SNEAKERS & FASHION

Dior Johnson: Into the UNKNWN

The 5-star high school hoops phenom and future Oregon Duck takes Boardroom behind the scenes of his NIL apparel collaboration with Spalding and UNKNWN.

He may be just 17 years old, but that hasn’t stopped five-star basketball recruit Dior Johnson from benefiting from his burgeoning starpower.

The 5-star point guard from Kingston, New York is ranked 15th in the class of 2022 according to ESPN and has already committed to the University of Oregon. And after signing with WME for his name, image, and likeness deals, he became one of the faces of an apparel collaboration launched last week between Spalding and UNKNWN, along with UCLA commit Jada Williams.

In a conversation with Boardroom, Johnson, whose favorite clothing brand is unsurprisingly Dior, discussed the NIL landscape, why he chose the Ducks over other suitors like Syracuse and which NBA stars he models his game after.

“I always knew what the Spalding brand was as a basketball, but I’m a big fashion guy, so to have some apparel involved, it really interested me,” Johnson told Boardroom. “I was actually surprised by the clothes they had. I really ended up liking them. I actually took some home with me. I was interested in the UNKNWN, too, because of LeBron.”

Sign Up For Our Newsletters

Get on our list for sports business, industry trends, interviews, and more.

Johnson is a big fan of the brown varsity jacket and the hot green jacquard pants, and described the more normal, cordial pieces as “tough.”

The 6-foot-3 guard chose WME based on their stature in the industry and their reputation for securing good deals for their clients. Johnson called NIL a blessing for the younger kids like himself coming up.

“Now, you can capitalize off your name, like what you deserve,” he said. “It’s not like these kids are just waking up with this — it’s something that they earned, so it’s good that they can get what they deserve early and just be smart, whether that’s investing early or helping your family in whatever way you can.”

Johnson was and is looking for smart, lasting deals with companies he can build relationships with, legitimately impact the brand, and work cooperatively to find ways to enhance engagement with fans. Relationships are genuinely important for the Prolific Prep star; they’re a big reason why he gravitated toward Oregon head coach Dana Altman and assistant coach Chris Crutchfield, leading him to choose the Ducks over Alabama, Arizona State, Georgia Tech, LSU, Memphis, Nebraska, Ole Miss, St. John’s, Syracuse and TCU.

“As a coach, Coach Altman is a blessing and a half,” Johnson said. “He’s real, he’s up-front. He’s gonna coach you hard, which you need to get to the next level. If you wanna reach your highest ceiling, that’s what you’re looking for.”

Johnson spoke with former Ducks star Payton Pritchard, now in his second season as a bench sparkplug with the Boston Celtics, and Louis King, who’s on a two-way deal with the Sacramento Kings, on what it was like to play for Altman, his system, and what he expects from his players.

But in addition to studying the team in great detail, growing to like its offensive style, Johnson is also a big fan of the setting.

“It might sound weird, but I like Oregon,” he said. “It’s a good place for me to lock in, focus, get what I need done, not too many distractions. It was a good spot for me. I wasn’t looking for the city or anything everyone pays attention to or talks about. It’s honestly the best situation for me. I was really happy and comfortable with it and I can’t wait to get there.”

Johnson said he mainly models his game after Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, adapting aspects of their unique, otherworldly abilities to affect a game. He loves Kyrie’s faster game, putting the ball on the ground and hitting defenders with those combos. Specifically, Dame’s pull-up jumper and CP3’s mid-range game are elements Johnson tries to emulate.

“He might not get too fancy, but he’s gonna get to his spot and he’s gonna hit that shot,” Johnson said of CP3. “He’s gonna read the defense, he’s gonna react and it’s gonna look real clean.”

As Johnson progresses from Prolific Prep to Oregon, he’s going to try to look as clean and in-command as Chris Paul on the court. And as he surveys the NIL landscape for deals like Spalding and UNKNWN at just 17 years of age, he’ll hope to remain just as impactful off it.

Sign Up For Our Newsletters

Get on our list for sports business, industry trends, interviews, and more.

Subscribe

Enter your email below