The (tall)Tale of Ewing Athletics

0

The ’80’s were an era when signatures shoes were becoming popular in the NBA. Athletic companies realized the marketability of basketball and the way fans viewed/idolized players. For example, Nike was able to sell us the idea that Michael Jordan’s shoes made us be like Mike. MJ’s rise to stardom was accelerated (he was going to be a star anyway, don’t get it twisted) because of the feelings the Jordan line invoked with wearers. Anybody from Mars Blackmon to little Billy down the street could look down at their feet and pretend to be MJ. Other brands tried and to replicate Jordan’s success like New Balance with James Worthy. The Lakers star had two signature shoes, the Worthy 740 and 790 that were well received but not readily available to the public and didn’t have a ‘wow’ factor. A signature shoe needs an athlete with marketability, name recognition and presence. The size of a city’s market played a much larger role in possible sales before the world got muuuuch smaller due to the internet and social media. Chicago had a perfect blend of athlete and market. Los Angles had the market but the wrong Laker… with the 1st pick of the 1985 draft the New York Knicks selected… the star athlete needed to push units!

Retired Pat releasing retros at KITH NYC.

Patrick Ewing decided to take a different route than his contemporaries. After years of wearing Adidas and having a (kinda) signature shoe, the Attitude High, Ewing went out on his own. In 1989 Patrick started the Ewing Athletic company. In my opinion, this move wouldn’t have worked in any other market than New York. The Tri-state area had about fourteen million residents in the ’80s and Ewing was their only NBA superstar. New York alone had enough devote Ewing fans that if a fraction of the population bought shoes then the endeavor would have been considered a huge success. If Ewing played for a team like the Hawks or Pacers then there wouldn’t have been a large enough initial consumer base for a new athletic company to take off. Luckily, Patrick was truly beloved by New York.

Pat rebounding during the 1994 NBA Finals.

During the 1993-94 season Knicks futility would end with the emergence of Ewing. The city knew they had something special with their star center and most importantly, Michael Jordan had retired. Since 1985 Ewing had been unable to surpass teams like MJ’s Bulls and the Detroit Pistons.The last Knicks championship came in 1973 and for the first time in a long time, the Knicks had legitimate title aspirations. Ewing’s shoes could be found on every New York corner during this time. Business was boomin’. During his Finals run, Pat rocked the Ewing Image. Sadly, the Knicks couldn’t defeat the Houston Rockets and their championship window would close soon after. But still Patrick Ewing was able to give NYC more than they’ve had in twenty years and the city loved him for that (just don’t mention the missed layup). Never again would the Knicks get that close to a championship and eventually the Ewing era would end.

Ewing’s 33 High on foot, with possibly John Starks.

Years after it’s release, the most popular model remained the 33 High and it continues to be the most recgonizable silhouette by the brand. Decked out in numerous Knicks colorways the shoe is known for its super high cut, thick achilles straps and bold tongue branding. From a design standpoint I see influences from Reebok’s Pump series and the Air Jordan 2.

33 High Retro in blue suede.
Traditional Knicks scheme on these retros.

The brand would grow through the ’90’s and birth categories outside of basketball. In a bold step, Ewing Athletics dabbled in hiking boots, trainers and runners. Good things can’t last forever though, and as the decade wained so did the brand. It had created a strong presence in Asia but US sales were degrading like Ewing’s knees. Once production stopped a niche market came up and kept the brand in the peripherals of sneakerheads and basketball fans alike. Demand slowly crept up and in 2012 Pat brought the brand back with the relaunch of the 33 High. Since then, the brand has found a stable consumer base and it feels as though Ewing Athletics has found their footing. They’re never going to compete with established brands like Adidas or Nike, but there will always be people seeking alternative styles. The brand regularly introduces new models while still offering old favorites… just with new twists like a winterized version of the 33 High. Their retro catalog of basketball shoes and cross trainers is strong. I recommend you peep the clean 33 Low and Eclipse retro, the 1992 Olympic’s classic. Checkout other models for yourself on their site, here.

Pat’s 1992 ‘Dream Team’ version of the Ewing Eclipse
clean, practical, modernized cut… these 33 Lows have it all.

We’ve seen Jamaal Crawford’s Brand Black succeed and the jury is still out on the Ball family’s Big Baller Brand but the ideas are the same. Ewing Brand gave the above mentioned brands a blueprint on how to create your own lane. In retrospect, Patrick Ewing bet on himself and his fans… and won. If you want more on Patrick Ewing then click here to read an older story of ours. Have you ever owned a pair of Ewing Athletics footwear? What are your thoughts on the brand? Tell us in the comments below!