Years before Clarke Miyasaki stepped into his current role as Stance’s executive vice president of business development, he attended a Utah Jazz game with his friend Jeff Kearl, who would some months later be better known as the brand’s CEO and founder. Miyasaki, who previously helped grow Skull Candy headphones, was a hoophead always interested in seeing the game up close. Kearl, a keen entrepreneur, had been looking for the next big thing, and was excited to tell Miyasaki that he’d finally, after considering jewelry and school supplies, settled on the perfect category to challenge in the market: socks.
“He’s like, ‘Yup, men’s hosiery,’” Miyasaki remembers. “I just start laughing at him. I’m like, ‘Socks? Wow.’”
Eventually, Kearl convinced him to come aboard, not knowing that Miyasaki all along had his eyes set on getting Stance—at its outset an action sports brand with wavy designs that matched better with Vans than basketball shoes—onto the NBA hardwood.
There was only one problem for Miyasaki’s pipe dream: a company called FBF was already producing the NBA’s official socks. You know the ones—plain white and plain black, with the NBA logo on either side. For the better part of two decades, those were the joints, no questions asked. “We’ve had the same sock partner for a long time,” the NBA told Stance, in essence. “They’re great, we’re good.”
Undeterred, Miyasaki and Stance focused first instead on securing the license to produce Hardwood Classics products, which led to the wildly successful “NBA Legends” collection. With retail sales of the Legends socks popping off and the brand’s performance products getting better behind the scenes, Miyasaki decided it was enough of a foot in the door to revisit the on-court discussion with his connects at the NBA.
“We had this idea to do the Hardwood Classics and Legends, which went so well that I think we gave ourselves a license to ask for the on-court sock. I was doing a normal NBA meeting and I said, ‘Hey, I got one more thing for you guys. I wanna take over the on-court sock’,” Miyasaki remembers. “Laughed out of the room is a little strong, but…I was kinda laughed out of the room.
“They were like, ‘Oh, your little sock company in San Clemente that’s been around for 18-24 months? Riiiiight.’”
What happened at the next meeting is now a well-known piece of the brand’s folklore. At All-Star Weekend 2014 in New Orleans, Miyasaki handed Lisa Piken Koper, NBA Vice President of Licensing, a million-dollar check, hoping it would prove to the powers that be that Stance was ready to get down, whatever it took. Lo and behold, it worked. In April 2015, Stance and the NBA announced a multiyear partnership, installing the brand as the League’s official on-court sock provider.
“I for sure laugh at it,” Miyasaki says of the infamous million-dollar check story, with Stance now a few months into its first season outfitting the L. “Everyone’s like, ‘Oh, what a gimmick.’ It kind of was a gimmick, but at the same time, they had told me no at least three times, maybe more. So I needed something to say we’re serious. And looking back, it really did get the NBA to say, ‘Damn. These guys are serious—OK.’ It put us more on the map of, ‘Maybe they could pull this off.’ I really believed that we could do it, but it took about, at least a year, year-and-a-half of convincing for them to give us a shot.”
Opening night 2015, Stance socks were on players’ feet. “We wanted to innovate on-court and knew that Stance would bring a fresh perspective and create top-class, superior products for the NBA and our athletes,” says Piken Koper. Oh, and the NBA never cashed that check. Instead, they’re framing it.
During All-Star Weekend 2015, Stance gave the players a chance to test out their performance socks for the first time in a competitive NBA environment. Miyasaki and Co. were nervous—not because they doubted their product, but because elite athletes can sometimes be resistant to change. “These guys have been wearing the same socks for a decade or several years and it’s hard to switch, right? Whether it’s creatures of habit or they like the feel or they’re superstitious, or whatever it might be. No matter how much better we think our sock is, or a laboratory says our sock is, or we can say, ‘It wicks this percentage better than any other one,’ it’s different,” Miyasaki acknowledges. “A lot of credit to the players for being open-minded and giving it a shot.”
Now that Stance has been installed for real, the reaction to the brand-new partnership this season has been prodigiously positive. Jay Gaspar, longtime Head Equipment Manager with the Phoenix Suns, says he was “pleasantly surprised” when he learned Stance had inked a deal to become the League’s official on-court sock provider, and that just about every player he’s talked to has given the socks two thumbs up.
“It is quite a change,” Gaspar admits. “Usually, dealing with the socks in the past, we’d wear a home white and then black on the road, and then you’d plan accordingly. But with Stance, they changed the game. We go with four different socks this year, and we have six different uniforms, so we match up the socks with those uniforms.” Not to mention the special socks Stance already had planned for Hoops for Troops, Christmas and other special occasions throughout the year.
Stance’s out-of-the-box personality in turn inspired Gaspar to bring an idea to the League and the brand. With Suns legendary PG Steve Nash being inducted to the team’s Ring of Honor early in the season, Gaspar dreamt of outfitting the PHX players in a sock adorned with his image—much like the Legends socks Stance had seen success with at retail. With the League’s approval, Stance made it happen. Phoenix beat the visiting Blazers, all the while wearing the limited edition Nash socks with pride.
The reaction, from both fans and players, was overwhelming. Miyasaki says he couldn’t get away from the tweets, texts and pats on the back that night. “I saw Dirk Nowitzki posted a photo of the sock, congratulating Steve, and I was like, ‘Man, all this hype around a sock.’ It’s just so crazy to me,” he says. “I think what it’s done is just show me that it’s the tip of the iceberg on what we can do at the NBA.”
Not even a month into the brand’s first season in charge of the League’s socks, Stance is making waves at retail and in locker rooms. Perhaps it’s because of the company’s undying commitment to the game. “With that Nash sock, it just really showed that they’re second to none,” Gaspar says of working with Stance. “If you have an issue with any of the socks, they’ll come out and see you. They want our constant feedback, and we really didn’t have that in the past. I really think they’re going the extra mile to make sure it’s the perfect sock for on and off the court.”
For Miyasaki, the feeling is mutual. “It’s just cool that the NBA could share the vision with us,” he says. “If the first couple of weeks have taught me anything, it’s that the sock game might be even cooler than I thought.”
images via Getty