Kawhi Leonard is a man of few words, so he is not the first player you would pick to revive a brand. New Balance did just that when they officially announced its partnership with Leonard and teased his debut shoe—the OMN1S—that feature six different All-Star colorways that he will pick from to wear once he steps on the court in Charlotte. The marketing message with Kawhi is simple: Kawhi will let his play do the talking.
Leonard’s partnership with the Boston-based brand has been the worst kept secret in the business. After turning down a reported, four-year, $22 million to remain with Jordan Brand in March, the company announced they would let Leonard walk. Since the start of the season he has been playing in Air Jordan models but has worn several New Balance outfits and sneakers on his way to the arena.
Leonard is now in his eighth season and established himself as one of the NBA's premier players, but he has not been known as a personality off the court. The laugh heard all-around the world was the most human reaction we have ever seen from him.
Usually the best marketable athletes are the stars that showcase that they are relatable or having fun. Kids wanted to "Be Like Mike" when Michael Jordan sipped from a Gatorade bottle or dunked in a pair of Air Jordan’s. Allen Iverson combined hip-hop elements within the game in various commercials and in his own lifestyle. LeBron James and Stephen Curry are the league's two biggest stars today and both are very vocal about everything on and off the court. Kawhi has never been that guy—so New Balance decided the best way to market him is playing into the idea that he is, in fact, not marketable. Let his game speak for itself.
Re-launching the New Balance line will be tough. Puma re-launched this past summer after signing several NBA draft lottery picks and with Jay-Z as the Creative Director. They also signed DeMarcus Cousins who is creating even more exposure for the brand while playing in Golden State.
New Balance is banking on Kawhi and NBA draft prospect Darius Bazley, who is interning in the company's marketing, digital, footwear and apparel departments from January to March while he preps for the draft.
Maybe Kawhi shows a different side of himself as the leading man for a brand. Maybe he remains his old-self. Kawhi is going to be Kawhi.
Here are the New Balance OMN1S colorways:
Best Kept Secret: