Converse announced Wednesday it has signed Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to a multiyear footwear and apparel endorsement deal, adding the versatile 21-year-old Oklahoma City Thunder star to a group of NBA and WNBA players tasked with relaunching its basketball category.
Gilgeous-Alexander signed with Nike upon turning pro ahead of the 2018 NBA draft, but the 6-foot-5 combo guard will begin wearing Converse once the Thunder resume practicing this week in Orlando, Florida.
"The exclusiveness of the brand, not having so many guys, and the ability to express myself on and off the court in so many different ways appeals to me so much," Gilgeous-Alexander said.
The initial conversations about joining a select Converse portfolio that now includes NBA players Draymond Green and Kelly Oubre Jr., along with WNBA champion Natasha Cloud, began last year in Las Vegas during the NBA's Summer League.
As a company, Nike had prioritized revamping and refreshing its Jordan roster of endorsers last year, signing Zion Williamson, Jayson Tatum, Rui Hachimura and Luka Doncic. Now, that focus is shifting to Converse, with Gilgeous-Alexander next in its continued efforts.
"Think about it this way: Nike leads the industry in innovation, Jordan represents the passion and flight of the game, and Converse celebrates the individuality and progress of the athlete," said Ron Johnson, general manager of Converse Basketball. "We're completing a Nike, Inc., offense in basketball and collaborating to carve out our own space."
Worn by Julius Erving throughout the 1970s, then ascending throughout the 1980s on the feet of icons Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, Converse is now looking to recapture the style and affinity it carried throughout the basketball industry in that span.
The ability to showcase his creativity appealed to the Thunder's young star.
"I saw some of the stuff that Kelly [Oubre Jr.] was doing and how he was able to express his personality and his vibe through his shoes," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "I thought it was dope."
This past season, Oubre Jr. helped design versions of the All Star Pro BB as part of his "Soul Collection" -- one a purple tie-dye celebration of his love for 1960s psychedelic rock; the other a clean, white low with blue splashes inspired by his "Wave Papi" nickname. Last summer, the Suns wing collaborated with Pigalle during Paris Fashion Week, highlighting the clean, white-and-neon All Star Pro BB edition during the Parisian label's rooftop spring/summer showcase.
Gilgeous-Alexander is expected to have similar design input and creative control with Converse.
In his first season with Oklahoma City, Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game before the coronavirus pandemic halted the 2019-20 campaign, emerging as a future cornerstone for a Thunder franchise entering the season's restart in Orlando fifth in the Western Conference.
With Green's Warriors not qualifying for the restart and Oubre Jr.'s playing status still uncertain as he continues rehabbing from right knee surgery, Gilgeous-Alexander could be the lone Converse representative playing in the NBA's bubble format.
Once in Orlando, Gilgeous-Alexander plans to wear a variety of colorways of the brand's All Star Pro BB Low, a modernized design of Erving's original Pro Leather from the 1970s bearing the "Star Chevron" logo.
"But with a little bit of SGA spizazz on it," Gilgeous-Alexander said with a laugh.
After lacing up a mix of Kobe Bryant's sneakers throughout the '19-20 season, Gilgeous-Alexander showed a preference on the court for the Kobe AD 360 NXT. The All Star Pro BB, Converse's first performance model in nearly a decade, was coincidentally also styled by Eric Avar, the longtime designer of Nike's Kobe series. Both shoes feature a similar React foam cushioning setup, "quad-axial woven" upper material and clear, rubber bottom.
"It felt a lot like the Kobes that I was wearing during the season, so that was another plus for me," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It wouldn't be too much of an adjustment. The shoe is super comfortable."
In the coming months, he is also expected to debut what the brand has dubbed "an evolved version" of the All Star Pro BB. Off-court, he'll be opting for retro editions of the Dr. J icons.
"My favorite is definitely the Pro Leather Lows," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "All white. White with red. White with purple. White with green. White with whatever -- it doesn't even matter. It's kind of like an Air Force 1 almost, and you can wear them every day -- with sweats, jeans or with a tux. They're versatile, and that's how I dress."
Sharing his own design concepts and impacting the future of the category's collections has already been welcome new territory for the Toronto native, as he continues to look to make an imprint both on and off the floor.
"The biggest thing early on is I've been able to bring my ideas and my creativity to life," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "That's something that not a lot of players in the NBA get to do."
Reached over the phone Monday, Gilgeous-Alexander was just beginning to pack his clothes and sneakers for the Orlando bubble.
"I got hella clothes I need to pack," he said with a laugh. "I plan to be gone for the NBA Finals -- so two, three months."