Say what you will about Big Baller Brand, but they’ve injected much-needed flavour into the year's sneaker chat. When analysts were writing obituaries for the basketball sector and industry giants were stumbling, BBB made it fun to talk about ball shoes.
And more than comic relief, they raised important questions. Is it possible for a start-up style shoe brand to lace a starting five? Can you build hype based on price tags alone? When will LaVar stop running his mouth? Some questions may never be answered.
Customers are only just receiving the ZO2s they ordered in May, but the brand's been busy since then making moves as big as their Balls. What moves, you ask? Well, we've made a list.
SWAPPING THE ZO2
The unveiling of the ZO2 Prime was the debut that launched a thousand confused Swaggy P gifs. Looking like a Kobe call-back with BOOST foam, the sneaker might have been welcomed as a brave first effort if it weren’t for the RRP. Compounding the shaky reception was its lack of game time; Lonzo seemed to want to wear anything but his signature sneaker on court. And when he did rock the goofy shoe, he didn’t perform as well as when wearing other brands.
Luckily, Big Baller Brand wised up and revised the design. Like the MB1 before it, the improved Prime was made with Brand Black — as opposed to biting their Rare Metal model. The real reason for the likeness is manufacturing-related. Not all brands can simply buy factories fitted with moulds for mass production; BBB needed to befriend a brand with hardware. After requests to partner with ANTA fell through, Brand Black stepped in. As founder Billy Dill told Slam, they started a design agency called Santa Ana to work with BBB and avoid labels like ‘colab’ or ‘subsidiary’. Looking at the MB1’s price tag, the move shaved $100 off production costs. And looking at what the Rare Metal retails for, BBB could stand to lop another $180 off that.
Big Baller Brand never struggled to get their name on people’s lips. Their masterful PR tactics make headlines regularly. But active comments sections aren’t why ,Forbes labelled LaVar a ‘marketing genius’ or why he’s been dubbed the Kris Jenner of basketball — it’s the mentions of BBB by members of the sporting and pop culture elite.
Shaq, Jordan and Kobe have felt compelled to weigh in on the brand this year. Granted, each name-drop came barbed, but critiques are more valuable than compliments. And when others would pay top dollar for Black Mamba's tutelage, finessing free advice on product development — no matter how backhanded — is an MVP move.
Better than memorable sound bites, Big Baller Brand has turned figureheads into customers. Giving a rare interview to Elliot Wilson, JAY-Z said that he’d bought three pairs of the ZO2 Prime. He was quick to note that he hadn’t yet received the shoes, and that he thinks the brand goes about things the wrong way, but acknowledged LaVar’s vision and threw his support behind it. How much do you think other brands would have to pay for an endorsement like that?
You can view Big Baller Brand’s résumé as short beer in a tall glass if you like, but there’s no denying LaVar Ball’s nailing his trolling of Trump.
The fiasco began with LiAngelo Ball’s arrest for theft during a tour through China with UCLA. LiAngelo was released after a brief but widely publicised imprisonment and Donald Trump fished for credit and gratitude on Twitter.
Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2017
‘Who?’ LaVar quipped when ESPN asked if Trump had come to LiAngelo’s aid. ‘Don't tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out.’
Naturally, Trump bit the bait hard.
Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2017
It wasn’t the White House, it wasn’t the State Department, it wasn’t father LaVar’s so-called people on the ground in China that got his son out of a long term prison sentence - IT WAS ME. Too bad! LaVar is just a poor man’s version of Don King, but without the hair. Just think..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 22, 2017
...LaVar, you could have spent the next 5 to 10 years during Thanksgiving with your son in China, but no NBA contract to support you. But remember LaVar, shoplifting is NOT a little thing. It’s a really big deal, especially in China. Ungrateful fool!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 22, 2017
In a classic case of ‘You reach, I teach’, LaVar took advantage of the POTUS’ gusto to put numbers on the board. While on another brand-promoting national television appearance, LaVar revealed he’d sent Trump three pairs of the ZO2s: ‘red, white and blue to show him we’re patriotic.’
Fanning the flames some more, LaVar published a gif depicting himself posterizing Trump with a windmill dunk.
The tweet rounds out a hell of an inaugural year for Big Baller Brand. It shows moxie while stoking some highly clickable controversy. Best of all, it’s fun — a word that basketball sneaker marketing in 2017 seems to have forgotten.