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Skylar Diggins-Smith on Puma’s return to basketball: ‘It’s just the beginning’

The Dallas Wings star opens up about being the first basketball player to sign with the brand in 20 years, Jay-Z’s role as creative director and more

In the days leading up to June’s 2018 NBA draft, Puma turned heads in an effort to revitalize its basketball division after essentially two decades of irrelevancy. The German sportswear company signed the draft’s two top selections, Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley Jr., as well as fellow eventual first-round pick Zhaire Smith, to footwear and apparel deals.

The news shocked the hoops world and quickly turned into a Twitter Moment that announced the NBA prospects had become “the first basketball players to sign with Puma since 1998,” when Vince Carter inked a rookie contract with the brand. Skylar Diggins-Smith, the four-time All-Star point guard of the WNBA’s Dallas Wings, saw the post surface on her Twitter feed and couldn’t help but point out an error. “Wrong!” she quote-tweeted. “But welcome to the family!”

That’s correct. It all started with Diggins-Smith, who signed an endorsement deal with Puma in August 2017 after spending the first four seasons of her career rocking Nikes and another wearing Adidas. Last year, she became the first pro hooper to roll with Puma since Carter. Blazing a trail, however, is nothing new for her. In 2013, she was the first female athlete to sign with Roc Nation Sports — the agency founded by rapper Jay-Z, who also joined Puma in June as the creative director of basketball.

“It was pretty dope being the first athlete, male or female, to be signed to Puma Basketball.”

After receiving her deal from Puma, Diggins-Smith was allowed to keep wearing pairs of her Nike Zoom HyperRev PEs (player exclusives) until the 2018 WNBA All-Star Game on July 28, when she was given the go-ahead to take the court in Pumas for the first time.

Upon returning to Dallas after the All-Star break, Diggins-Smith discussed how she landed with Puma in 2017, the brand’s recent WNBA sponsorship and why Jay-Z matters to this movement.

What factored into your decision to join Puma last August? Why did it make sense to you?

I was definitely ready for a change. I work with Jana Fleishman over at Roc Nation Sports, and we had talked. I heard the brand Puma come up. I was like, ‘Man, are they in the basketball sector? Are they gonna get back in it?’ I thought it was pretty untraditional as far as basketball goes. I really loved the brand. I had always seen it around, obviously with Fenty by Rihanna … the way that she brought high fashion to a sportswear brand. Really, Puma’s at the top of that list when it comes to versatility and fashion. Most sports brands just focus on performance, so I really love the lifestyle aspect that Puma has. Me being an athlete, a basketball player, that’s only part of what I do. I’m a woman. I have other things to do. I have errands to run. So I really love how the brand caters to my lifestyle. It’s not just about performance. There’s a lifestyle aspect to it that I really admired … so we started talking. I went up to Boston and met with the folks at Puma, had a great conversation, and I thought it was pretty dope being the first athlete, male or female, to be signed to Puma Basketball and go forward with their ideas as far as getting back into the basketball sector.

Exactly how much did it mean to you to be the first basketball player to sign with the brand since Vince Carter in 1998?

It was pretty cool. The things they had in store for me, and my opportunities to not only be in the basketball realm but also lifestyle, fashion, training, it was unheard of in terms of anything I’d ever experienced in the past working with a sportswear brand.

You continued to wear Nikes up until the 2018 WNBA All-Star Game. Why was that the moment to debut the Puma Clyde Court Disrupt?

That was actually the day that Puma and the WNBA had signed its partnership. It just kind of worked out that around All-Star we were able to finalize that deal, and I got cleared to wear Puma on the court finally … and it was a big weekend. A lot of people were talking about it. I got a lot of comments from players, fans and media. It was really a big hit.


How long had you been testing the new Pumas, and how do they feel out there playing?

They feel great. They’re form-fitted to my foot. I went up to Boston and they took my measurements … my foot, my toes, my arch and all those other things go into putting a shoe together. So it kind of feels like I just had my orthotics in. A lot of shoes, when you wear them for the first time, the balls of your feet hurt or the heel of your foot hurts. But with these, they … felt like a glove.

What does the WNBA’s partnership with Puma, the brand’s first deal with a professional sports league, mean?

It’s awesome to see. When I think of Puma, I think of Walt “Clyde” Frazier being in the mecca of pop culture where it all started, in New York, and intertwining everything that comes with rebranding. It’s dope that Puma wants to support our league. There’s so much diversity in our league, and now we’ll have diversity on the court with the footwear we’ll wear.

How important is it to have Jay-Z on board as a creative director of Puma Basketball?

It doesn’t hurt, right? (laughs) Everything he touches turns to gold. He’s a basketball fan. He’s an awesome creative mind. And people check for him, as far as music and fashion. He’s the best out here doing it as far as businesswise and in the rap game … maybe of all time. He’s been in the sports world for a long time too … he has a lot he can bring to the table. … It’s the brand that’s gaining the most traction right now.

Have you had a chance to talk to him about his vision for Puma Basketball?

You see what he’s done in a short amount of time … Roc Nation, as a whole, is a well-oiled machine. Nothing that he does is going to be half-ass. He’s going to make sure that it’s … well-thought-out, just like all of his business ventures. You’ve already seen the traction that Puma’s gaining in a short amount of time. There’s a lot of things in store. A lot of surprises, I’m sure. We’ll just have to see.

What do you think of Puma Basketball’s roster of athletes so far — Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley Jr., Michael Porter Jr., Zhaire Smith, Rudy Gay, Terry Rozier — and do you have relationships with these guys already?

I don’t know any one of those guys. You gotta think Deandre Ayton … I’m like 10 years older than him and these kids. I’m 28 and they’re like what, 19, 20? They were kids when I was playing in high school and college. But it’s awesome to see their success, and their futures look really bright. … With Terry Rozier, this year was huge for him. We’ve never spoken, but we both played in the Big East, so I know him from Louisville. I love his confidence, his game, his swag. It’s great for the culture, for the brand … and obviously Rudy Gay is someone who’s been in the league a long time. He’s a vet who has a lot of respect in the NBA and the game. … We’ll see a lot more players who will want to roll with the brand because of its uniqueness.

What is the future of Puma, and what will the brand mean to the culture in the years to come?

I think we’ll see Puma get to a point where it’ll pass a few of these brands in the basketball sector. A lot of people are checking for what we have in store as a brand. You’ll see different designs of shoes … I’m sure you’ll see different PEs, and players getting their own shoe. I’m excited to be a part of it. I’m excited to be the first. It’s gonna be great for the culture.

Aaron Dodson is a sports and culture writer at Andscape. He primarily writes on sneakers/apparel and hosts the platform’s Sneaker Box video series. During Michael Jordan’s two seasons playing for the Washington Wizards in the early 2000s, the “Flint” Air Jordan 9s sparked his passion for kicks.