James Worthy, when he first came into the NBA, became known not just for his basketball skills, but also for landing a major sneakers contract. Worthy become Beantown-based New Balance’s first major athlete endorsee of any sort, becoming the NBA’s highest-paid sneaker endorsee—a million-dollar contract.
A few years in, he’d be the recipient of New Balance’s first signature shoe, the P740 Worthy. Nearly 30 years later, it’s being retroed for the first time, and Worthy himself is back in the New Balance fold.
Worthy spoke to ComplexSneakers about his involvement with New Balance, and recalled that the company’s owner Jim Davis was great.
“I just loved the way he treated his employees, and when I visited the factory I liked the way he treated people and the way he catered to the community as opposed to catering to the high-profile athlete. It was all-inclusive. It didn’t really bother me that it was in Boston. I gained a few fans in Boston,” he said.
Noting that at the time he was the number 1 pick coming out in 1982, Worthy said he had a lot of choices, but to him New Balance was very attractive to me because they were willing to make him the highest-paid player to have a sneakers contract.
“And also, the product was new to basketball so once I saw the product was a really good product and a really good shoe,— like the Mercedes of sneakers, I was excited about being with a company that I knew could match what I needed as far as performance and durability. They asked me a variety of questions as to what I wanted in a shoe, how I wanted it to perform, and then they built a shoe around that. It was just a great relationship—New Balance was all about family and that’s what I felt right away. I just didn’t want to be a number. I wanted to be a part of something special, and they did special things,” Worthy recalled.
Then Worthy went on to recall what kind of shoes he had when he started playing.
“I started out in the basic—the first year was kind of a mesh—I cant remember the number exactly—and then my second year I wore a mid-boot, three-quarter shoe, and then they came with the Worthy Express, the 740, and the other shoes came after. In the beginning it was kind of trial and error to see what we could get to,” he said.
Worthy said New Balance adjusted the shoes to him, as “they had the mold, and so the shoe itself was solid from the beginning”.
“I think as time evolved they kind of got into the cosmetics of it, you know I had an Achilles injury in college, and they catered to that. They put a lot of polyurethane and a lot of the material that was going in to absorb the punishment that you take when you’re jumping and running. It was just a growing process each year, and it was just amazing to see the development of their basketball shoe come to fruition,” Worthy said.
Former NBA All-Star recalled that at the time he wanted to grow with New Balance as he got successful, as they continued to enhance their brand and their shoe.
Speaking about the “New Balance P740” shoe, Worthy said at first he couldn’t believe it.
“I grew up wearing a certain shoe costing 11 bucks, 12 bucks. In lieu of what was going on with Nike, and other brands who were already popular, I was like yeah, New Balance is here, and I’m the poster child for that shoe and we were winning. We didn’t have to do a ton of commercials or all that other stuff, we just believed in the product itself, and it worked,” he said.
Worthy said the “Worthy Express” shoe was perfect, because it reflected his game.
“I was a runner, I am fast, and and that’s kind of the mutual thing that we had,” he said. “I think New Balance came up with the concept, and I said yes that’s perfect.”
“I loved the running shoes once I got involved with New Balance, I loved the running shoes. I trained in them, they were part of my training in the off season. I wore their running shoes, so yeah, all their products became a part of my regimen,” he said.
Worthy admitted that leaving New Balance was probably one of the biggest mistake he ever made.
“At the end of my career—as an athlete, you always are taking on new offers. Probably the biggest mistake I ever made was leaving New Balance for a couple years toward the end but even when I was a couple years with another shoe company, people always associated me with New Balance. That never went away,” he said.
“People would show me, when I went to autograph signings, people would have that poster, old shoes and stuff like that. I was very fortunate that New Balance contacted me again because retro is really big now. Retro shoes are coming back. So they contacted me, and I couldn’t wait for them to contact me, because I’d been wanting a relationship with NB again and that’s kind of how it happened,” Worthy noted.
Worthy also said that he’s looking forward to working with New Balance further on on a new concept that they have.
“Don’t make sports primary, make it secondary. We have a quality shoe that prevents injuries and really, that’s the message I want to continue to convey for New Balance. The 740 is the signature shoe that most people remember. So hopefully as time passes, and we get back in the design room, and hopefully we can come up with other retro Worthy shoes, or even something new. That’s my hope and my goal. Something affordable, that kids can afford. Our message is always the same: Good product and education,” he said.
Worthy, a Hall of Famer and 7-time NBA All-Star, played all of his 12 NBA seasons with LA Lakers, winning 3 championships with the team (in 1985, 1987 and 1988).
Worthy is considered to be among the best forwards in history of the NBA, never averaging below double-figures in scoring during his entire career.
He averaged career-high 21.4 ppg for the team in 1990-91. He played in total of 926 NBA games (starting in 717), averaging 17.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg and 3.0 apg in 32.4 mpg.Follow @exnbadotcom
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