Saturday, May 6, 2017

At $495, Lonzo Ball’s ZO2 Sneakers Have Tastemakers Saying No Thanks

At the Flight Club sneaker store just south of Union Square on Thursday night, eager customers perused the gleaming shelves, hunting for classic kicks. The big names — the players whose signature shoes are most highly sought — are the ones you would expect: Kevin Durant, LeBron James and, even after all these years, Michael Jordan.

At the time, the larger world was trying to wrap its head around the ZO2, Lonzo Ball’s first signature shoe, which he had hours earlier announced in a video released to Slam magazine.

Ball, the former U.C.L.A. point guard who is expected to be a top-three pick in June’s N.B.A. draft, had declined contracts with the big sneaker companies: Nike, Under Armour and Adidas. Instead, he placed his chips on Big Baller Brand, the company founded by his father, LaVar Ball, for the frank purpose of maintaining control over the merchandise revenue generated by his three sons, Lonzo, 19; LiAngelo, 18, a U.C.L.A. commit; and LaMelo, 15, who scored 92 points in a high school game last season.

LaVar Ball’s opening bid to shoe companies some weeks ago was a marketing deal with all three sons worth $1 billion. The companies reportedly declined. Last month, a Nike executive called LaVar Ball “the worst thing to happen to basketball in the last 100 years.” Translation: Nike doesn’t like when someone rejects the business model that has enabled the company to dominate the multibillion-dollar sneaker and apparel industry.

Then, on Thursday, came Big Baller Brand’s ZO2, the least expensive version of which costs $495. Yes, four hundred ninety-five dollars. For comparison’s sake, the most recent signature shoe of James, basketball’s biggest star and best player, began retailing last year at $175; it carries the Nike swoosh.

While the shoe and the Ball family buzzed all over social media on Thursday, the sneaker intelligentsia were lined up in Flight Club’s consignment area. These are the people who camp out on street corners to get first crack at new releases and then sell them to Flight Club for a cut of the subsequent resale. The leading edge of sneaker cool, they help decide which shoes will be on the shelves of Flight Club and stores like it 10 and 25 years from now. And they had reached a verdict on the ZO2: No thanks.

“I wouldn’t buy those,” said T.Q. Jones, who wore Nike Prestos as he waited in the consignment line.

Haitham Khan — who was rocking a Comme des Garçons hoodie, a Supreme bag and blush-colored Common Projects sneakers — made a bold statement: “I can answer your question: No one’s going to buy them.”

This conclusion matched those of industry experts, who nonetheless marveled — through laughter — at what Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert at Baker Street Advertising, labeled “the brazenness, the audacity, the ego” of LaVar Ball, the father.

Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst at NPD Group, estimated Big Baller Brand would sell 10,000 pairs, which he described as a “rounding error” given the 400 million pairs of shoes Nike made last year.

“If you did it in snakeskin and pixie dust, it might cost $500,” Powell added.

Sneaker culture is shaped by substance as much as flash. Flight Club, for instance, prominently features sneakers linked to long-retired stars like Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing and Jordan not merely because those shoes are aesthetically pleasing, but because they are connected to incredible basketball talents.

As Jones said of Lonzo Ball: “I don’t know if he’s going to be a star.”

by Marc Tracy, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Big Baller Brand