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Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma designs Puma T-shirt to raise voting awareness during NBA Finals

On the brink of winning his first NBA title, Kuzma is also preparing to vote for the first time

Before the Los Angeles Lakers entered the NBA bubble in July, focused only on leaving Lake Buena Vista, Florida, in October with a championship, Kyle Kuzma took to Twitter to express the significance of something else he had his sights on — the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

“This one of the most important elections in American history,” the third-year Lakers forward wrote. “Don’t vote for people as a joke … ”

Three months later, Kuzma is now both on the brink of winning his first NBA title and voting in his first presidential election. And before the Lakers try to clinch a championship against the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Friday night, he’ll arrive at the arena in a T-shirt highlighting the importance of voting.

Kuzma teamed up with Puma, the brand he signed an endorsement deal with in 2019, to design the shirt, which features the message “VOTE!” on the chest. Following its debut at the Finals, the black, limited-edition “Puma x Kuzma Vote” T-shirt will be released on Oct. 13. The brand has also committed to donating $25,000 on Kuzma’s behalf to the American Civil Liberties Union to support the organization’s campaign to protect and expand the freedom to vote.

“To have the opportunity to highlight voting is superimportant, especially given how big of a decision this presidential election will be for our country,” Kuzma told The Undefeated ahead of Game 5. “There are so many different factors surrounding this election, from race to climate control, and we really need a front office-type leadership that stands for certain things.”

The bottom of the T-shirt, which Kuzma did concept sketches for while in the bubble, features images of raised arms in diverse colors as a representation of the unity of different ethnic backgrounds in the U.S.

“That was the most important thing to illustrate,” Kuzma said. “It’s not a Democrat or Republican thing. It’s a people’s election. And all of us should vote.”

This isn’t the first time that Kuzma has channeled his passion for fashion to spread a message of social change. In early June, two weeks after George Floyd was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis, Kuzma released a T-shirt through his clothing brand, Childhood Dreams, and directed 100% of the proceeds to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The shirt features state primary election dates and is adorned with powerful messages, including “Black Lives Matter,” “Use Your Voice,” “Silence is Violence!” and “Vote for Change.”

“What I wanted to do with the Childhood Dreams T-shirt is let people know that if we want change, we need to vote,” Kuzma said. “The Puma T-shirt goes hand in hand with that. It’s essentially the same message.”

Kuzma has not only been encouraging others to vote — Nov. 3 will mark a milestone of civic duty for the 25-year-old from Flint, Michigan.

“This will be my first time voting and really taking voting seriously,” Kuzma said. “I see where this country is headed and that’s not a good place. If we have four more years like this, it’s going to be even worse.”

Though Kuzma was eligible to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, when he was 21 years old, he didn’t participate.

“Honestly, in the past, I just really didn’t care for voting. Growing up as an African American, you ask yourself: Does my vote even matter?” he said. “I feel like that’s how a lot of Black people think. Now, I feel like I’m more educated about voting. I actually had to reeducate myself because I’m trying to help effect change.”

Since arriving in Florida in July, Kuzma says he’s spent much of his time off the court making up for the time lost not caring about politics.

“I’ve been following the election a lot because it’s my first time going through the voting process,” Kuzma said. “I’ve been watching everything surrounding the presidential election, but have also been gaining an understanding of the lower and local level of politics. Who is trying to get into city councils, become mayors and police chiefs. That’s really what voting is about.”

During Game 3 of the NBA Finals, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard and National Basketball Players Association president Chris Paul announced that “over 90%” of the league is registered to vote and 15 NBA teams are 100% registered.

“It feels good to be registered to vote now,” Kuzma said. “I understand that my vote matters, my vote counts. Hopefully, people reading this story realize that they need to vote, too. People who never really thought about it, like I once did, should register.”

In the past few months, Kuzma has balanced his career as an NBA player, striving toward winning a championship, and life as an African American, gearing up for the upcoming election.

“Those two things go hand in hand,” Kuzma said. “Obviously, I have a platform as a basketball player, but this isn’t about me being an athlete. As a person who lives in similar communities as everyone else, I care about what’s going on. I care about how the world is, and how this country is.”

The Puma x Kuzma Vote T-shirt is a representation of the young Lakers forward’s evolution and advocacy. And to those who will see him wearing it before Game 5 of the Finals, Kuzma has a simple message.

“Go vote. That’s it. Just go vote.”

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.