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Chet Holmgren Has Been Studying the Sneaker Game for Years 

Last Updated: April 19, 2024
The OKC rookie sits down with Boardroom to talk about his shoe rotation after playing in all 82 games, the business of brands, and much more.

The summer of 2019 sticks out for both Chet Holmgren and me. 

In the Bay Area that August, the 7-footer mixed up Stephen Curry — with his own move, at his own camp — then dunked it in front of scouts from all 30 NBA teams seated right on the sideline. (I’m on the opposite sideline in the instantly viral clip, in the teal ’96 All-Star Game shorts, losing it.)

Chet was already well-known in hoop circles, but in just those seven seconds, he was officially on the map across social media and stamped as league-ready … right then. I remember leaving the camp that week thinking I’d never seen a player quite like him. 

From his perspective, before even starting his junior season of high school, Holmgren was realizing just how big the business of basketball really is. 

“You see how much money that these shoe companies put into the youth basketball programs like the EYBL, the Adidas Gauntlet, and all of these different leagues,” said Holmgren. “If they’re putting that much money into youth basketball, then clearly they’re trying to get something back from it. They’re trying to build up the next generation of basketball players. I started looking at the business side of it really early on.”

Chet Holmgren
Chet Holmgren found his footing early in OKC. (Joshua Gateley / Getty Images)

Fast-forward just three summers, Chet was selected second overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder and soon found himself going through the summer-long process of landing endorsement deals as his pro career began. 

“The shoe deal is the big one,” he continued. “Luckily, I ended up with Nike, the best of the best, and it’s been a great partnership so far.”


A biweekly email from industry authority Nick DePaula packed with exclusive sneaker news and access to the athletes, designers, and executives that move the business.

Now just a few weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, Holmgren is already beginning to form a sharp view of the footwear industry and an inquisitive excitement to continue learning about the business world at large.

Chet Holmgren
Photo courtesy of David Cabrera

“I feel like I’m in the perfect timing,” Chet told Rich Kleiman in Boardroom’s newest Cover Story. “My only year of college was the first year of NIL. I got a jump start into the business world of how things worked, before I even got to the NBA. Understanding how much power we have as players and as brands, I’d be silly not to look into that and want to make something of it. I also understand none of that means shit if I don’t handle my basketball business.”

Early on, Holmgren also formed an opinion on what makes for a successful sneaker endorser. 

“I think what sells shoes is one, you have to have visibility. People have to see you, see your product, and know who you are,” he explained. “Two, people have to want to be like you or be doing what you’re doing out there on the court, whether it’s different moves or jumping super high, whatever it might be. I think those are the two biggest factors.”

With his 7-foot-1 frame, his game represents the positionless evolution that the Association has ascended to in the modern era. His style of play is still relatable to players of all sizes and something he feels can translate to creating energy in the footwear space during his career.  

“I feel like I have a lot of aspects of my game that tailor into that because I’ve based my game off of skill, and at the end of the day, that’s what people want to do,” he said. “They see skill, and they want to go out there and try to replicate that.”

Chet Holmgren
Chet laced up loud KD 16 colorways throughout the season.  (KeShawn Ennis / NBAE via Getty Images)

During his rookie campaign, which ended with the Thunder capturing the West’s No. 1 record, Holmgren appeared in all 82 regular-season games. He credits his no-frills footwear rotation of just two different sneaker models with helping him along the way. 

“I’ve been sticking to the GT Cuts and the KD 16s and not really exploring too much,” Holmgren said. “Because I know how important it is to have some consistency with your footwear. Playing every game is definitely big to me, so I didn’t want to risk it for cool points.”

He’s long considered himself a sneakerhead but knew that flexing a variety of silhouettes on the court after being sidelined all last season with a right foot injury wouldn’t be the best approach. He wore six colorways of the GT Cut 2s and five colorways of the KD 16s

“We’ve all fallen into the trap of, ‘This is the coolest pair of shoes I’ve ever had — I have to go hoop in them,’” he begins. “What happens when you try to do that is you might fuck your feet up or your ankles or whatever. So this year, I really have been just playing it safe with what kicks I’m wearing.”

He instantly rattles off the exact handful of KD 16 colorways he’s worn this year — like the bright pink Aunt Pearls, the green pair inspired by Durant’s mother Wanda, and the multi-colored pair from All-Star Weekend — that stood out nightly. 

“We have some crazy jersey colors, so it’s hard to match shoes necessarily with the jerseys,” Holmgren said while laughing. “So I was just like, ‘I’m not going to try and match. I’m going to just wear whatever I think is cool.’”

Chet Holmgren
Chet’s on- and off-court looks this season. (Zach Beeker / NBAE via Getty Images)

Another way in which players of today have stood out with their brand partnerships is through their LeagueFits-ready tunnel fits. After traveling with the team last year while sidelined and often getting fits off, Holmgren has taken a different approach this season, while still supporting Nike products.

“This year, for the most part, I’ve just been really off the fashion stuff and really just locked in on basketball,” said Holmgren. “Anybody who’s been paying attention knows I’ve just been showing up to games in Nike Tech, so I don’t have to put too much effort and energy into it. When I need to put an outfit on, I know how to put an outfit on.”

With the Thunder now heading into the NBA Playoffs this weekend as the top seed, Holmgren reveals he could switch things up once more on the court, as Kevin Durant’s 17th signature shoe is soon releasing. Still just a rookie, Chet calls out just how impressive the longevity of the series has been. 

Chet Holmgren
Kelsey Grant / Getty Images

“To see KD and Bron and Kobe have a new shoe every year for 20 years is crazy, because something like that’s not easy from an individual standpoint or from the company side of Nike,” said Holmgren. “Keeping a shoe line going for 20 years is definitely impressive, knowing how much it takes.”

Holmgren has been studying the nuances and behind-the-scenes of the business along the way — through following brand moves online or over long talks during dinners with his Nike reps at different points of the season. His Thunder roster also features players with seven different brands, one of the highest varieties across the NBA. 

“Now, I’m seeing how it works, and it’s very cutthroat, it’s extremely competitive, and there’s so much that goes into the business side of it that regular people don’t see,” he added. “They just see all the cool colorways, and they don’t understand how much is behind it for just one colorway of shoes to come out.”

With a multi-year rookie shoe deal in place with Nike, Chet is seeing in real-time how a player’s shoe deal can provide value well beyond financial compensation. 

“I think it’s extremely important for both of us to win and benefit. That’s how businesses thrive,” said Holmgren. “They’re going to help my visibility, and I’m going to help their visibility. I want to be a good partner, and I want to help uplift the image of Nike and what it stands for. They’re going to do the same for me, and hopefully, we make a lot of money together. That’s always the goal of business.”

As the Rookie of the Year candidate caps off his strong NBA debut regular season, he knows that the trajectory of his future impact in the sneaker game will start with his play. 

“Whether it’s PEs or signatures, or this line or that line — a lot of that’s going to come down to what I go out there and do on the court,” he framed. “It’s definitely a great opportunity to be with Nike, and I want to take full advantage of it.”

Be sure to check out the full conversation between Chet Holmgren and Rich Kleiman here for the latest Boardroom Cover Story. 

More Cover Stories:

Nick DePaula

Nick DePaula covers the footwear industry and endorsement deals surrounding the sporting landscape, with an emphasis on athlete and executive interviews. The Sacramento, California, native has been based in Portland, Oregon, for the last decade, a main hub of sneaker company headquarters. He’ll often argue that How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days is actually an underrated movie, largely because it’s the only time his Sacramento Kings have made the NBA Finals.

About The Author
Nick DePaula
Nick DePaula
Nick DePaula covers the footwear industry and endorsement deals surrounding the sporting landscape, with an emphasis on athlete and executive interviews. The Sacramento, California, native has been based in Portland, Oregon, for the last decade, a main hub of sneaker company headquarters. He’ll often argue that How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days is actually an underrated movie, largely because it’s the only time his Sacramento Kings have made the NBA Finals.