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LaMelo Ball Debuts PUMA MB.02 Signature Sneaker

Entering his third NBA season, the Charlotte Hornets point guard used Media Day to unveil his newest namesake sneaker, the PUMA MB.02.

At only 21 years old, LaMelo Ball is among the most popular players in professional basketball. Now, he heads into the 2022-23 season with a new number on his back and new shoes on his feet.

Taking over the No. 1 jersey in teal that once belonged to Malik Monk, Ball brought out his upcoming PUMA MB.02 signature sneaker earlier this week at Hornets Media Day. Sporting similar styling to his PUMA MB.01 debut, the new Melo model leans into the mid-cut cache and fiery launch shade seen on his introductory silo, playing further into his trademark tattoos and 1-of-1 branding.

In only his second season in the NBA, LaMelo became the league’s fastest-rising signature star, selling his PUMA pair in droves from its Dec. 2021 “Not From Here” arrival all the way up to this summer’s bold “Be You” launch.

Over the course of the model’s first run at retail, the MB1’s collaborative “Rick & Morty” colorway won All-Star Weekend in regard to energy, while its below-ankle MB1 Low has drummed up interest both on the court and among back-to-school shoppers.

So, will LaMelo land another hit or suffer from the sophomore slump where his signature sneaker sales are concerned?

Flipping the script since his signing, it’s safe to say he’s got another heater on the way.

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The Big Cat

In 2018, PUMA caught the entire industry off-guard when it announced it’d re-enter the basketball category that fall.

PUMA had initially backed off basketball in the ’90s when Rookie of the Year Vince Carter broke his PUMA partnership. Having signed the right guy but seemingly not set up with the right product or marketing, the brand retreated from the performance hoops space to seek success in lifestyle, soccer, and other sports.

By the mid-2010s, PUMA was beginning to pop again in a cross-culture sense. It thrived amid a demand for retro running styles and an increased profile in fashion, thanks to deals with Rihanna’s FENTY label and influencer Kylie Jenner.

While women’s training and athleisure were core categories the entire industry sought to conquer, PUMA made a dramatic zag by throwing its name in the hat of the somewhat stale performance basketball space.

Insiders suggested that PUMA never intended to have a ‘signature athlete’ upon its return to basketball.

Despite signing numerous lottery picks in the 2018 NBA Draft and acquiring personalities like Skylar Diggins-Smith and Kyle Kuzma, the plan was to introduce staple styles each year that big men like DeAndre Ayton and guards like Marcus Smart would wear.

This proved the path early on, but in 2020 it all changed. Enter LaMelo Ball.

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Brought on through the relationship between Jay Z’s RocNation management and the German sportswear juggernaut, the youngest Ball brother was perhaps the biggest question mark in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Playing overseas and famous before he was old enough to drive, some marketing execs hailed him as basketball’s Justin Bieber. Upon his rise at Chino Hills, other scouts questioned his ability to play the team game.

Add in the uncertainty of a global pandemic and his proud pops claiming he could work his son’s boss-to-be, Michael Jordan, in a game of one-on-one, and no one knew just how the LaMelo Ball experiment would go.

Once the season started, it was clear Ball was a superstar, or as marketed, a 1-of-1. Throwing highlight passes akin to Jason Williams while appealing to a TikTok audience, PUMA pivoted its basketball business to craft a signature shoe for LaMelo.

Soon, top talent like Breanna Stewart and even artist J. Cole came to see similar treatment.

At Hornets Media Day last year, LaMelo wore his first signature shoe from PUMA in bold, clashing fashion. For his entire second season, the eventual All-Star rotated retail renditions of his launch while also lacing custom pairs patterned after his Gutter Gang Web3 interests.

In a footwear market where fans chase collaborations they can afford rather than kicks high on access and function, the MB.01’s success has made it an anomaly.

A year after its arrival, the signature debut in both mid- and low-cut is a top seller in Foot Locker’s men’s basketball section.

Perhaps more importantly, it resides as a top seller online in Foot Locker’s kid’s section, too.

Gen Z MVP

Few faces in the NBA right now are more marketable than 21-year-old LaMelo Ball.

Boasting a legion of fans from his family’s Facebook series, the lovable little brother brought his audience along. From his flashy play to his outlandish outfits, LaMelo moves the needle in a league led mainly by established All-Stars. While LaMelo has his contemporaries — take Ja Morant and Anthony Edwards as examples — he is among the youngest to receive a signature shoe.

Starting at $125 in adult sizes, the PUMA MB.01 proved far fresher than the signature shoes tied to stars like Damian Lillard and Paul George. It’s also undercut the prices positioned with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and even Trae Young.

Though devoid of visible tech or exaggerated PUMA branding, the MB.01 remained relevant through curated colorways and player-approved play. With the recently unveiled PUMA MB.02, PUMA and Ball have a chance to improve on the same formula.

Seemingly running back 2021’s “Not From Here” theme that launched its predecessor, the MB.02 doubles down on what already worked while exploring more of Melo’s world. Flame overlays on the upper, tattoo tongue branding, and 1-of-1 pull tabs incrementally speak to the signature athlete while core structure components seem spot-on with the first pair.

For the sequel to top the OG, LaMelo must continue his All-Star ascent and shine in his nationally televised games.

Or will he?

While athletes once had to ball out on TV to sell shoes, LaMelo speaks to an audience more entrenched online. Coming off a record-setting 2021 in which PUMA pulled in $7.7B in sales across the brand, the youngest Ball is perhaps the core component of connecting with a young audience.

As the 2022-23 season gets underway and the 2023 holiday season approaches, just how PUMA and LaMelo ride this rocket ship sneaker line will be one of footwear’s most intriguing storylines to come.

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