Ayo, Technology

Once upon a time, not so long ago, the phrase “performance sock” didn’t exist—not even in the NBA. The best hoopers on the planet would simply slip on the same old white cotton socks that your Pops still wears at the
gym, then lace up the most technologically advanced kicks known to man on top of them and sprint on the court to play ball. Looking back, it just didn’t make much sense.

“The NBA athletes are bigger, they’re stronger, they’re faster than they’ve ever been, and the game is more physical. If you look at apparel, a lot of these guys are wearing almost body armor, product with built-in padding for impact. So we’re recognizing that and using that same mentality as we approach the sock,” says Todd Craig, Senior Director of Innovation at Stance. “We’ve got to create a product that fits right, that feels good, it wicks moisture and it protects the players. That’s the driving force behind the product. We look at it not as a sock, but a piece of equipment. And I think that’s different from the NBA’s prior sock supplier.”

In fact, Stance looked at the existing sock market and found that the best performance socks were actually being made at the collegiate level, where sneaker brands outfit their schools with their premium products. NBA players, on the other hand, were playing in what Craig describes as a “basic” or “core-level” sock. And while they weren’t technologically advanced, they were liked by the players, simply for the fact that they were NBA socks.

Craig, who also helped create the brand’s new running sock and whose résumé includes a role at Nike’s Innovation Kitchen, says the brand’s design team knew right away what to focus on when word came down that they’d be making the official NBA sock from scratch. “For us, it’s about fit, it’s about comfort—that’s No. 1. We want these guys to put this sock on and forget about it. That’s the true mark of a great product, if when I put it on, I’m not thinking about it. Because if these guys are thinking about their socks, they get distracted, they’re not performing at top level,” he says. “The last thing you want is a guy jacking his sock up where the heel is coming out the top of the shoe or something. If these guys are wearing premium performance product but it doesn’t fit, they’ll notice.”

With that in mind, Stance used everything in its power to build the best basketball sock ever. You’ve got the saw tooth anatomical lateral compression—cushioning placed to match the anatomy of the foot and impact points. There is the Y-shaped seam knitted into the heel for superior fit and the seamless toe closure to prevent abrasions. There is the mesh on top of the foot for thermo-regulation and ventilation. There are the fusion fibers that fight blisters and bacterial growth. After a few in-house wear-tests with the Stance fam, their signed athletes and other pros (“We don’t want to see anything with our logo on it that we don’t feel good about,” Craig insists) the prototype was ready for the NBA hardwood.

Of course, there was room for one more critical detail: the instantly recognizable high ankle padding, designed to keep players’ feet from pains caused by other players (think getting kicked en route to the hoop or diving for a loose ball), the floor or even their own footwear. Unlike its predecessor, the ultra-high loft cushioning in the ankle padding of the official Stance NBA sock stands up to wear and tear. Plus, it stands out.

“The ankle is pretty iconic to us,” says Craig. “It was intentional. There’s a functional element there, but we did want to make something that was iconic. We wanted to link our brand identity to a functional element, not just an aesthetic.

“Stance, as a brand, we’re known for our designs and our style, but as we go into the performance category, the product really has to perform. That’s the driving force. It can’t just be the form, it’s got to be the function first,” he continues. “For us as a brand, when function and form collide—that fusion—that’s what our brand is about. So really it’s creating the functional element to be the best basketball sock in the world.”

One aesthetic that will remain forever is the legendary Jerry West NBA logo, now prominently flanked by Stance’s logo and in many cases, the individual NBA team logo, too. But while the socks have a distinctive look that’s already resonating with players and consumers alike, Craig maintains that for the pros, the goal is simple: “If these guys put this sock on and forget they’re wearing it, that’s utopia for us. That means we did our job right.”

RELATED: Here’s how the NBA x Stance deal came together.