For Trail Blazers and NBA Players, Shoe Dreams are Alive in Portland
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Portland wouldn’t seem like the envy of the NBA. Tucked away beyond the Cascades, Oregon’s biggest city is grey, and cold, and rain-soaked from October to April, as if taunting the Trail Blazers for the exact length of the NBA season. The nightlife is slow, the state income tax is unforgiving and increased gentrification drives up the cost of living every year.
But it does have one thing other NBA cities don’t (besides great coffee): access—be it to the beach, the mountains, the desert, the valley.
Or, in this case, the widest selection of high-end sports apparel the U.S. has to offer. Everything is here, or at least near—including corporate offices and company stores for Nike, adidas and Under Armour. Portland is a private playground for professional athletes, where the perks of sponsorship are dream-fulfilling.
With the NBA season in full swing, the Trail Blazers have returned from sun-kissed Mexican beaches and intercontinental tours to once again make Portland their home, as it is to Nike world headquarters. Many of the players are connected to the city’s booming apparel industry, and are forthcoming with shop talk.
Trail Blazers big man Meyers Leonard throws down a dunk. (Courtesy of the Portland Trail Blazers)
Among them is Meyers Leonard. He was selected by Portland in the 2012 NBA draft, and signed with Nike in his rookie season. The deal induced mild culture shock for Meyers, who grew up in the small suburban town of Robinson, Illinois. To this day, he remains appreciative and, frankly, overjoyed with his ability to drop by the campus and factory store with friends and family.
“I’ve loved the swoosh ever since I was a little kid,” the 26-year-old tells CloseUp360, smiling. “Getting a pair of Nikes was, like, the best thing all year.
“And now it’s crazy. Like, I’m a Nike athlete ... so I can take [my family] and it’s like a little Christmas shopping spree. ... People, especially where I’m from, they don’t ever get to see something like that, so it’s always fun. Their face literally lights up. They see all these shoes, and clothes, and this and that and the other. And where we’re from, it’s like a small sporting store and that’s all they got.”
Nike is the world’s largest supplier of athletic apparel, and the factory store features all the latest releases. Products sell out fast, so consumers must be vigilant to scoop up the freshest gear.
For many NBA players, the factory store is a must-visit hotspot, whether they represent Portland on the court or are merely visiting. Although Rip City is a small market relative to the rest of the basketball world, proximity to leading shoe companies is one of the area’s biggest draws.
“I hit [Nike] every once in a while,” Moe Harkless says. “But when I was on the Magic, every time we’d come, I’d go do Christmas shopping and stuff like that because it’s just easy and everything’s half-off. … I know for a fact when teams come to town, they all go to it and check it out.”
Even Trail Blazers who are not partnered with Nike have fond memories of Portland’s sportswear giant. Like Seth Curry, who used to visit the Nike campus as a kid with his dad, Dell, a former NBA player. Or C.J. McCollum, who would swing by the employee store “all the time” before switching to Chinese shoe company Li-Ning last year.
Shoe Brands Around Rip City
Evan Turner, also with Li-Ning, jokes that he is forbidden from Nike, but still feeds off the presence it has in the city.
“I don’t think I’m even allowed on Nike’s campus, but I know a couple people out there,” he says. “I just like the atmosphere. … It’s pretty crazy to see this is where it’s all being done. So I take advantage of the energy.”
Blazers guard Evan Turner wears Li-Ning shoes during a game in Portland. (Courtesy of the Portland Trail Blazers)
While that energy alone is not enough to pull free agent stars into Portland’s orbit, players take notice. Some are introduced as mere prospects at the Nike Hoop Summit, an annual showcase featuring the best high school and international prospects, held every spring at the Moda Center. The latest would have been Trail Blazers rookie Anfernee Simons, who withdrew from this year’s event after entering the NBA draft. He fell in love with Nike anyway.
“I didn’t really put it out there that I signed with Nike,” he says.
The enigmatic, 19-year-old guard has already checked out the campus twice, just months into his tenure in Portland.
“I’ve been with my mom and dad both times,” he says, “so they also got stuff as well.”
Blazers rookie Anfernee Simons launches a shot while wearing Nike shoes. (Courtesy of the Portland Trail Blazers)
Anfernee’s parents join the tide of Trail Blazers faithful gearing up. Rip City red is everywhere in Portland—as it should be with the help of Nike and adidas, whose Portland office lies just around two miles north of the team’s home court. The rival apparel companies are built into the professional athlete experience, and Blazers reap the sweetest windfall—none sweeter than Damian Lillard’s.
The three-time All-Star signed a contract extension with adidas in April 2014, reportedly worth “well over $100 million.” His adjacency to the company’s Portland office has been a major convenience for both parties.
“It’s really good for me because I’m right here, and any time they need to meet with me or need to run something by me, I can drive to them or they can drive to me,” he says. “I think it makes business run better when it’s not hard for them to find or contact me, and vice versa.”
Damian Lillard answers questions during a media session. (David MacKay)
The setup is ideal for the 28-year-old, who welcomed his first child, Dame Jr., into the world in March. He can tend to his personal and corporate vitality in the length of a car ride. And, as Trail Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey states, Lillard loves being close to home.
“He’s got a family here,” Olshey says. “He lives here full time, so Dame’s here 12 months of the year.”
And with the adidas Dame 5 slated for release in 2019, Damian will have a front-row seat to see his fifth signature shoe fly off the Three Stripes' shelves all year long.
David MacKay is a veteran NBA writer based in Portland. Follow him on Twitter.