The shoe game and the San Antonio Spurs don't have a rich history together. No one on the team has a special edition Valentine's Day colorway of their signature sneaker, nor would Pop allow such a terrible thing to occur to one of his players' feet. But this season, there has been some headway in the shoe department. Earlier in the year, Kawhi Leonard was signed to Jordan Brand, a company he has been a fan of for a long time.
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And in January, Matt Bonner became the latest Spur to ink a new shoe deal, proudly partnering with adidas. But his voyage to his new shoe home was not an easy one. In fact, it may be one of the most unique stories leading to a shoe deal in the NBA – so unique that it had to be compiled into one place. For anyone wondering about the process of athletes landing shoe sponsorships, it's usually not like this.
Love & New Balance
Before coming to the Spurs, Matt Bonner wore Nike Shox and Flightposites at the University of Florida, because of the athletic program's contract with Nike. After being drafted to the Toronto Raptors, he switched to wearing And 1's, which is a basketball-specific shoe company that currently only sponsors street ballers, amateur tournaments, and Lance Stephenson.
It wasn't until 2010 that the Red Mamba got his legendary shoe deal with New Balance—legendary because New Balance was primarily – and now completely – a running shoe company, and he was the only player in the Association wearing them. But Bonner has always been more concerned with comfort than style, and the New Balance BB8026 model was just that. The comfort levels can be attested by the lone reviewer on Amazon, who claims the extra room in his size EE's saved his bunions. The style, in basketball standards, was definitely lacking and people began to boo and mock the Red Mamba on road trips for wearing these "grandpa" sneakers.
But being that he was completely in love with the way they fit, Matt stockpiled as many pairs of the shoes he could so that they would last him post-sponsorship. In a story reported by Jeff McDonald in 2010, Bonner was dangerously close to wearing a mismatched pair of shoes – one Converse and one New Balance – so that he could stretch his favorite sneakers' lifespan. His idea vanished once Manu Ginobili reminded him of the $25,000 NBA uniform dress code violation and asked him to consider how many sandwiches that could buy. Matt did the math, estimated the amount was worth about 700 sandwiches over 7 years, and decided "The punishment doesn't fit the crime."
It was that same season that his infamous "blowout" occurred. Prior to a game against the Memphis Grizzlies, New Balance sent Bonner a prototype of a new, signature basketball shoe that they were working on for him. The shoes, remaining consistent with the word "prototype," completely split in half from the sole upwards, and unintentionally turned into a flip-flop. See the video evidence, along with some Richard Jefferson memories, below.
Getting on his Twitter knees
The Internet is Matt Bonner's friend. Few players are able to maximize their like-ability via the interwebs as much as the Red Rocket has. And that is exactly what got him to last year's All-Star Three-Point Contest. Despite attempting only 1.8 three's per game, his overwhelming internet following began a grassroots Twitter campaign to get him to the Three-Point Contest in last season's All-Star festivities in Houston using #LetBonnerShoot. This spread quickly throughout all forms of social media, and had famous supporters such as New Hampshire politicians, indie rockers, and Eva Longoria. His presence in the competition clearly had the Internet to thank.
But less than a year later, it was that very medium that broadcasted what was almost a sweet moment between Matt and his favorite shoe company.
It's been a few years since New Balance has made any model basketball shoes, and Bonner came into this season with only a couple of BB8026's left with no shoe sponsorship. He attempted to parlay a relationship with Nice Kicks to seek out a shoe deal, and even took over their Twitter account to answer some questions and make shout outs to shoe companies. PtR's Caleb Saenz chronicled this Q&A beautifully and gave an up-close look at Bonner actually coming in contact with his first shoe love.
.@newbalance Now as the sole NB wearing NBA player for the last 4 years... I have tears in my eyes. I never thought this day would come.— Nice Kicks (@nicekicks) October 21, 2013
But sadly, as Matt attempted to seal up a deal with New Balance over Twitter, no further response came from the other party. He continued to tweet back at NB, trying to secure anything with the company he loved so dearly, but to no avail.
.@newbalance I'm assuming by sending a shipment of NB product you are saying you want to sponsor me officially?Like with an actual contract?— Nice Kicks (@nicekicks) October 21, 2013
He went on to play through the first half of the season with his last two pairs of basketball shoes, knowing that his favorite shoes couldn't last forever.
In another interview with Nice Kicks, after being asked whether he was open to going with a new brand, he responded:
If the shoe's comfortable, I'm definitely open to wearing any brand out there. I would've loved to stay with New Balance, but they didn't want to sponsor me. It's been four or five years now I've been unsponsored and just going through that stockpile. Like you said, I'm down to two pairs now. I might be like Mr. Magorium and when those shoes are done, just retire.
adidas & Coming Full Circle
The Red Rocket will not be retiring young and shoeless.
On January 22nd, Matt Bonner debuted two new items to the nationally televised audience in a matchup against the Thunder. The first was a face mask that doctors had fit especially for him due to a nasal fracture he suffered a couple games prior. The second was a new pair of adidas Crazy 8 basketball shoes that came with a brand new deal with a bona fide basketball shoe company. These are the same shoes worn by Damian Lillard and John Wall.
It's funny how things work out sometimes. With Matt Bonner, this shoe deal brought a few aspects of his life full circle.
Years after being given the name "Red Mamba" from the Black Mamba himself, Bonner finds himself wearing the exact same model of shoes Kobe Bryant wore in his second season. This, on the night where he wore his face mask for the first time, which Kobe also had to wear for a few games after suffering the exact same nasal injury in 2012.
To bring it even closer to home, his brother, Luke, reminded him that those were the same pair Matt wore while playing high school basketball in New Hampshire.
So for Matt Bonner, his commitment to seek comfort before style has brought him right back to his roots. He ended his need to find a shoe home by returning to the days of his hometown glory, and in the process has fit the moniker "Red Mamba" more than ever.