The only person with as much of a history with Ewing Athletics as Patrick himself is David Falk. Ewing's agent since he left Georgetown, Falk has brokered any number of sneaker deals during his 25-plus years in the business, none bigger than the one he did for a certain North Carolina kid with Nike back in 1984. But with Ewing Athletics, he had something completely different—something where the athlete's name was on the company, not just the shoe.
I think the first, and most obvious question is why now? I feel like this must have come up before.
We had been in discussion with several groups, three or four different groups, that have proposed to bring back Ewing Athletic. We’ve been in a fairly extensive vetting process over the past three or four years. And because my job has been to be sort of the brand manager to Brand Ewing for the last 27 years, we wanted to make sure that the group that we picked could manage the re-launch of the brand in a way we were comfortable with. It just took a long time.
And I think, as you know, there’s a strong push for retro shoes, and there’s been an incredibly large underground demand — Patrick’s been asked repeatedly over the past four or five years, “when are you gonna bring back your shoes?” And we told ‘em we were working on it. It’s been the right time for the past several years, but when you have a brand as established as Ewing, you want to err on the side of being protective.
You have the unique position of having been there the first time it launched. What was the impetus behind splitting from adidas and forming his own brand?
Well, you know. In the mid-80s, I worked with a gentleman named Frank Craighill, and Frank personally managed the business affairs of Horst Dassler, who owned adidas. So we had a very, very close relationship with adidas. And Horst died. And when Horst died, the company went through a series of re-organizations, and Patrick’s contract was so large they just weren’t in a position to promote it properly and make it all work. So we all agreed that it would be best for him to go in a different direction. And so I called up a gentleman named Roberto Mueller who founded Pony, and I asked him can you manufacture for me, a shoe identical to Patrick’s adidas with no logo, no coloring, just a pure white shoe. And he said ‘sure’—most of them were made in the same factory, Taiwan, Pou Chen. He made them, and wearing the white shoe created a tremendous mystique, if you will, in the Garden, people wondered what on earth Patrick was wearing. That was the whole intent of it. I wanted to create some distance between adidas and whatever we did next. And it worked so well, that Roberto wanted to—I didn’t want to launch anything until the following year, Roberto got so excited he wanted to launch it at the end of the season, so he did.
And I think it was unique—I’m skipping around, you ask the question [via e-mail] “what was it
When we went to Nike with Patrick, the head of marketing at Nike, Rob Strasser, said 'OK, let me guess—Air Ewing.'
like taking the floor in a shoe with your name on it,” the better question is, a lot of players—not a lot of players, it was actually fairly nascent at the time, very few players even at the time Patrick was on adidas had their own signature shoe. Larry Bird didn’t have it, Magic Johnson didn’t have it, even Dr. J didn’t have it. None of those stars had it really except Michael—Michael was really the only guy to have his own shoe, his own line. But for Patrick it wasn’t so much having his name on a shoe, he had his name on the company, on the front door of the company. That was then and is now very unique.
And of course you had a hand in inventing that whole thing with Michael Jordan’s deal.
Yeah, we did a number of times—you’re a shoe guy. We did Jordan in ’84, Ewing in ’85 and again in ’89, we did Xavier McDaniel for Spot-Bilt, we did Dominique Wilkins was the first guy for the Reebok Pump, Boomer Esiason was the first football player for the Reebok Pump, Charles Smith for Wilson, we did Iverson with Reebok, the Answer, we did Evan Turner with Li Ning—we’ve done a ton of these. We did Bryant Reeves and Glen Rice with WB, James Worthy for New Balance…
But Michael was the one who shifted the whole landscape.
Ralph Sampson had some kind of affiliation with Puma, no one even remembers it. Michael was not only the first, but the last if you will. The first and only. It was unique.
Is that something that Patrick sought to—I know they were close, they are close—was Michael’s deal something he sought to emulate?
No, but ironically—I was asked my job, my job is to come up with marketing plans and strategies to market these individuals. And when we went to Nike with Patrick, the head of marketing at Nike, Rob Strasser, said “OK, let me guess—Air Ewing.” I said no, Michael is the Air Force, Patrick is the infantry. We tried to make a line with Nike with Patrick called the Force, but we decided not to sign with Nike. So obviously Patrick was 21 years old, he wasn’t experienced in business—neither was Michael—and that’s my job. My job is to throw out ideas. And Patrick had an enormous name—he was in three Final Fours in college, won a national championship, he was extremely well-known, the Big East has the biggest television market in the country. And so he was a household name, and he was the first-ever pick in the lottery. And we felt in New York he was certainly big enough to carry a line. Very few players are big enough to carry a line. Especially now.