Most basketball players are known for sporting crazy kicks and expressing their style through their feet on the court. Recent NBA Champion Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors is no different.
In Game Three of the 2022 NBA Finals, Curry wore custom #RetireInequality shoes designed by Dez Zambrano of DEZ Customz in partnership with Moe of Kreative Custom Kicks both based out of Maryland.
“It really is the best feeling as an artist to see your work get viewed by just millions of people," Zambrano said.
It all came about pretty fast in June, but it first started with UConn Huskies guard Azzi Fudd who had signed an NIL deal with TIAA, short for Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America.
Fudd has multiple NIL deals to juggle, she said. Some include Chipotle, American Eagle and Stephen Curry's SC30 Inc. Enterprise.
She was the first collegiate basketball athlete to receive an NIL deal in conjunction with SC30, an athletic brand.
Fudd met Curry her sophomore year of college, and now that collegiate athletes can benefit off their name, image and likeness, Fudd's first meeting with Curry has bloomed into an opportunity to benefit off of her talent and voice with SC30.
Back to June and Fudd's other NIL deal, TIAA wanted to do something special to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, an education amendment that prohibits sex discrimination in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
TIAA partnered with shoe designers Zambrano and Moe to design the #RetireInequality shoe for Fudd to wear, which in turn would raise awareness that women have 30% less retirement income on average than men.
”I’m just doing my best right now to help spread the word, especially since it’s not a big topic around people my age,” Fudd said.
The shoes are hand painted with a pink, blue, and yellow color scheme with #RetireInequality painted on the outside of the shoe and "not done yet" painted on the inside.
“I wore them for Game Four when I went to the Warriors, Celtics game, and I’ve worn them a little around campus,” Fuzz said.
“They’re just so nice that I’m kind of scared to wear them too much. I don’t want to mess them up. I love the look. The design is amazing."
Fudd said she didn't even collaborate with Curry about him sporting the shoes and the cause as well. Zambrano and Moe were the ones who got word that Curry wanted a pair for himself.
“It kind of goes to show his values and the person he is, and with him doing a deal with me as well, it just kind of goes to show how he cares about women’s sports, women’s equity, all that kind of stuff,” Fudd said.
“It’s incredible,” Fudd said. “It’s kind of made me realize with TIAA and just how important Title IX is.”
Meanwhile in Maryland, Zambrano and Moe dropped everything to work on Curry's pair of #RetireInequality shoes.
“We got the project, and it was like ‘okay, go,’” Zambrano said. “It was about a day’s worth of crunching and kind of looking at it, trying to get it stylized and try to have it flow right, and then it was a day’s worth of execution.”
Zambrano and Moe grew up near the east coast with a passion for art. Zambrano used his artwork as an outlet and started DEZ Customz eight years ago.
He met Moe one year later, and the two became instant friends. Moe said Zambrano is like a mentor and brother to him. The pair formed a partnership based on mutual respect, not even a written contract.
Now, Zambrano and Moe have worked together with their respective companies to design shoes for athletes like Tom Brady who wore a pair in his most recent Super Bowl win with the Bucs, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Joel Embiid, Bryce Harper and even Dwayne the Rock Johnson.
The two have designed a pair for Curry before too but never for the NBA Finals.
The long list of athletes continues on and does not discriminate between type of sport.
When designing the TIAA shoes, Zambrano wanted to include blue to match the TIAA logo.
“How do we make this statement?" Zambrano asked. "How do we make it have that shock value, have it really up front and implement all these colors?”
Once Zambrano designed the shoes, both him and Moe separately tuned in to watch Game Three of the NBA Finals. Both of them saw Curry sporting the shoes on the biggest stage in the NBA.
“I got to tune in for the game and wasn’t actually expecting him to be wearing it that day,” Moe said. “If my friends could just tell you the smile on my face seeing it. To be on that stage and to be on somebody’s feet that you admire and you see his skills and just know that he’s one of the best at his position, I mean it’s just humbling."
Zambrano explained both him and Moe have the same skillsets, design process and equipment. They each take turns with every shoe project. This time, it was Zambrano's turn, and he got to take charge.
“We try to be fair,” Zambrano said. “‘This one’s yours, this one’s mine.’ When this one came along, it was just my turn.”
Zambrano and Moe both emphasized their goal is to always tell a story and bring deeper meaning to their artwork.
”That’s your goal always to hit on something that’s important,” Zambrano said. “Any cause that you can get behind as an artist, if you can lend your skills to that, that’s the moment.”
Supporting a cause like TIAA's #RetireInequality makes the pair of artists even more grateful and passionate about their careers.
“When there’s meaning behind it, it goes so much further for us,” Moe said. “When you get to create and send a message through that art and it is received and it’s such a positive theme and campaign, it makes it that much more grateful.”
After years of building up their businesses, sleepless nights in the studio and the ups and downs of being a shoe designer, Zambrano and Moe feel it's all worth it.
“Your reward is Stephen wearing it, Game Three in the Finals,” Zambrano said. That’s your work.”