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Can new Knicks carry on the Puma legacy started by Clyde?

RJ Barrett and Kevin Knox are first Knicks since Walt Frazier to rep brand

At the end of the summer, Hall of Fame New York Knicks point guard Walt “Clyde” Frazier met Brooklyn native and famed rapper Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter for the first time.

The two New York legends finally linked up because both represent the same brand — Puma — which Frazier joined in the early 1970s and Jay-Z joined in 2018 as creative director of the brand’s relaunched basketball division.

“Jay-Z goes, ‘You’re the man. You started all this,’ ” recalled Frazier, who mentioned the encounter during a panel hosted by Puma in September alongside the two latest New York Knicks to rep the brand: rookie guard RJ Barrett and second-year forward Kevin Knox.

In 1973 — with his timeless Puma Clyde — Frazier became the first player in the NBA to receive his own sneaker. “I had an opportunity to endorse a sneaker,” Frazier told The Undefeated. “No one else was doing that back in the early ’70s and getting paid for it.”

Walt Frazier (right) of the New York Knicks is guarded closely by Oscar Robertson (left) of the Milwaukee Bucks during a early circa 1970s NBA basketball game at the Milwaukee Arena in Milwaukee.

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The same year his signature shoe debuted, Frazier helped lead the Knicks to an NBA championship. “It was a dream come true,” Frazier said, “because it helped catapult the shoe into the national spotlight.”

And Frazier quickly discovered there was nothing like promoting a sneaker and brand in New York City as the star point guard and head-turning style icon of the Knicks.

“I took a lot of pride in representing Puma on the Knicks,” Frazier told The Undefeated. “It was a good product to align my name with. Puma became very popular, and we sold a lot of sneakers.”

Forty-five years after the Knicks won the franchise’s last title in 1973, Puma made a strong, and strategic, return to the game of basketball after being absent from the sport for almost two decades. In September 2018, Knox — whom New York selected with the ninth overall pick in the draft three months before — became the first Knicks player to sign an endorsement deal with Puma since Frazier.

“For Clyde, who started the Puma era in basketball, to have played on the Knicks, and now he’s commentating our games, it’s a really great connection,” Knox told The Undefeated. “The shoes he came out with and the legacy he has with Puma — it’s good to be able to carry it on.”

During his first season with the brand, Knox appeared in an ad campaign as the face of the “London Calling” colorway of the Puma Clyde Court sneaker, which he wore in January while playing for the Knicks in the NBA London Games. And as part of his endorsement deal, Knox collaborated with the brand to donate $10,000 worth of Puma gear for the next four years to his alma mater, Tampa Catholic High School.

Heading into the second year of his partnership with Puma, Knox was contacted by his new Knicks teammate, who was faced with the decision of which sportswear brand to join. Knox recalled Barrett, the No. 3 overall pick by the Knicks in June’s draft, first reaching out to him via social media — and their conversations continued throughout the summer.

“I knew RJ was considering Puma,” Knox told The Undefeated. “I talked to him about it a little bit at summer league before he decided. But ultimately, it was his decision and what he wanted to do.”

In late August, Barrett agreed to a multiyear footwear and apparel deal with Puma, which the brand celebrated by hanging a huge “NY ❤️s RJ” billboard, featuring a cutout of Barrett’s face, near Madison Square Garden.

“I liked the family environment, the family atmosphere of Puma,” Barrett told The Undefeated. “I decided with my parents, and just thought it was the best decision for me. And it hasn’t let me down at all.”

Barrett joined a Puma family in New York that includes a promising player in Knox and an original in Frazier, whose legendary signature sneakers inspired the brand’s latest low-top silhouette, called the Clyde Hardwood, which the two young Knicks have worn on the court throughout this season. It took almost two decades for Puma to return to basketball, and another 2½ months to return to Madison Square Garden. But Barrett and Knox have arrived and are part of the brand’s strategy going forward.

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CLYDE HARDWOOD. Dropping Oct 18.

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“You’re in the greatest city in the world, playing at Madison Square Garden,” Frazier told Barrett and Knox on the panel a month before the start of the season. “New York is not for everybody, but that’s the pressure I like … New York is it.”

That pressure includes the battle for the claim of best team in the city. Across the river, the Brooklyn Nets (16-13) are preparing for the future with two all-stars and NBA champions in point guard Kyrie Irving and forward Kevin Durant, both of whom are tenured Nike athletes with their own signature sneakers. The Knicks (7-23) are in steady rebuilding mode, with a roster full of wait-and-see young talent, including Barrett and Knox.

Barrett and Knox hope to bring legitimacy back to both the New York Knicks and Puma Hoops.

“We’re able to represent legacy and represent all of New York,” Barrett said during the panel discussion. “This is New York’s NBA team. Just to go out there and play in the Garden while I’m still achieving my dream of playing in the NBA, all of it together is just a feeling like no other … I’m just excited to see what happens … and how this takes off.”

Aaron Dodson is a sports and culture writer at The Undefeated. He primarily writes on sneakers/apparel and hosts the platform’s “Sneaker Box” video series. During Michael Jordan’s two seasons playing for the Washington Wizards in the early 2000s, the “Flint” Air Jordan 9s sparked his passion for kicks.