To dive into Paul George’s sneaker history, you have to rewind back to Nelly’s hit single, “Air Force Ones”. The song paid tribute to one of Nike’s most iconic silhouettes and reached No. 3 on the U.S. Billboard 100. It also had kids wearing Band-Aids on their faces.
“That was the thing in high school—to have Air Forces Ones and [from] then on, I was just hooked on sneakers,” George told The Crossover from the set of a Foot Locker commercial.
Now in his ninth NBA season, George has blossomed into a marketing superstar who works with brands like Nike, Gatorade, New Era, Bass Pro Shops, Tissot and 2K Sports. He is also featured in Foot Locker’s global sneaker campaign, #BecauseSneakers. The theme of the campaign speaks to how a sneakerhead’s every impulse and motivation revolves around their extreme love for the shoes they wear. This will be brought to life through a week of immersive experiences from sneaker lovers of different backgrounds throughout the world.
When Foot Locker was looking for a leading pitchman for its campaign, they connected with George, who has become one of the most sought after sneaker stars in the NBA.
“I am a sneakerhead and I grew up a sneakerhead. I grew up loving shoes and I loved being a part of the campaign,” said George. “I feel it is about who I am and the culture that I am a part of.”
George’s road to becoming a signature sneaker star has not been easy. He rose to stardom after making the most of an opportunity in his third season when All-Star small forward Danny Granger injured his knee and missed the majority of the season. George instantly developed into one of the NBA’s best two-way players and became a cornerstone for an Indiana Pacers team in desperate need of one.
George was named an All-Star and returned the next season better than ever, leading the Pacers to the Eastern Conference finals in a classic duel vs. LeBron James and the Miami Heat. The Pacers fell in six games, but George entered the offseason as a lock to represent the country at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain.
Then he suffered a severe leg injury in a Team USA scrimmage after attempting to contest a layup by James Harden. George returned to the court eight months later, after being declared out for the season. He was determined to play and appeared in six games. It was during this period that Nike saw his potential as a spokesman.
The company saw fans gravitate toward him and players rally around him during his recovery. George’s popularity and smooth personality, which mirrors iconic Nike pitchman Penny Hardaway, was enough for the sneaker company to name him the brand's fourth active signature athlete, joining LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. He also became the 21st basketball player to receive a signature shoe from the Swoosh.
“It was dope honestly because at the time I was hurt,” said George. “I was injured and rehabbing from my injury, and for them to have that belief to back me up and be behind me, when coming off an injury and not even playing—they were unsure how I would come back to the game but that meant a lot and honestly in that moment, I was pretty emotional.”
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George always dreamed about having his own signature line. He idolized Kobe Bryant and wore his sneakers during the early stages of his career. But when it became his turn, George quickly decided to take on the design opportunities himself for the actual creation of the PG1.
“They were low-tops—I tried to do my own little sketches and they didn’t use anything that I showed them [laughs],” George said. “It was fun even though they didn’t use my renderings or drawings, they still wanted my input. I pretty much made them but it wasn’t with my sketches. It was just a dope vibe and a collab where I was able to be creative and connect with someone else to bring a vision to life. It was really dope.”
The PG1 instantly became a hit with NBA players and consumers. The sneaker was tailored to PG-13’s two-way game and the lightweight, low-cut approach was something that George and designer Tony Hardman pushed for. The most notable thing was creating something that was personal to George. There are three small graphics on the shoe that have details about his life: 3-1-15, honoring the birthday of his first daughter, Olivia. Then there is birthday 5-2-90, which appears on the left side of the shoe. And the right heel tab features a stripe—a reminder of the titanium rod used to repair George’s devastating right-leg fracture.
“It was a lot of pressure," said George. "The biggest thing was that I wanted something basketball players have been asking for, and that’s a really good hoop shoe, really good traction and really good from aesthetics.
"Before I started I was just listening around, and with me playing in different sneakers and knowing what I like, I kind of just put all of that together. We came up with a plan on how we wanted to start the franchise. It’s dope whether it is the respect for me or because it helps them performance wise. It’s just awesome across the board that they want my shoe to be the sneakers that they enjoy playing in.”
On July 1, 2017, George found his way to Oklahoma City in a trade that sent Victor Oladipo to the Pacers. The PG2 was unveiled soon after in January of 2018 as George played on what many believed was a one-year rental. George did not hide his desire to play for his favorite team, the Los Angeles Lakers. But he grew a bond with Russell Westbrook and company and felt he had unfinished business in a city that welcomed him with open arms. He is destroying the myth that stars can’t build personal brands in small markets, just as Westbrook and Kevin Durant did before him. He has done it in Indiana and now Oklahoma City.
“Honestly, I think I have some of the biggest partners being in a small market," said George, "and I think it doesn’t really matter, you can accomplish anything if you have the right people around you and be driven. Every partner that I wanted, I can mark off my list as the partners I want to be with, and I made it that happen playing out of Indiana.”
George also has no problem sharing the spotlight with Westbrook, who has emerged as a fashion icon off the court.
“Nah, not at all," said George. "Because we are two different people. The stuff he likes doesn’t necessarily pertain to me and vice versa. We have two different identities so it doesn’t really interfere or cause any problems.”
As George settles into his second season with the Thunder, he is prepping for the release of his third signature sneaker in January and says that sneakerheads should expect a lot of heat and collaborations.
“Honestly, just consistent from start to finish," said George, "My shoe has been going through evolution and we having great feedback from the 1 to the 2 and the 2.5’s so I think just consistency. The biggest thing I wanted to accomplish was a shoe that basketball players loved and felt like they have an advantage out of. If I hit home on that, that is what I was looking for.”