Jordans. Magics. Pennys. Birds. Iversons.
Far more than their professional sports peers, NBA stars have over the years enjoyed an unrivaled one-to-one association with their signature shoe. Chalk it up to the naked nature of the sport itself, with the close crowds, unmasked faces ripe for lenses, and where the athletes’ on-court acrobatics can lend their most crucial equipment an air of hero’s armor.
While Patrick Ewing’s signature kick – the 33 HIs – never reached the heights in mass appeal or market saturation of some its big brand rivals, today’s re-launch of Ewing Athletics won’t want for nostalgia.
The shoes, expected to retail at around $100 a pop, will be made available in select stores throughout the city starting today, with a broader national push soon to follow. Though you won’t be able to find a purchase button or shopping cart, the company’s sleek new website – replete with images of the line’s 20-plus models – will certainly help keep interest piqued, as the somewhat out-of-nowhere commercial redux looks towards a Holiday boon.
Founded in 1989, right around the time Nike and Michael Jordan were beginning their lockstep march to branding immortality, Ewing Athletics was something of a trendsetter, being the first ever player-centric shoe line. The logic was simple: Take a top ten pro talent and the icon of the sport’s biggest market – then just four years into a still ascendant career –and hit the basketball shoe revolution head on.
In 1990, the company debuted the now iconic 33 HI. That season, Ewing – buoyed by his blockishly angular charges – would put up his best statistical year yet. A host of styles, models, and fashion offshoots later, by the mid 90s the “Ewings” had become something of a provincial staple in New York City. Between the Knicks’ perennial Playoff runs, the franchise cornerstone’s growing “warrior” narrative, and a booming economy, it seemed a match made in marketing heaven.
But despite millions in revenues, by 1996 the company – by then housing offshoot lines ranging from running shoes to hiking boots – found itself spread thin. In a market where the big boys (Nike, Reebok, and Adidas) aimed to hedge their bets with full-on shoe line rosters, Ewing Athletics’ monolithic model suddenly became archaic – its lumbering aesthetic at once harkening to its namesake’s plodding game, and yet impossibly far removed from the sleek, above-the-rim trajectory of the game’s youth movement.
But now, with long time friend and on-court foe Jordan once again leading the way, the business appears poised for its own nostalgia-fueled coup. In an age where franchise retreads mark the template for film and fashion alike, it’s no surprise that the 33 HIs would find their way back into the industry fray.
And its hardly a coincidence that Ewing – who saw his brand fold around the time his game began showing signs of atrophy – would find in the Knicks’ recent return to relevance a reason to reboot.
With their suddenly cool-again retro look, not-so-outrageous price point, and iconic figurehead, the 33 HIs are sure to be a hit here in the city. What remains to be seen is whether the surge to contention that defined the early 90s Knicks and their custom-fitted pivot is a dovetailing that can, like the shoes themselves, be replicated.