Puma Clyde All-Pro, and Clyde Court All-Pro Kuzma have been invented. In fact, the Clyde All-Pro has become one of the most worn signature sneakers on-court, worn by players like LaMelo Ball and Kyle Kuzma. Going forward, it’s clear that Puma Basketball has made it a priority to expand their line of business.
The Puma Clyde maintains a historical significance among basketball shoes. While it didn’t flourish on the court as much as Puma would have liked, it did become an icon in the world of hip-hop, break dancing, skateboarding, and entertainment. Most importantly, it paved the way for future signature deals to happen, all the while making basketball more relevant and global.