After first signing with Puma in 2018 to help relaunch its basketball category, Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton has landed a multiyear footwear and apparel endorsement deal to continue his partnership with the brand.
"It's pretty lit. It's truly a blessing as well," Ayton said. "The reason I signed with Puma from the beginning, is I wanted to be different."
The new deal, negotiated by agent Nima Namakian of Innovate Sports Group, is expected to place Ayton among the league's top-three highest paid athletic brand endorsers at the center position. Puma has been finding its footing in the hoop space after a nearly two-decade hiatus from landing any NBA endorsers, and Ayton has long had an affinity and familiarity with the company.
"Growing up in the Bahamas, the first brand really that I wore was Puma. That's all we saw was Puma," he said. "A guy like Usain Bolt, who I looked up to as a star of the Caribbean and the face of the Caribbean when it comes to sports, that's the only thing that he was repping. Puma was everywhere."
In the past three years, the former No. 1 pick has continued to make strides with the brand on and off the court, after initially helping to headline a marketing splash in the week leading up to the 2018 draft that saw five first-round picks sign with Puma.
"We wanted to be disruptive -- putting our brand back in the mix after several years -- with the strategy to sign top draft picks who were not only elite athletes, but also fit well with our brand's goal of merging sports with culture," said Adam Petrick, PUMA global director of brand & marketing. "Deandre was a big part of our plan. He checked all the boxes for us then and now as Puma Hoops continues to grow ... we are truly excited to continue to have Deandre as part of our Puma family."
Ayton has continued to familiarize himself with the footwear industry, leaning into the feedback process along the way and looking to create custom sneakers to share his story and highlight those around him.
"One thing is you want to listen and have a good relationship with the people you work with," he said. "Also, just know what you want. Learn about your brand. Learn about the things you like. Know the name of the shoes, and know the history behind the shoes."
While he'll continue to headline Puma's latest hoop models like the Court Rider and RS Dreamer line on the court, a key component of Ayton's new Puma extension will be designating a sizable budget allotment for community activations and giveback events.
"We're a giving family. Growing up, you're not coming to my house without leaving with a full belly," Ayton said with a smile.
First came the "RS-X Deandre," a sneaker with colors drafting off of the sandy beaches of the Bahamas that raised money to benefit his homeland in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. In a full-circle moment, he gifted the first pair to Bolt. Over the summer, Ayton laced the entire Suns staff with Pumas.
He recently took a family of six on a Puma store shopping spree in New York, with he and his mother, Andrea, also mapping out future giveback events in Phoenix, the Bahamas, and additional regions of the Caribbean and Africa.
"She's been teaming up with Puma and sharing her ideas for how she can give back," he said. "Seeing that, I remember how we grew up. I grew up off of second-hand clothes, and for us to be in a position to help families and put smiles on their faces, it's like a dream I never thought would've came true."
Whether it was the shopping spree in New York, or recent food donations during the holiday season, the Aytons have been looking to make their mark.
"Every family that I've met, everyone left with a smile on their face," he said. "The results and the letters that I get left at the facility after these events, is insane. Even my mom gets fan letters."
So far this season, Ayton has primarily worn a custom pair of Court Riders in Suns colors, featuring his "DA" logo atop the toe and his "DOMINAYTON" nickname along the heel.
"Being able to see your own logo on the shoe you wear, there's some pride behind that," he said. "It just makes you want to play harder, play better, and it's your shoe. It's some motivation to not stop the hard work, and to create more things."
Now in Puma's fourth NBA season back in the game, Ayton is joined on a balanced Puma roster by LaMelo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, RJ Barrett and more than a dozen others. The company also has a quartet of WNBA stars, leading to the recent launch of its Puma Women's Basketball collection.
"That's super lit," Ayton said. "Everyone deserves a chance to just express their imagination. Seeing stuff like that and on a platform like Puma, it was lit to see. It's motivation as well at the same time, because I want to show my imagination and what I've got as well, so a huge congrats to them."
In order to continue expanding his visibility with the brand, he outlines goals of becoming an All-Star, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and a two-way anchor of the contending Suns as keys. After a playoff run this past summer that saw him earn his first trip to the NBA Finals, Ayton and his family got onto The Puma Jet, the company's exclusive private plane for athletes, for a vacation back home in the Bahamas.
"Man, I felt like a trendsetter a little bit. Being in that position and repping our brand, knowing that I'm a part of it [from the beginning], it meant something," he said. "I felt like I'm the one that can lead the pack. There was definitely some pride behind it, and we're going to be in a good place, because I'm a winner."