Kyle Kuzma is well aware that he’s not expected to be a star player on a Lakers team that boasts LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
“I’ve never been a guy that’s had the ball in his hands, ” Kuzma told Sports Illustrated. “Shooting the ball from three, running out in transition, cuts to the hoop, tip ins. There’s a reason why I’ve always played this game.”
While Kuzma may not be the No. 1 option on the court, he’s quickly raising his profile off it. The 24-year-old, who already has his own clothing line, recently inked a sneaker deal with PUMA, the sportswear staple that’s trying to make its mark on the modern NBA.
Speaking to SI after his PUMA launch event—in which he posed for photos with hundreds of excited L.A. locals—Kuzma discussed why opted to sign with an upstart company, what a signature shoe would mean to him, and more.
Rohan Nadkarni: When you sat down with PUMA, how did they sell you on joining them?
Kyle Kuzma: The biggest thing is flexibility. Ever since going into the meeting, it’s been more about me than the brand. For me, having creative control, having my input matter, those little things persuaded me. I have a lot of dreams and aspirations for what I want to do, and how I believe I can help impact the market and really make some noise.
RN: Why do you think players around your age are more comfortable not signing with the sneaker giants they knew growing up?
KK: It goes back to the age that we live in. We’re the age of—everybody wants to be different, everybody wants to be their own type of person. Growing up, everybody wanted to wear Nikes. That was it. If you wore something else, you kind of got laughed at. Nowadays, you can really wear whatever, and feel the freedom of having swag or doing something different. That’s what I did, I made my splash in my own lane.
RN: Do you see yourself getting involved with designing shoes? Are you the kind of person who will sketch stuff out? What are your dreams in that regard?
KK: Just be involved with everything. I have my own clothing line, so I’m used to being involved in all the designing and what not. Just taking it to another notch and doing it with PUMA, on the biggest stage with a global brand, it’s pretty special. It’s something I’m really looking forward to. I think I have a lot of great ideas and a creative mind so I really look forward to being on this journey.
RN: When did fashion become something that was important to you?
KK: I kind of always wanted to dress nice. I’ve always said the first impression is the best impression, and the first thing people look at is your clothes. That’s always been a staple in my life, trying to look good, and look prepared. Getting to the NBA really enhanced that. Being around more money and more people that are more fashionable. You see that living in L.A. I’ve always had that, but being here and being at this level really sparked my imagination more.
RN: Do you feel more pressure dressing nicely because you live in Los Angeles?
KK: The only pressure that comes with that is you can’t really wear the same thing twice. Especially for me, once you get photographed in something, everybody knows you for what you got on at that certain moment. Trying to find clothes, mismatch them, trying to make them not look the same was tough at one point. But now it’s like clockwork.
RN: When I buy something expensive, I’m wearing it as often as I can. How annoying is it not getting to repeat clothes?
KK: It was annoying at first. I always wear my clothes multiple times. But not main events where I know there’s going to be photos or anything like that. I try to really, from that standpoint, I try to mix and match. In my daily life, obviously I wear stuff again. But I keep it censored.
RN: What would it mean to you to have your own signature shoe?
KK: It means a lot. I’m a basketball player, and I grew up in an era where signature shoes was huge. Maybe not so much nowadays. But when I grew up, wanting to be a basketball player, it was super important to me. Seeing Michael Jordan have shoes, Kobe have shoes, LeBron have shoes. As a little kid and as the basketball player I am, 100%. I would love it.
RN: Can you explain to people why sneaker culture is such a big part of the NBA? What does it mean to you to even have a shoe deal?
KK: Yeah, it just means a lot. People kind of overlook things, forget that athletes are humans, too. We have dreams, we have aspirations just like normal people do. For me to be a face of a brand, that’s a one-of-a-kind feeling, that’s something not too many people in this world have ever felt. For me, I really embrace it. I credit my journey and how long it’s taken me to get to this point. All the work. It’s definitely a big deal, especially to a basketball player. You grow up, you see Michael, you see Kobe, you see LeBron, those are the faces of their brand. For me to say that I’m the face of a brand, that’s crazy.
RN: Is there anybody you’ve thought of that you would love to collaborate on a shoe with?
KK: I honestly haven’t thought about that too much. But we’re going to get some heavy hitters. One of the reasons I joined PUMA was because the potential was there for the brand to be even crazier because of the lifestyle and what they are off the court. That’s something we’re really going to start hammering home and take this thing to the next level. They’ve done great collaborations so far, but there’s always room for improvement.