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How Ewing Athletics Became the Original Athlete-owned Footwear Company

patrick ewing of the new york knicks stockpack deposit photos scaled
patrick ewing of the new york knicks stockpack deposit photos scaled

The over-the-top center of New York City acquired his own brand in 1989. Find out why Ewing Athletics is still profitable today, in The Big Apple and elsewhere.
David Blaine or David Stern?

Fans from all over America tuned in to the biggest basketball event of the year on May 13, 1985. No, he wasn’t defying gravity in his first Dunk Contest, and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson weren’t engaged in a rivalry during the NBA Finals.

Instead, it was the first of its kind.

The master of ceremonies, a 5’9″ showman dressed in a suit who performed a magic trick that Harry Houdini couldn’t pull off, was shown live on CBS.

Stern, the young man who will take over as NBA Commissioner from Larry O’Brien, performed his first trick by pulling out a large glass drum filled with seven big envelopes related to teams that were in the basement. Stern and the crowd held their breath as the lottery hopper circled.

Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Stern let out an audible sigh as she reached into the hopper and miraculously transformed one elusive package into the protector of a city.

The New York Knicks, an organization supported by 1.5 million hoops-craving fans, recently won the right to choose Georgetown’s 7-foot force, who for four years straight crushed the Big East.

The league suddenly had a bankable star in its largest market thanks to Stern, who was not just a magician but also a Madison Garden-raised marketing whiz.

More significantly, Ewing now had access to that sizable market.

When Patrick was a rookie, according to a renowned agent, he received the biggest salary in league history.

Patrick is the epitome of ’90s New York, a cash cow upon his arrival and an icon to this day. There is more to the narrative as a businessperson.

Patrick did the inconceivable in 1989, just a few years after Stern opened the magic package. He co-founded Ewing Athletics with his agent, a business standing on the wide shoulders of the Big Apple’s biggest man.

The company’s history is broken down in the boardroom, along with how it recovered.

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Over Stripes or Checks?
Patrick Ewing was already in high demand among sportswear superpowers going into the 1985 NBA Draft.

Pat’s size 15 Nikes let DC adolescents who loved John Thompson’s daring brand of basketball become cool for four years.

It was almost expected that the Swoosh would sign Ewing to face their Force line because Thompson served on the Beaverton Board of Directors.

image by Focus on Sport through Getty Images
Brad Johnson, a former Nike Basketball Head of Category, stated to Boardroom in that Patrick was a Nike athlete all throughout his time at Georgetown.

“Rob Strasser announced the E-Force line and convened a meeting. Patrick Ewing’s collection was intended to be the counter to the Air Jordan line.

According to the story on the tape, Falk, the mind behind Michael Jordan’s illustrious partnership with Nike, considered every possibility for Ewing like any agency would.

International powerhouse Adidas had made a $750,000 offer to support Ewing from across the pond. Given that Jordan had recently received an extraordinary $500,000 from Nike the previous year, Falk considered this to be big money.

Falk cleverly put pressure on Nike to match the high offer from Adidas, forcing Swoosh executives to make a decision by way of a last-minute public vote.

Johnson remembered, “The last guy is Peter [Moore], who’s at the top of the room sitting next to Rob. Everyone believes he will declare that Patrick Ewing must be signed because he just developed the complete collection and idea for Patrick Ewing.

Tension increases…

He says, “I don’t know if we should sign Patrick Ewing or not. He glances around the room. One thing is for sure, though: I don’t want to be the one to contact Michael Jordan and inform him that “we just signed Patrick Ewing for $250,000 a year more than we paid you — and we have you under contract for four more years at that price.

And suddenly, the star of basketball becomes the face of Adidas America.

The Three Stripes found themselves in marketing nirvana when they suddenly took control of New York City. Adi definitely benefited from Nike’s loss, and the timing couldn’t be better.

When Pat first arrived, he averaged 20 points per game and won Rookie of the Year. The same spring, Run-DMC released “My Adidas,” uniting Queens’ cardboard, concrete, and rock rulers with Manhattan’s hardwood savior in spirit and sole.

Adidas has around $1.75 million invested in New York influencer marketing in both Ewing and the. They also had premium merchandise available at the time to match.

Adidas provided Ewing with high-end models like the Forum, Conductor, Rivalry, and Attitude for his early success with the Knicks.

Up until the disaster, everything was going according to plan.

Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Horst Dassler, chairman of Adidas, passed away on April 9, 1987. The brand was in limbo, and everyone on board understood it, coming only a few years after his father and Adidas discovered Adi Dassler’s passing.

Falk was approached by Adidas’ senior brass, who then gave Ewing permission to terminate his contract so that the German powerhouse could attend to domestic issues.

Exiting the accord made sense for all sides due to the absence of leadership.

Falk stated, “We negotiated a release.

Ewing and Falk had just been with Adidas for two full seasons when they once again had to cope with footwear free agency.

Would they therefore accept less money from Nike and change? Or would they take a completely novel approach that the world has never seen before?

Blankman
In the 1988 NBA All-Star Game, Ewing commanded attention months after Dassler’s passing.

Michael Jordan, another Falk client, stole the stage with his style and sneakers in the Chicago-based production.

Mike’s Jumpman-branded Air Jordan 3s made their debut when the stylish scorer soared from the free throw line in the Dunk Contest that afternoon. Mike won the ASG MVP award that evening as a follow-up to his first prize of the day.

For the first and final time in an All-Star game, Ewing donned high top Adidas sneakers during the exhibition.

The company’s Three Stripe sidewall marking and the puffy, padded leather style were both emblems of the era.

Ewing would wear the same shoe in the Astrodome a year later, but the corporate insignia would be drastically altered.

Roberto Muller was contacted by Falk soon after he and Adidas struck an agreement on his release. Muller, who was born in Uruguay before moving to Manhattan, became successful in the country by starting PONY, an independent shoe firm that stands for “Product of New York.”

Muller has amassed a rolodex of manufacturers from all around the world since beginning his business in 1972, the same year that Nike was founded, in addition to agents and athletes.

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Falk saw an opportunity and gave Muller a concept unlike anything he had ever heard before.

Falk stated, “I asked him if he could build a sneaker like what Patrick had worn without any insignia at all in pure white. “I want to make a fuss about Patrick’s outfit before we sign another shoe contract. I want to project mystery.

Ewing wore fully unbranded sneakers for the 1987–88 NBA season while he competed in basketball’s largest market.

These in-game prototype pairs resembled his Adidas outfits from prior seasons nearly exactly, but without the team colors and striping that gave the Attitude its actual attitude.

It was possibly the most punk rock experiment ever seen in NBA sneakers because it wasn’t dependent on Run-DMC momentum or residual checks.

More impressively, the world’s most influential agent, who had literally built his life by matching up his clients with huge corporate endorsements, came up with the entire plan.

It generated a lot of buzz, according to Falk. “People were interested. After some time, Roberto added, “We’d love for Patrick to start his own business, if Patrick were open to it. I adored the concept. I adored the concept of Patrick being his own brand rather than merely an advocate.

Ewing once more had access to New York’s enormous market.

He would soon be the brand, thus he wouldn’t need a company to support him any more.

One Man, One Brand
Patrick Ewing was getting close to his prime before to the 1990 NBA All-Star Game.

The King of New York, who was only 27 years old and averaged around 29 points per game, was suddenly the starting center for the Eastern Conference group.

The veteran of his sixth season, who received more votes than anyone other than Michael or Larry, entered the game with those two superstars by his side. The likes of Charles Barkley and Isiah Thomas completed the starting lineup.

photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images
The NBA was expanding internationally at this point in David Stern’s grand scheme, with each starter for the East having their own shoe deals.

The person who now had his own brand was the one who was bound to the magical envelope.

Ewing had a double-double while playing center that night as the East thrashed the West.

He was wearing the top-tier court model from his and Falk’s new shoe firm, the Ewing Athletics 33 Hi.

Fans from New York became aware of their hoops hero’s new shoes when they were miles away from the Miami show.

David Goldberg told Boardroom, “I was a great Knicks fan growing up in New York. “When the 33 Hi was released, I was 10 years old. At the school, you saw youngsters and hip hop musicians wearing it. At the time, it was something very different.

Growing up in the city, Goldberg was surrounded by the nostalgia for the ’90s that was linked with hip hop, basketball, and the Mecca he called home. Kicks brought all the cultures together, and Ewing Athletics served as a bridge for everything New York.

Before the 33 Hi became a commercial success, Falk and Ewing had been developing the brand in collaboration with Albany-based Phoenix Footwear Group, Inc. for about a year.

via Ewing Sports
They began with the Rebound, a less expensive sneaker that cost around $40, according to Goldberg. “He wore it in the 1988–1989 season, although it wasn’t all that good. The 33 Hi, which retailed for $75 the next year, was released.

Ewing Athletics had a model in the 33 Hi that could compete on pricing with Nike, Adidas, and Reebok while still providing a level of quality and value. The positioning turned out to be ideal thanks to Patrick’s performance, the sizable local market, and the development of the brand.

In New York, “that shoe took off quickly,” according to Goldberg. Phoenix had poor distribution, therefore it was mostly found in urban, East Coast retailers in the I-95 region.

Ewing Athletics expanded rapidly over a short period of time and over the ensuing seasons.

Soon, Patrick pairs were being sold in Foot Locker locations all throughout the nation. After winning gold at the 1992 Summer Olympics, Ewing Athletics enjoyed demand and recognition abroad.

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According to Goldberg, “The Dream Team exposed the brand internationally.” “The Dream Team’s popularity made international basketball accessible to everyone. Ewing and Jordan were the only players on that team that wore their own distinctive shoes.

Falk predicted that MJ and Ewing would be basketball’s top earners in the early ’90s in terms of shoe sales.

Jordan was the top dog in terms of sales and royalties, but Patrick was profitable because he was the first basketball superstar to have his own bankable brand.

According to Falk, “the bulk of athletes with sponsorship connections merely get paid to wear sneakers.” “The greatest players, since Michael, have their own signature. In this instance, it was the final stage where Patrick truly controlled a sizable portion of the business.

How important?

“It was more than merely royalty income,” Falk added. “He actually owned 20 to 25% of the entire company.”

Patrick was possessed as a result, and not just to handle matters on the court and appear in advertisements. Instead, he was encouraged to give everything he had to every opportunity to promote the brand that was very much his.

According to Falk, “He was developing his own brand that he held equity in.” It was a very significant development for athletes as brands.

By 1994, Eastbay was stocking Ewing Athletics, and the Knicks had reached the Finals.

It was much more than just the 33 Hi; the enormous mail-order catalog carried a number of models priced between $40 and $80.

Falk and Patrick had created a large selection of sneakers made for asphalt runs and stunts in the city, so they weren’t anymore exclusively made for hardwood.

This boom turned out to be both a boon and a bane.

Everyone was rather unprepared for how huge it became so soon, according to Goldberg.

“Jordan only released one shoe per year in four colorways, if you think about it. By 1992, Pat offers 10–15 models annually in six–7 colors. He swiftly went from owning the 33 Hi to owning a complete enterprise.

The operation quickly became too large for everyone involved.

The crown worn by the King of New York was substantial. In the hard-fought ’90s, managing a championship-caliber squad was already physically exhausting. Even outside of work, running a multi-million dollar footwear company was hard.

Goldberg stated, “Patrick had a quarrel with the shippers who were discounting it more than they ought to have. In 1995, he had the company shut down.

Once more, Falk and Ewing had overcome the odds and made millions.

They had to decide what to do next as footwear free agents once more.

Ewing Athletics Turns Off the Lights
For David Falk, Patrick Ewing, and the footwear business as a whole, a lot happened during the course of the following five seasons.

Michael Jordan was not just back in the basketball world—he was back on top of it—shortly after closing Ewing Athletics in 1995.

Nike was on track to end the Air Jordan franchise as we know it in 1993, when it was believed to have been retired. After a brief hiatus from baseball, as we all know, MJ returned and went on to win three more rings.

It should say DAN LEVINE/AFP via Getty Images instead.
Mike received his own subsidiary, Jordan Brand, from Nike in September 1997. The other Falk client had ascended the same corporate ladder as Ewing, but from a different vantage point.

Mike was successful both on the court and in the boardroom, while Patrick was still performing at an All-Star level but soon had health issues.

The same city that admired Ewing in the 1980s and the early 1990s now looked to fresh sportsmen for motivation as we approached the turn of the century. As a result, the legendary center abruptly left New York and finished his career with just one season each in Seattle and Orlando.

Ewing assumed more responsibilities in both basketball and business as the 2000s came into being. Falk never stopped working for all of his clients.

The 2000s saw Jordan Brand grow into a major international brand. The Jumpman emblem now generates more than $5 billion in revenue annually.

Although Patrick opened the door for Mike to start his own business, Mike paid it forward by stoking demand for vintage basketball shoes. Few could have expected the change in the industry, but it is still having a significant impact. Companies like Nike, Adidas, Reebok, and others gained money all over the world by reintroducing basketball shoes from the 1980s and 1990s.

Most supporters stopped caring about Ewing Athletics in the late 2000s. David Goldberg, a childhood admirer, did not. When Goldberg was an adult working in the hotel business, he utilized his free time and extra cash to search eBay for the abandoned sneakers that Ewing had once sold.

He owned over 30 pairs of the original Ewing Athletics sneakers by 2009. Additionally, he had the bravery to get in touch with the most potent chemical in the annals of sportswear.

According to Goldberg, “I had met some folks who had a connection to approach Falk about bringing it back.” I was first apprehensive about dealing with him, but he’s a really pleasant guy.

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Goldberg discussed his love for Patrick and the Ewing Athletics company with Falk, opening up about his deepest feelings.

He was honest enough to say that he had no prior expertise in the sportswear sector, but he was so passionate about the project that he was willing to put his own money into making it a reality.

Falk, a man who has frequently faced up against Phil Knight, Jerry Reinsdorf, and David Stern, was moved by the spirit of the unnamed businessperson who had captured his interest.

Falk stated, “We have been contacted by a number of different groups about bringing the shoe back. “You err on the side of protecting Patrick’s reputation when working with someone of his prominence.”

This required ensuring Pat presented well as an icon in New York, a businessperson, and an athlete.

“Some of the folks who first approached us didn’t make us feel at ease, but when we met Dave? Falk stated, “I thought Dave was great. I had faith in him that they would proceed cautiously and avoid going overboard. We decided to attempt the strategy because we truly liked it.

Falk decided to take a chance on the fan after being moved by Goldberg’s respect for the Ewing name and his business strategy, just as his athlete had done in footwear free agency 20 years earlier.

Despite excellent intentions, could it possibly succeed?

Ewing Athletics: Resuming Operations
David Goldberg put in over three years of effort in the background to rebuild Ewing Athletics from the ground up.

He dug deep and came up with the solution on the spot despite having a variety of vintage shoes but no prior professional experience.

picture taken by Johnny Nunez/WireImage
From meeting them to actually making shoes, he remarked, “It was a long process.” “I truly had no idea about getting a warehouse and all these things.”

Ewing Athletics relaunched in 2012, citing good people around him and a thriving basketball market, with almost no idea of how this entire experiment will turn out.

Because the huge man hadn’t successfully executed a jump hook in more than a decade, one could argue that it was more riskier than Falk’s adventure with Patrick in the 1980s.

Nevertheless, since his playing days in New York City, the affection for Patrick had only grown deeper.

However, by the time they arrived back, the city’s population had increased to 8.6 million.

Falk stated, “Patrick’s circumstance is really special. “Ewing Athletics is still selling at a big level even though Patrick hasn’t played basketball in 20 years since his popularity in New York was so high,”

The brand exploded in popularity in its retro life in NYC and worldwide after its comeback under Goldberg, an active president at Ewing Athletics. Goldberg was able to carefully install pairs in doors along the I-95 corridor, the brand’s backyard, thanks to Falk’s connections.

New Yorkers like Teyana Taylor, who performs on stage while wearing 33 Hi retros, naturally purchased pairs rather than spending money on seeding.

Press freedom existed. The profits were significant.

Image Courtesy of Shareif Ziyadat/FilmMagic
He was earning seven figures annually when we rebuilt the company, according to Falk. Which is incredible for a person who hasn’t played in a while.

Since his return, Goldberg has kept the business growing naturally while getting advice from people who share his enthusiasm.

In order to revive the spirit and keep the brand alive, Ewing Athletics has recently leaned into the hip hop history by working with artists like Big L, EPMD, AZ, and other iconic golden era NYC performers.

Ewing Athletics is enabling estates and living legends to create stories, in contrast to the bootstrap restart where seeding shoes was an afterthought.

via Ewing Sports
All of this results in profitable commerce for all parties, demonstrating not only the appeal of New York nostalgia but also the brand’s capacity for self-care.

According to Jonas Guerrero, Product Line Manager at Ewing Athletics, “everything is highly collaborative and hands on.”

No one in this place is taking advantage of the artists. We compensate them so they can share their narrative. Artists are thrilled when we get in touch with them because other brands aren’t trying to work with them on shoes or cut them bargains.

Ewing Athletics has been able to flourish in its second life and continue its comeback run because of that degree of sincerity and respect.

Nobody at the company is unaware of this, especially the admirer who took a chance and met Falk.

Many people had contacted him over the years asking him to revive the brand, according to Goldberg. “They liked the sincerity I had towards the business and that I was willing to do it long term. They didn’t want to negotiate the contract that was just the biggest salary up front.”

Even now, despite stable income, sincerity still has a greater value than money.

They only cared that Patrick’s name and the brand would be well-represented, according to Goldberg. “They didn’t care if it was going to be a billion dollar corporation.”

Patrick Ewing may not always be recognized or honored for becoming the first basketball star to have his own shoe company, but his influence can be seen all throughout the industry.

Ewing paved the path for Michael Jordan while doing so in New York, and even if his accomplishments as a player and coach before it, he is a trailblazer in the footwear industry.

Ewing Athletics is still around and still standing in 2022, ten years after its relaunch and close to 35 years after the super agent and superstar took the risk.

According to Guerrero, “many felt it was a niche brand that would barely last for a year or two.” “Now that it has been ten years, I believe we are stronger than ever. We are completely self-sufficient, and it’s a labor of love.

No matter how miraculous it may seem, everyone at Ewing Athletics—from Falk to Patrick himself—feels as though they have won the lotto.

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How Ewing Athletics Became the Original Athlete-owned Footwear Company

 

 

 

 

 

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