New York Knicks rookie RJ Barrett, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, has signed an endorsement deal with Puma, as first reported by Nick DePaula of ESPN. Barrett revealed that while he considered other companies, he is happy to have landed with Puma.
"I waited for a long time, and I really just wanted to weigh my options," Barrett said. "I really looked at Nike and Adidas hard, but at the end of the day, it came down to Puma and I'm very happy and excited to be a part of the Puma family."
Puma has wasted no time getting Barrett's image out there in his new home market. They have already plastered images of him around midtown, and the company is launching a new flagship store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan this weekend.
Barrett may not have been the most famous prospect on his college team at Duke, but in many ways, he is just as desirable a shoe endorser as Zion Williamson. While Williamson is playing in the NBA's smallest market on a team loaded with young talent, Barrett is the face of the league's most valuable franchise.
With Kevin Durant out this season and no other superstars on his own team, Barrett is competing only with Nike's Kyrie Irving within his own city for sneaker sales, and he has the advantage of playing for New York's preferred team. If he is the player that most evaluators expect him to be, he should become Puma's premier endorser rather quickly.
Puma only reentered the basketball market last offseason. They did so with a splash, landing top NBA Draft prospects DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley, but they missed out on the two biggest stars from the 2019 class in Luka Doncic, who spent his rookie year with Nike and is now seeking a new long-term deal, and Trae Young, who landed with Adidas.
Their forays into the veteran market have been similarly frustrating. Their most prominent signing by far was DeMarcus Cousins, who has been plagued by injuries since signing the deal. They have a number of other young players in the pipeline, but no proven stars.
Barrett has a chance to give them that kind of superstar in a major market. That was how Puma initially made its way into the basketball business with Walt Frazier in the 1960s. Frazier was a two-time champion, a long-time star, and most importantly for Puma's sake, remains a fashion icon. If Barrett comes anywhere close to Frazier in any of those respects, Puma will be very happy with this deal.