by Peter Walsh / @goinginsquad
As an upcoming basketball stronghold, Under Armour is certainly taking the right steps and approach to marketing its product and building its brand. Step one was signing young, marketable potential superstars in Brandon Jennings, Derrick Williams, Kemba Walker and Greivis Vasquez before any other company could get to them. Step two was put on showcase during Under Armour’s “Are You From Here?” Tour which pitted the four NBA players against local high school kids and alums in Baltimore and New York City.
While established brands are able to market globally with ease, Under Armour is building from the ground up using unique grassroots schemes to become a player in the ultra competitive world of basketball endorsement. While there have been an abundance of charity games and scrimmages during this elongated offseason, Under Armour and its stars have reached out to the kids and planted themselves in the communities, giving back to the fans who have helped them get where they are today. With this strategy, Under Armour is hopeful that they will be able to build relationships with younger players and fans to build for the future as their popularity continues to grow.
The “Are You From Here?” Tour showcased the immense talent that Under Armour has acquired while giving back to the fans and showing that they are active in community outreach, and the players love coming back to where it all started.
“We’re just trying to show our faces in the communities man, we hood guys,” said Kemba Walker. “We want to come back and go to Baltimore, and come to New York—where I’m from. At some point we’re gonna go to L.A. for [Derrick and Brandon], we wanna take a trip to Venezuela [for Greivis]. We want to get out and show our faces in the community and show them that we’re involved.”
And the marketing reps at Under Armour have no issue in putting their players out there for the world to see; they take the player’s pride in giving back to their communities to hold events that put them out there with the fans who show so much support.
“The purpose of this tour was really about the kids and giving back to the communities” said Kris Stone, Director of Pro Basketball Marketing for Under Armour. “We didn’t charge anyone at the door, it was free admission we weren’t trying to profit off of this experience. The players take a great deal of pride in giving back to their communities. It’s something they wanted to give their time. They want to go to three or four more cities and really just play basketball. With the lockout and everything it just shows how much they love the game.”
He continued, “It felt like something that was going to be honest and for them (the players), they couldn’t wait to get back to these high schools and play. It’s like reliving the best times of their lives. ”
Stone, who has developed close relationships with the players Under Armour endorses, believes that his guys represent the brand and its mentality and goals as a whole. He is well aware of the challenges that present themselves when attempting to compete with huge, historic brands and embraces the role as the underdog, and that mentality is instilled in his talented group of ballers.
“For us, everything we’re doing in basketball right now is a challenge,” lamented Stone. “What we represent as far as Under Armour basketball—we’re young, we’re reverent—and it bears well with our players. We’re underdogs, and these guys here, Kemba and Derrick haven’t even played in an NBA game yet and Brandon and Greivis— Vasquez tasted the Playoffs last year—and you know Brandon’s story and they’re still fighting to get into that upper echelon. Everything is connecting.”
Under Armour reps, both players and execs, having that kind of mentality shows that they are ready to fight to get where they want to be both as athletes and as a brand—a quality which will surely pay off as they continue to grow as talents and as a company.
After playing an exhibition in Baltimore (check the video above), Under Armour touched down in Brooklyn, NY for games against alums from powerhouses Boys and Girls High School in Bed-Stuy, and Lincoln High in Coney Island. (Originally scheduled to play local high school ballers, the PSAL declared that high schoolers cannot play against pros after October 31.)
The atmosphere in both gyms was electric as Kemba Walker, Brandon Jennings, Greivis Vasquez and Derrick Williams took the court, each in a fresh pair of Bloodlines, to take on a group of alums from the respective high schools—most of whom are now heavy on the NYC street circuit. And they came to play, making for competitive and entertaining exhibitions.
As the games tipped off, one thing was blatant: Derrick Williams is massive. Especially when placed in a cramped high school gymnasium. Williams was impressive, and if the NBA season does tip off, he should be in contention for Rookie of the Year. Williams is big, strong, has incredible bounce (he and Greivis connected on more than a few alley-oops), a decent handle, and range out to 20 feet; Under Armour was wise to sign him early; this kid has superstar potential.
Compton was most definitely in the house as Brandon Jennings led all players at Boys and Girls with 43 points. Young Money put on a show as he scored in a variety of ways all the while jawing with the crowd, throwing the ball into the stands and blowing kisses to the cheerleaders after hitting two free throws in the second half. Jennings looked strong, displaying a chiseled physique and looks to be fully healed after being hampered with a foot injury for most of last season. I couldn’t help but think of Iverson as I watched Jennings use his electric speed to get by his defender, and his fearless demeanor to get to the rack despite contact and hard fouls.
Jennings certainly has a flair for the dramatics as he hit a buzzer-beating half court shot to end the first half, followed by an impromptu dance routine that had the crowd hype. At Lincoln, local legend Sebastian Telfair took the court going back and forth against Jennings. Never one to shy away from the spotlight, Jennings embraced the challenge and to say he got the upper hand against Bassy would be an understatement; he ate him alive. As the biggest star on Under Armour’s roster, Doo Be Doo was also the biggest star on the court, shutting both gyms down all week (including a 70-point showing in a BX rec league) with thunderous dunks, deep threes and showmanship.
I can’t help but feel that Greivis Vasquez is going to have a much more successful career than some pundits may believe. Running the point for the majority of the games, Vasquez was a tremendous distributor to the offensive firepower surrounding him. Running the pick and roll with Williams was a joy to watch, as Vasquez repeatedly put Williams in the position for a highlight reel dunk. Greivis’ game is incredibly smooth, as he made running the point look effortless and was putting his teammates in position to score on almost every position.
“This is my gym right here, I gotta show out,” said Lance Stephenson during pre-game warmups. As soon as the game tipped off Born Ready went right at Vasquez, and the two went head-to-head the whole evening. Vasquez is a gamer. When challenged by Stephenson, who looked like he has been working on his game and body quite a bit this offseason, Greivis rose to the occasion despite a bum ankle. Coming into a NYC gym with the crowd on your back is an intimidating setting, but Vasquez stepped up and proved that he can handle adversity.
Playing with a huge smile on his face during the whole event, Kemba Walker looked ecstatic to be playing back in New York. Walker was loving the hometown love and the energy the crowd provided. “It’s [a] very different [energy playing in New York]… We had the game down in Baltimore and it was nothing compared to this, it was a whole different atmosphere.” While he didn’t have as many highlight plays as his teammates, it was obvious that Kemba was basking in the ambiance as the crowd showed him plenty of love.
If the “Are You From Here?” Tour is any inclination, we can expect Under Armour to make a lot of noise. I have always believed that if you have a solid product, everything else will take care of itself. Under Armour is fortunate enough to have both great products and great representation, a recipe for success and longevity. I asked Walker if he was excited about the potential of the brand in the upcoming years, “Definitely,” he said at a post-game Foot Locker event where the players acted as salesmen. “We on the come up.”
Photos courtesy of John Walder.