NBA Lockout, and Apparel Talk with Under Armour: "You Can't Come Soft, You Got to Come Correct."

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I recently sat down with the young faces of Under Armour to discuss how they are handling the lockout.

I began holding off optimism for the lockout to end, quite some time ago.  Every marathon meeting session ended the same way...With false hopes, followed shortly thereafter by crushing reality.  However, for the first time in a while, I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Maybe it is the ever shrinking distance between the two sides, or the dwindling bank accounts.  Whatever it is, the lockout hopefully is in its last few days.

While the NBA remains locked out, basketball related income across the world, has slowed down considerably.  According to Marshal Cohen, Chief Industry Analyst at NPD Group, in a USA Today article, footwear brands and retailers could stand to lose up to $500 million, if the 2010-2011 NBA season is dissolved.

"The impact would be huge," Cohen told USA Today. "Out of sight, out of mind. If the players are not on the court, and the kids aren't thinking about them, they're not going out and getting their shoes.  About 33% of all basketball shoes are purchased to play basketball, that leaves 67% of the sales from consumers going for the association with an endorser such as Nike's LeBron James, or with the NBA itself," Cohen said.

Matt Powell of SportsONE Source, has a different opinion on the impact the lockout will have on apparel companies.  "Kids are still going to play basketball and they're going to need shoes regardless whether the NBA plays or not," Powell told USA Today.  "Where brands could get hurt is exposing consumers to new styles."

That is the challenge presented to apparel companies as each launches its signature shoe collection for the fall. 

One such company, Under Armour, launched its new 'Are You From Here?' ad campaign last week, highlighted by the face of Under Armour, Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings and his signature shoe, the Micro G Bloodline.  Inspired by the life story of Jennings, each shoe in the collection represents a different stop on his distinct path to the NBA. Jennings changed the game with a unique journey that took him from Compton to rural Virginia to Rome, Italy, where he became the first player to bypass college to play professional basketball in Europe.

"We continue to be passionate about basketball and our new footwear, and the look, the feel, and sounds of this campaign fit our Brand perfectly," said Steve Battista, Senior Vice President, Creative, Under Armour. "‘Are You From Here?' is more than a literal question about where you're from, it's about where you're coming from. It's about what's inside you, what's empowering you to be better every single day."

Besides Jennings, UA's 'Are You From Here?' campaign features several up and coming NBA players such as Greivis Vasquez (Memphis Grizzlies), Derrick Williams (Minnesota Timberwolves), and Kemba Walker(Charlotte Bobcats).  I sat down with a few of these athletes to discuss their thoughts on being the faces of Under Armour, their off-season schedule, and the affect the lockout has had on them.  

Brandon Jennings

 

How have you spent your off-season?

During the lockout, I have been doing a lot actually.  My summer has been kind of crazy due to the lockout, I was interning at Under Armour as the "Curator of Cool".  I've been going around different parks playing basketball - Not just Pro-Ams, but different parks in different neighborhoods.  I've been working with Mission Core Grip throughout the whole summer.  I've actually been becoming a business man if you think about it.

How does it feel to be the poster child for Under Armour?

I've been with Under Armour for almost four years now.  And four years later we signed Derrick Williams and also Kemba Walker, so we are on our way.  We are trying to make our name, and make our mark in the basketball world, which is very important as you know.  With basketball it is a year round thing.  You can't come soft, you got to come correct.

Besides working out, what is an interesting thing you have been doing during the lockout?

Brandon Jennings: Every Saturday in Los Angles we play flag football.  Me, Dorrell Wright, (Golden State Warriors) Nick Young, (Washington Wizards) and this Saturday we play DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors) so I'll bring my group of guys that I grew up with and we play against each others pros...And I just got a challenge from Derrick Williams, so we are supposed to be playing each other the week after that.  The main thing for me is staying fit and staying ready and just staying in shape and also saving my money.  Basically staying low key and just keep doing positive things.

Greivis Vasquez

How does it feel to be one of the "original faces" of Under Armour?

Greivis Vasquez:  It is a privilege.  I'm the second guy they signed, and we're growing.  This is a family.  It is a blessing for me, especially because I never thought I would have this happen to me, but I am taking it one day at a time.  I think there are a lot of people back in Venezuela, with the brand wearing Under Armour over there. Venezuela is such a great market; I can help the brand grow in South America.  We finally execute a good plan and put that in that market in South America.  And also here in the East Coast, like New York, Baltimore, DC, Maryland, so it's absolutely great.

As a young player, only a year out of college, how has the transition been?  How has the lockout affected that?

Greivis Vasquez:  Tough, tough, really tough.  I had a great rookie season, and playoffs, and now...I don't even know what to tell you.  I've taken a lot of pride working out like I do, and I want to play.  Everyone wants to play and get better. I love playing for the Memphis Grizzlies.  My teammates...it's such a fun team to be around, to be involved with...I'm hoping the season will start right now.

Besides working out, what is an interesting thing you have been doing during the lockout?

Greivis Vasquez:  I've spent a lot of time flying back and forth from Venezuela and here.  I watched a boxing match in LA, to support my boy Jorge Linares.  I have taken some time, gotten away for a little bit because after the season, I played for the Venezuelan National Team for a few months, so I don't want to overwork myself.  I want to take care of my body, think about the season, have a terrific season and get ready, because I want to play, I want to have more minutes, but I want to earn those minutes by working hard.

Is there any NBA player/veteran you have turned to for advice during this lockout?

Greivis Vasquez:  My agent, Herb Rudoy, has been helping me and giving me advice.  Telling me to relax, because I get impatient, I want to play.  I want to take advantage of the opportunities that I have.  I just want to take this day by day.  Everything happens for a reason, so we'll see what happens.

Derrick Williams


What about Under Armour was so appealing to you?

Derrick Williams:  Just in the last year or so, just seeing the progress they've made...I used to play baseball growing up and wore all their dry fits, so I have been familiar with their stuff since before I started playing basketball.  In the last year or so they've made a lot of progress in the basketball side, with the technology they've had and shoes and everything they've done, and the apparel has been a lot better.  It really has made a bigger jump in the past couple of years.

How does it feel to be one of the original faces of Under Armour basketball?

Derrick Williams:  I'm going to take that a long way.  Even when I'm 40, 50, 60, when I'm done playing basketball, I'm still going to remember that.  I'm still going to have all the ads and all the stuff we've been in.  To be one of the starters of the whole company,  and to look back when we're done and say,  ‘I really helped bring up that brand.'

Tell me about what part you played in creating your shoe?

Derrick Williams:  We've all (Jennings, Williams, Vasquez and Kemba Walker) put in a lot of details about the shoe, basically built by us and what we want in a shoe, what kind of grip we want, what sort of stuff we want on the tongue, the outside, the colors...basically everything that has to do with the shoe is coming from us and our inspiration.

How has your transition been so far from college to professional?

Derrick Williams:  It's been a little tough sometimes.  You got to constantly work out and constantly be on the top of your game.  Anybody that comes out of college will probably say the same thing, about trying to stay on top of your game and get better.  I've always been told, if you are going to go 50 percent, don't go at all.  You always want to put your 100 percent in everything you do.  That's really the big change.

How has the lockout affected all of that?

Derrick Williams:  It's affected everyone.  These types of events really keep our heads up and keep us inspired.  They make us want to get out there on the court.

Besides working out, what is something interesting you've been doing during the lockout?

Derrick Williams:  Nothing too crazy.  I've been traveling a bit, trying to do things I haven't done before, trying to get out of the country.  A couple of my friends are studying abroad, so trying to go and see them.  Just trying to do things I haven't done before...That's what it's all about...staying healthy and staying out of trouble?

Is there any NBA player/veteran you have turned to for advice during this lockout?

Derrick Williams:  Corey Maggette has really been helping me a lot.  I've been asking him a few things here and there.  Kobe Bryant as well, Derek Fisher...We all happen to have the same agent, so that really helps that those guys are there whenever I text them or call them.  It really helps.

Sadly, with Evan Turner already committed to Li-Ning and Jrue Holiday equipped with Adidas, it may be some time before we see an Under Armour representative in a Sixers uniform.  But for me, just to see a Sixer in uniform would be enough.

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