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Derrick Rose: The Brand

I remember chatting with Derrick Rose his rookie year about his relationship with adidas Basketball, and he talked about his burgeoning relationship with the shoe company the way someone talks about any new job — cautiously optimistic.

“I’m just going to take it easy for the first year or two,” I remember him saying. “I’ll get my own shoe a little later.”

This wasn’t the way I expected things to go for a top overall pick in a huge market like Chicago, but at the time Rose wasn’t very good with the media. His shyness and apparent lack of charisma made any interview with the rookie like pulling teeth.

Now, three years later, he’s a two-time All-Star, an MVP, and the golden boy for adidas Global Basketball. He’s got his own shoe and is featured prominently in commercials for the new Crazy Light sneakers garnering so much buzz of late. It’s kind of surprising, really, knowing where Rose started, but Vice President of adidas Global Basketball, Lawrence Norman, said he never had any doubts about Rose’s potential for superstardom.

“Going back to the first meeting I had with him, where we picked him [to be part of the brand] and met with him and his family and talked about his goals and aspirations, there was something about his personality that was very unique,” Norman said. “We asked him, what is your goal for your rookie year? We were expecting points or playoffs or rebounds or assists, but he said, ‘I want to make my mom happy and my city proud.’ He was dead serious.

“After we asked that question we sort of pulled him aside, and the way that he talked about his work ethic, what he was going to do to make sure he was going to get better each year, was something we had not heard from any other player. He was going to do whatever it took.”

Norman is the guy when it comes to the basketball branch of adidas. If a young player is going to sign a contract with adidas, Norman has to give it the okay, and that means he’s seen more than his fair share of young ballers with oodles of potential. But there was just something about D-Rose.

“We knew he was going to be a special player,” Norman said. “I think he’s surprised a lot of people by becoming MVP in his third year. He surprised us. To be the youngest MVP ever was certainly a pleasant surprise, but there’s just nothing but upside for him. With the work he’s putting in, with the personality he has, with the dedication to his family and to his city, added to his humility, what’s not to like about him?”

Not a whole lot, apparently, as Rose has suddenly found himself one of the league’s most marketable stars. He has this everyman quality about him that fans connect with. Without the pretensions, the ego, the Twitter handle, he seems like he could easily be some guy you went to high school with. That’s part of what’s gotten him to where he is so quickly, and it’s not just American consumers who are paying notice.

“It’s our responsibility as a global brand to take him global,” Norman explained, adding that it’s not just Rose’s performance as a player that will get him there.

“Derrick has a very unique style about him. We’re just getting to know that as his style continues to evolve. Off the court he’s wearing a lot of sweats and hoodies and more adidas Originals type-style. This is part of the business that we can really start to build on, not just by building him a performance range, but also more style items.

“When he first asked for his signature shoe, the AdiZero Rose 1.0, he told us that the most important thing to him was to have a product that you could wear not only on the court, but also off-court,” Norman added. “He didn’t want kids to have to buy two shoes. He wanted them comfortable wearing them in the hallways and to clubs. That’s why when you see the first shoe there’s a lot of mixture of materials. It was more Gucci-esque than anything, and that was really important to him.”

Without question, adidas has walked into a great opportunity with Rose. Norman and his colleagues knew there was a chance that Rose would be very good someday, but this much success this fast is more than any endorsement partner could’ve hoped for. And the really beautiful thing is that this particular partnership is just getting started.

“Now that we’re into building signature ranges for him, we think the potential is endless,” Norman said. “It’s a fun opportunity for us to explore new product categories, to see what we can do, what countries we can visit, and how we can build Derrick’s brand together.

“We’re right at the beginning of this, and he’s at the very beginning of his career,” he added. “We’re at the beginning of something big.”

No more cautious optimism. This thing has taken off, and everybody involved is simply dripping with satisfaction. Derrick waited all of two years to get a shoe, and a year later he’s turned that shoe (and its descendants) into best-sellers.

I’m almost ashamed I didn’t believe it would happen, but Rose has come out of his shell in a way I didn’t think possible. Luckily for both Rose and adidas Basketball, they’re smarter than I am about this sort of thing. Lawrence Norman never had a doubt.


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