The NBA All-Star Game has become about way more than just basketball — and brands from luxury to food are tapping into it more than ever.
For one thing, the game is no longer just a game, but has become an entire weekend of events, activations, parties and more. The 2020 All-Star Weekend and 69th annual All-Star game in Chicago begins today and stretches through Sunday, when the actual game will be played.
But for companies and brands connected to the National Basketball Association, the game itself is almost an after thought. It’s all the preliminary activities that matter, allowing them to connect with their customer base through sneakers and other memorabilia.
Several brands are launching products and hosting activations over the weekend — many of which will be available exclusively in the Windy City — or opening pop-ups and taking part in the NBA’s Crossover pop-up shop. They include Diamond Supply Co., which is partnering with the NBA for “Space Jam,” marking the first time the league and the basketball-themed film have come together for an official collaboration.
While sneaker launches are customary for All-Star Weekend, the past 10 years have also seen fashion and style play a bigger role among the players and now from the brands themselves.
John Marcelo, director of strategy for Bleacher Report’s B/R Kicks, described NBA All-Star Weekend as “New York Fashion Week for the League” and creative director Kesha McLeod, who works with James Harden, P.J. Tucker and Serena Williams, among others, said the weekend, specifically the Slam Dunk Contest on Saturday night, is “every stylists’ Oscars.”
“The whole goal [for All-Star Weekend] is the community outreach,” McLeod said.
Marcelo added, “All-Star Weekend has evolved to where it has become the showcase that the athletes and fans can celebrate the game and the entire universe that it represents. I can say over the past 10 years, the evolution goes much further than what happens on the court.”
“I think brands activate at NBA All-Star because NBA athletes are the most influential athletes in the world. It’s such a star-driven league,” said Scott Hochstadt, chief executive officer of Legends, the direct-to-consumer ath-leisure brand that received investments from former NBA MVP Steve Nash and rapper Quavo of Migos. Hochstadt is also a partner of the late Kobe Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy.
Years ago, players competing in the Slam Dunk competition were overshadowed by the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade who wore tailored looks, gingham shirts, navy blazers and spectacles to watch the competition instead of wearing the ill-fitting clothes of the past.
The elevated looks they donned were a far cry from the early days of the mandatory dress code that the late NBA Commissioner David Stern implemented in 2005. That opened up the door for McLeod — along with Rachel Johnson, Courtney Mays and The Shop in Pop Up Shop founder Calyann Barnett, among others — to style top NBA talents like James, Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh.
“The league implemented the rule where it was mandatory to wear a suit. We looked forward to what players were going to wear during All-Star Saturday Night,” said McLeod, who worked with Bosh in the early 2010s. She said in 2013, she urged a former client to wear leather sweatpants by En Noir to the Slam Dunk Contest, but the client refused and later changed his mind after seeing the response James and rapper Drake received for wearing the same style to watch the Slam Dunk Contest.
The athletes themselves also started to make inroads in fashion. James in 2011 cofounded Unknwn with partners Frankie Walker Jr. and Jaron Kanfer; Wade entered a partnership with Stance Socks in 2013, which led to the brand partnering with the league directly in 2015, and Anthony became one of the faces of Bergdorf Goodman in 2015 when he played for the New York Knicks.
In later years, Harden and Russell Westbrook took up the mantle, with Westbrook serving as creative director of True Religion Jeans and designing collections with Barneys New York, Acne Studios and most recently Opening Ceremony through the Jordan Brand. Harden developed a reputation as one of the more stylish men off of the court along with teammate Tucker, who made rare sneakers his specialty. Tucker has played in games wearing the Nike Air Yeezy 1 sneaker and this week in a prototype Nike Air Huarache 08 made for Kanye West for the rapper’s Glow in the Dark Tour. They both attended the Milan and Paris Fashion Weeks as well.
Both athletes are regulars on B/R Kicks’ social media channels and show “Fit Watch,” as well as Complex’s show Tunnel Takedown that is dedicated to “tunnel style,” or the unofficial runway shows NBA players have when they walk the tunnel from their team bus to the locker room. TNT aired its first NBA fashion show in 2018.
James and Maverick Carter’s Uninterrupted athlete empowerment platform tapped brands and designers Bristol Studio and Eric Emanuel on capsule collections, and partnered with Nike on apparel and a collaboration sneaker for the launch of its e-commerce. Uninterrupted series Avec Classe stars NBA champion Serge Ibaka going shopping at Holt Renfrew, the series sponsor, with teammates such as Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby.
Goat and StockX have stepped up to sponsor the Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers, respectively. StockX installed 51-inch Padzilla kiosks for the home and visiting team players and personnel to browse and shop sneakers, streetwear, watches and handbags, and Goat named Kyle Kuzma of the Los Angeles Lakers a brand ambassador in 2018 and this week added Washington Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura in a play for the Japanese market.
Louis Vuitton in January revealed a global partnership with the NBA that includes a bespoke case for the Larry O’Brien Trophy, which is similar to what the French atelier made for the Fifa World Cup, the Roland Garros tennis trophy and recently the League of Legends Summoner’s Cup. The LV and NBA partnership came weeks after Dior debuted its collaboration sneaker with Jordan that is slated to launch in spring 2020 with apparel and accessories. Gucci is opening a pop-up at 160 North Morgan Street in Chicago’s West Loop over the weekend, offering its GG Psychedelic Collection that includes clothing, sneakers and a basketball, among other accessories.
In addition, Rimowa, who tapped James to front its “Never Still” campaign with Dior Men’s artistic director Kim Jones and Chinese master pianist Yuja Wang, is hosting a dinner in Chicago during All-Star. The luxury luggage brand is also creative partner with StockX and Chicago nonprofit Common Ground Foundation on a weeklong raffle for a chance to win pieces from Vic Mensa, Awake NY, Melody Ehsani, Hebru Brantley, Easy Otabor and Don C, and a Rimowa case packed with Nike Air Force 1 High Just Don All-Star Blues sneakers.
StockX is also hosting a three-day exhibition entitled “To the Game, Love Chicago” at Don C’s RSVP Gallery that will include panels and workshops. Saks is hosting a “One Step Further” style panel discussion with McLeod, Corey DéMon, Charles Reynolds and Natoya on Feb. 15, and Neiman Marcus is planning a number of in-store activations and events at its Chicago store featuring players Trae Young, Troy Daniels and Max Strus, as well as fashion industry figures including the Ovadia brothers and milliner James Keith.
Watch brand Roger Dubuis is not launching product over All-Star Weekend, but is taking part in the festivities by hosting a dinner on behalf of New Era and South Bronx art gallery The Compound’s new collaboration. Even skin care is taking part in NBA All-Star Weekend. Afro Sheen is launching nine new products for the first time in 20 years, and Bevel, the grooming and skin-care brand under P&G, is hosting, with Urban Prep Academy for Young Men, a panel discussion with Miami Heat player and Chicago native Kendrick Nunn, actor and singer Jacob Latimore of Showtime’s “The Chi,” radio personality Kendra G and Urban Prep Academy founder and ceo Tim King. The event will be followed by additional private grooming events with the NBA on TNT’s “Kenny Smith” and the sports analyst’s annual All-Star Bash.
“Basketball is a passion point for our target consumer: black men. They enjoy watching it, which makes it the perfect content during which to debut our new television commercials,” said Tia Cummings, vice president of marketing for Bevel. “And given the All-Star game is right at the start of our new launch window, it was the perfect event to tap into.”
Marcelo agrees: “Players influence style more than ever thanks to how instantaneous, accessible and tailor-made social media is for fashion posts — it’s the Instagram effect. All the players are thinking about it, and you don’t need an invite to a fashion show to see what Dwyane Wade wore last night on Instagram.”
“I’d argue that NBA players and athletes influence men’s style more than any other group of people on the planet,” Hochstadt said. “They’re getting more and more influential as players are more accessible on social. It also helps that the teams and the league are leaning into it so much. The NBA tunnel is a runway every night. You have the Rockets installing a red carpet, Brooklyn partnering with Goat as their tunnel sponsor. It’s only getting bigger as the years go on as players become A-list celebs off the court.”
McLeod has also seen the influence players have had on brands. “The patterns have changed,” she said. “Brands elongated their sleeve lengths. Maybe they’re accommodating an NBA player, but they’re accommodating big and tall.”
Keiser Clark designer Marc Keiser — who has developed a fan base among professional football players as well as NBA players including Westbrook, Harden, Tucker, Kuzma, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Troy Daniels and the Golden Gate Warriors’ Stephen Curry — said: “I think those guys are creating an ideal especially for places that aren’t necessarily in the big cities. I think whether you’re in Oklahoma or Ohio, your celebrities are your local athletes.”
“There’s definitely an influence,” said Indochino ceo Drew Green of the impact of the NBA on fashion. “Out of all the leagues, their style is front and center.”
Indochino entered into a multiyear agreement with Knicks rookie RJ Barrett and launched a collection with the 19-year-old Canadian athlete in October 2019. The Toronto-based custom clothing brand also has partnerships with NBA coaches and broadcast teams, the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and New Orleans Pelicans player Jrue Holiday, who gifted his teammates clothing from Indochino. It has plans to collaborate with more players.
“It had a great launch,” Green said about the Barrett collection. “We’ve had over 60 articles written about RJ dating back to the draft. He’s a rookie in the New York market, but I think the fans really like his hard work. [We’re also planning] lots of good things with his father [retired professional basketball player Rowan Barrett] and the Canadian national team.”
Designer Daniel Patrick, who designed colorways of the Adidas Harden 4.0 sneaker and designed a collection to accompany it to launch during NBA All-Star Weekend, said, “I think, as a guy, you aspire to be like those guys. Working with [Houston Rockets star] James [Harden] and a big company like Adidas definitely solidified our place in the market.”
Adidas is hosting store appearances with Patrick and Harden, as well as an exclusive career day for Adidas Legacy Basketball High School students with NBA and WNBA athletes and celebrities — like actor Jonah Hill, who partnered with the company on sneakers — and will hold a filmmaking workshop. In addition, the company is launching an eight-piece apparel collection with Bleacher Report for 2011 NBA MVP and Detroit Pistons guard Derrick Rose.
According to Bleacher Report ceo Howard Mittman, the collaboration is the first time the media company had been tapped to do a cobranded project. “[All-Star] is the preeminent moment when sports and culture become visible,” he said. “We think that there’s no bigger moment for fashion than NBA All-Star.” The weekend is actually the media company’s highest grossing revenue event, he said.
Bleacher Report is also hosting on Feb. 16 a fan experience called “B/R Chi 2020,” which will include youth exhibition games, a slam dunk contest and a performance from Quavo. Perry Ellis is hosting an activation at the event with a custom merchandise station that will heat-press artwork by the artist It’s a Living.
“All-Star Weekend is always a highly anticipated event within the sneaker community,” said Sen Sugano, chief brand officer of Goat. “Given this year is in Chicago, home of Michael Jordan, Kanye West and Virgil Abloh to name a few, it’s an especially important moment for both of our brands, Goat and Flight Club.”
Flight Club, the sneaker consignment shop that was acquired by Goat in 2018, is installing a pop-up shop at the Ace Hotel in Chicago that will offer rare sneakers and will host an exhibit dedicated to Michael Jordan that will display memorabilia, sneakers and jerseys worn during his career. Goat will also host panel discussions with retired NBA player and “NBA on TNT” studio analyst Baron Davis.
“We’ve been eyeing a potential retail experience in Chicago for years,” Sugano said. “All-Star Weekend was the catalyst for something that was a long time coming.”
Chicago makes for a great venue for sneaker companies and brands given the history of Jordan brand and how it helped create the foundation of the modern-day sneaker community. Nike, Jordan and Adidas have always used NBA All-Star Weekend for major product releases. The Air Jordan 34 released on Thursday and will be followed by pairs of Air Jordan I and III sneakers, the Nike Air Ship, women’s Air Jordan I, the Air Jordan VI and the Air Jordan IX .
On Feb. 15, Jordan will release its 8×8 apparel and sneaker collection, featuring collaboration apparel and sneakers by Virgil Abloh, Lyrical Lemonade, Drew the Barber, Sheila Rashid, Succezz, Cody Hudson, Chance the Rapper’s SocialWorks program and Jordan’s Wings program.
Nike is releasing two City Pack apparel collections dedicated to Atlanta and Chicago, and launching new sneakers for James, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving and Paul George. Converse is launching six sneakers under its All-Star Pack and All-Star City collections that nods to its basketball heritage that dates back to the eras of Chuck Taylor and Julius “Dr. J” Erving and All-Star City Collection that references the jerseys worn at the 1988 All-Star Game in Chicago.
Mitchell & Ness, a fixture of NBA All-Star Weekend that hosts an annual brunch during the three-day event, is hosting a pop-up on State Street, and will feature collaborations with GLD, an accessories label that made 30 NBA team pendants, and Alpha Industries, which is offering a custom MA-1 jacket with patches by artist Steven Harrington.
“We’d like to tell a deeper story with sports companies. We’ve done some seeding before, but we’ve never done a true activation before,” said Matt Pantoja, vice president of marketing at Alpha Industries. “Our modern-day direction is to spotlight heroes, and sports figures are considered heroes.”
“Athletes definitely have a strong influence on men’s shopping trends,” Sugano said. “It’s aspirational — you not only want to play and compete like them, but you also follow their lifestyle, including what they wear. If anything, the influence is rising with more and more athletes sitting front row at the shows.”
“Everything ebbs and flows, but I feel like it’s always been that way, from Michael Jordan to even Allen Iverson. I feel like it’s going to keep increasing,” Patrick said. “We’re in a social media age and they’re already influencing. When they get on the NBA stage, their influence is going to grow even further.”