As part of its re-emergence in basketball culture, Converse has signed Washington Wizards wing Kelly Oubre Jr. to a multi-year footwear and apparel endorsement deal. The shoe deal will be the first of its kind in the NBA, with Oubre expected to wear Nike basketball sneakers on court, while headlining its Nike Inc. subsidiary brand Converse casually.
The partnership speaks to the growing attention paid to the league's arena-entry fashion, with Oubre Jr. looking to lead and debut a variety of new Converse sneakers with his pregame arrival outfits throughout the season.
"Every game since my rookie year, I came in and just always wanted to look nice and always wanted to outdo myself," said Oubre. "[Style isn't] about anybody else, it's about how you feel in what you're wearing."
For the 22-year-old, whose rookie shoe deal with Adidas expired on Oct. 1, the sneaker free agency process saw him also receive interest and take pitches from Puma and New Balance. Converse, originally founded in 1908 with longtime roots in the NBA, presented a unique twist on the standard shoe deal.
"It's a different vibration when it comes to someone who is trying to reinvent themselves in something that they started," said Oubre. "It's not necessarily someone trying to come in and disrupt the game, or someone trying to step onto the scene as newcomers again. [Converse] started this, and it's cool to be a part of something with the exclusivity to work with this company, start a partnership and a foundation."
From the onset, he'll be featured in lifestyle campaigns and provide input and feedback on everything from photo-shoot styling to details on upcoming apparel and footwear.
"Basketball culture now permeates through all those dimensions that Converse has been playing in as a brand, whether it's style or fashion," said Sophie Bambuck, Converse CMO. "It just felt like the right time for us to re-energize the brand, dimensionalize the brand and bring a different point of view to our consumer around basketball. Kelly felt like the right person to do that with, not only as an athlete, but as a person."
During an evening photo shoot late Thursday in Washington, D.C. at the Banneker Rec Center's outdoor court, Oubre weathered rain and light snow in torn white jeans, a royal blue hoody, an elongated black Converse jacket and the brand's new ERX re-release of its 1987 basketball sneaker. Short for "Energy Return Multiplied," the shoe debuted its "Energy Wave" technology three decades ago, which is fitting now for Oubre's longtime "Wave Papi" nickname.
Converse looks at the signing as a way to connect with the merging of style and fashion that's taken place both on and off the hardwood in recent years. That spike has been a result of the rise of social media and the real-time showcasing of arrivals on Instagram, across team accounts to player pages and major media channels.
"The style angle of what a basketball game is has evolved," said Bambuck. "A few years back, it was really about performance on court. Now, basketball culture has really gone through the lens of style. Music was already a part of it, and style is what's driving the conversation right now."
For Oubre's team, the deal provides him with a creative outlet and the opportunity to continue to stand out among his peers as a trendsetter. "It's an exciting partnership that will give Kelly his own vertical," said Nima Namakian, Oubre's agent at BDA Sports. "He'll have maximum resources to express his creativity and influence the culture in his unique way, as Converse's exclusive global brand ambassador in basketball."
While the off-court appeal ultimately engaged Converse, the brand plans for Oubre to wear Nike products in games. "That's the strategy right now," confirms Bambuck. "I know it's unusual in the sport and in partnerships, but we want to do this together."
For now, Oubre looks to break out vibrant vintage pairs from Kobe Bryant's Nike signature series, preferring the low cut and support that the line has become known for. "Before I committed to Kansas, I was at Findlay Prep and I would wear nothing but Kobes," Oubre beams. "I wear those strictly because of the mentality that he brought to the game."
Beginning tonight, he'll be leading the brand's approach to basketball off the court, representing a new chapter for shoe deals and a shift in how the league's style is viewed. "It's the right time for us to take over the tunnel," said Bambuck.
"They have dope canvases that a lot of people can make a dope creation on," said Oubre. "I just want to continue to create that legacy and that wave to make the brand look good."