On a hot and humid Wednesday evening, two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash led a host of NBA and professional soccer stars out onto the field for the sixth annual Steve Nash Foundation Showdown, an event to benefit the Steve Nash Foundation’s programs for under-served children. Under-served, not underprivileged, as the foundation’s website is quick to point out, because education and running water are not privileges, they are basic necessities that every child should be equipped with. Thousands were on hand at Sara D. Roosevelt park on the Lower East Side of Manhattan for a chance to take in the eight a side action, get up close and personal with the stars, and support the initiatives of the Steve Nash Foundation.
For the first time in Showdown history, Kappa USA signed on to not only serve as the events official jersey sponsor, but to show support for all of the work Steve Nash and Co. are doing for the kids at home and abroad. Amidst the bumping tunes and throngs of spectators, we caught up with Kappa USA CEO, Puneet Girdhar, to talk Kappa’s heritage in the game, the importance of supporting programs for the under-served, and all things soccer.
Interview by Adam Silvers (@silversurfer103)
How did you get started with Kappa?
In terms of background, I actually grew up in the soccer business. Thirty-five years ago my father started a company in soccer, and I always got to see the brand going up. It was always one of those things where it was notorious, iconic, I remember the Italy jersey back in 2000 being the first of its kinds where you would pull the material and it actually wouldn’t tear. Back then it was just a young upstart company with this young Italian designer, and this other entrepreneur. Just from that point is where I literally fell in love with it.
Did you see a barrier of integrating the European style of Kappa into the United States market?
Yes. What’s interesting globally is that you kind of have this paradigm of soccer culture that’s evolving. If you go back 15 or 20 years there was a very strong English influence in terms of the base of what was building it up, now soccer has become very much international. You have these pockets that are growing up, South America comes into the spotlight and as a result you really see that influence come in and take place. Our roots are very much Italian, and Kappa’s interesting in the sense that we’ve always tried to push the limits on the uniform side. You see a lot of guys coming up with race colors now, three-quarter pants, we took three-quarter pants out of our collection two years ago because we ran them for the last 10.
We spent the last two years really trying to figure out the paradigm of where we would be international, but locally relevant. Yes, we are focusing on US-specific fits, and from a brand perspective what’s different about us is we’re one of the few brands that has in our DNA the philosophy to always be about the team. [Our logo] the two figures back-to-back, it’s two people, but it’s a team of one. What’s different in American culture is that we’re pretty much focused on the athlete, we’re focused on big soccer.
Globally, we have it all covered, we do the teams and everything like that, but what’s really happening here today in the US is also a perspective of where the sport can actually create some social change.
Have you partnered with the Steve Nash showdown before?
This is actually our first year. The opportunity came about through Lawrence Cann of Street Soccer USA
, we connected last year when we were the sponsor for Street Soccer USA. When we were approached about this event we just thought it was perfect, what better way to describe what soccer can really be about? When I looked at it what was interesting about where we were as a brand is considering who are we going to impact today with our philosophies and what we’re going to do, and what’s that going to be in the future? Globally, we have it all covered, we do the teams and everything like that, but what’s really happening here today in the US is also a perspective of where the sport can actually create some social change. With Steve and his foundation, absolutely, we have to put the sport in the power of the kids hands. That’s exciting to me, that’s what it’s about.
What were your thoughts on the game?
We’re bringing it down to the street level, that’s probably the most exciting aspect. What I liked about it was when you take the folks from different disciplines, the NBA and soccer, and you put them together, it was exciting because it wasn’t about skill set out here, it was about commitment. I think it’s just a reminder to us that this is what the game is really about, it wasn’t about any one particular athlete, it was about the teams. It was about the fact that we brought various people together from various parts of the world and that’s soccer, that is soccer. That’s what’s great, you take one ball and you put a whole bunch of people together, and it’s really about how they coordinate. As a brand our philosophy is always consistent with the team.
Who was your MVP today?
It was definitely Joakim Noah, I’m on the side of the fans on this one.