SNEAKERS

Paolo Banchero Is On His Sneaker Journey

As one of the most marketable players in the 2022 NBA Draft, No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero has no shortage of brands courting him.

An NBA Draft pick’s rookie shoe deal will often be the largest endorsement deal that he will land. And after playing all of last year at Duke as a projected top pick, Paolo Banchero is well into talks with several companies.

“Being a hooper, you’re familiar with all of the brands growing up,” he said. 

Banchero’s shoe deal process has gained steam in the two months since he officially turned pro, and he has already conducted official pitch meetings with brands heading into Thursday’s NBA Draft. 

While comfort, style, and performance all rank high on the priority list, the 19 year-old with a flair for fashion has additional factors in mind for choosing his eventual brand partner. 

“Really, just seeing how creative they can be towards me,” he said. “I’m a creative guy and have my own tastes, so who can help me with that, sharpen me up and show me what they have in mind?”

Duke Blue Devils forward Paolo Banchero in the Kyrie 7, during the Champions Classic (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The natural-born athlete grew up in Seattle, where his mother Rhonda Smith-Banchero first made a name for herself on the hardwood at the University of Washington. She eventually left the Huskies as the school’s then-all-time leading scorer in 1995. His father Mario played tight end for the UW football team. 

Their son now measures 6’10.5 — without shoes — and brings the blend of speed, physicality and skill that his parents each boasted in their sports. 

“I want to be the guy who the team counts on, who the fans count on. I like carrying that weight,” Banchero said. “[I’m a] big-time player, versatile and trying to do what’s best for the team.” 

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As an impact player with franchise potential on the court, Banchero feels he can also make an impact off the court as a brand ambassador. 

“People gravitate to me as a person and also as a player,” he said. “I’m always up in spirit and a good person to be around. With the sneaker companies looking at me, I feel like they’re going to get someone that’s going to be marketable instantly.” 

As his rise in the hoop scene carried him from the Under Armour-sponsored O’Dea High School and the Seattle Rotary AAU team on Nike’s EYBL circuit, Banchero eventually landed with the Blue Devils for his lone collegiate season. 

His freshman season at Duke also coincided with the NCAA’s historic passing of new name, image, and likeness opportunities for athletes, allowing them to monetize on their image through partnership endorsements.

The head start on landing NIL deals — with the likes of NBA 2K, Panini, JD Sports and others — allowed him to get familiar with the process of brand photoshoots, social media post commitments, and working with companies that align with his image. 

“It was a great experience,” Banchero said. “Duke is one of the biggest brands in sports in general. Being able to go there and introduce myself to everybody was the perfect opportunity to be marketable and get deals.”

Throughout the final Mike Krzyzewski-led Duke season that saw the Blue Devils advance to the 13th Final Four of Coach K’s legendary tenure, Paolo could be seen lacing up a variety of sneakers in white and blue hues. 

“That’s how I’ve always been, at every level I’ve played at,” he said. “The ‘look good, play good’ thing. I’m not going to always look the best if I’ve got the same shoe on every game.” 

In all, he laced up 13 different colorways of several different models, from the Kyrie, KD, and Giannis’ Freak signature lines. He also debuted the Kyrie Infinity sneaker in-game. He sees himself having a PJ Tucker-like rotation at the next level, as he looks to showcase all of the best pairs that his eventual brand partner has to offer.

“I like playing in different things, having different flavors and being creative,” he said. “When a brand sees that, they know I’m not going to be a guy that just puts on one shoe. For whatever brand I go to, from game to game, I’m going to wear different shoes and different colors. That’s just how I like to do it.”

Off the court, he could be spotted in Nike Dunks, designer sneakers, Air Jordan retros like the 3 and 6, or Adidas Yeezy 500s, 700 Wave Runners and Foam Runners, just to mention a few. As the lead-up to the draft ramped up, he continued to switch up his sneakers during his daily skill workouts. While getting extra shots up with trainer Chris Brickley in New York in a workout that extended past midnight on the eve of the draft, he opted for the Adidas Exhibit A. 

“I’ve been working out in Nike, Adidas and Pumas,” he said. “Now is the time to test stuff out.”

In late May, Adidas hosted Banchero at an elaborate Hollywood modern mansion in California for their official pitch meeting. 

“They talked about the history of Adidas, and how they’ve been in the sneaker game longer than almost everybody and want to build on that,” he said. “They have stars right now and young stars coming up, and they really saw me being a part of that next wave of stars to come to Adidas.” 

Just before, he met with Nike in a private suite during the NBA Combine in Chicago.

As Banchero was finishing up high school, both Puma and New Balance re-entered the hoops space, re-launching their Basketball categories and aggressively signing top players within the last four years. He took notice of New Balance landing both Dejounte Murray and Zach LaVine, two fellow Seattle natives. 

LaMelo Ball in his signature Puma MB.01 sneaker. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

“I feel like those brands are starting to come on,” he said. “New Balance has Dejounte Murray, Kawhi Leonard and just got Zach LaVine. Puma has LaMelo Ball — his shoe actually looks good to me. It’s a good looking shoe, and you can definitely see that they’re starting to ramp it up and try to compete with the Nikes, Adidas and Jordans.”

As a longtime sneakerhead that grew up looking to track down “Concord” Jordan XIs and Seattle icon Gary Payton’s Zoom Glove, Banchero has long followed the sneaker game that he’s now hoping to help impact as a pro. He hopes to one day have his own Seattle tribute PE, in a green and yellow colorway. An even loftier goal would be receiving his own signature shoe.

“I pay a lot of attention,” he added. “From all the Nike guys, to DRose and I remember Dwight Howard had his own Adidas shoe. Curry has had a good run with his [Curry Brand and Under Armour] shoes, and I had Currys all throughout high school.” 

As the process continues to unfold, he’s looking to make his mark soon, lacing up a brand partner during a rookie season that he’s also planning to impact.  

“I think my game is going to translate really well to the NBA,” he said. “With my versatility and my ability to be anywhere on the floor and be a threat to make plays — at my size and skill level — it’s just rare to see.”

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