This past Saturday, Puma Basketball took over Pier 2 at Brooklyn Bridge Park to celebrate the launch of its latest performance hoops model, the Clyde Hardwood. The public was treated to a 1-on-1 “King of the Barge” tournament, as well as a dunk competition judged by Jalen Rose, New York Knicks forward Kevin Knox, and celebrity trainer Chris Brickley that both took place on a floating court set up off the side of the pier. 

Rose is not a newcomer to the Puma Hoops family. He also participated in last year’s inaugural event, and has been on board as an ambassador for the basketball division of the sportswear brand for the past year. 

With the 2019-2020 NBA regular season set to kick off tonight, we got a chance to chop it up with Rose about his affiliation with the Puma, one of its newest endorsees Kyle Kuzma, and some of his early predictions for the upcoming season. 

Check out the full interview with the the former pro and current commentator below. 

PUMA Basketball Brooklyn Event
Image via PUMA

You’re an ambassador for the brand. You participated in last year’s launch event too. What has your role been with Puma Hoops over the past year?
It’s important for me to acknowledge this. I’m probably one of the older ambassadors for the brand. Usually people don’t brag about their age, but it’s important for me to do that in this case because I’m old enough to remember the 1968 Olympics with Tommie Smith and John Carlos wearing the Pumas, watching Beat Street growing up, Pumas with thick shoe strings in ‘em, my father Jimmy Walker, who I never met, was also in the same draft class as “Clyde” Frazier. So for me, I always appreciated how Puma represented the heartbeat of urban America—graffiti, break dancing, DJ’ing, rapping, fashion—it was always the cool brand. It was always the fly brand.

To get an opportunity to work with them was just amazing. Over the last couple of years whether it’s working on Get Up! or Jalen and Jacoby, they’ve done an amazing job of being supportive of the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy. When you’re a found of a public charter high school, we get zero state funding for our facility, and we don’t get money for athletics or extracurricular programs. For them to sponsor out Fall programs and athletics teams, to give gift cards to honor roll students and staff members, that really helped the morale of an inner city dynamic that appreciates the level of support they continue to provide. I’m forever grateful for the relationship.

Last year when they announced the return of the basketball division, you called it a “tidal wave.” Do you still feel that way?
I do because, and no shade at any other brands, while I played in the league there was a time that I wore Adidas. There was a time playing with the Fab Five that we took the world by storm with Huaraches. They just re-released a Jordan Brand “Fab Five” shoe, but the thing I like about Puma is that they’ve always represented the heartbeat of the culture. They’re not just signing LeBron James or Stephen Curry. They’re signing Nipsey Hussle. They’re signing Meek Mill. And being a Detroit native, it’s always been a favorite brand of the state and of the city. You see Big Sean. You see them signing Kyle Kuzma now. That level of being pure is something I feel like can create a tidal wave among those who appreciate and respect the brand.

And I gotta say this—it’s fly. It’s one thing to be an endorser and do something just for the money. I’m fortunate enough to be at a point in my life where I don’t have to do that. There are some logos that aren’t attractive. I’m not going to say any names. PUMA come with the Suedes, the basketball, they have so many collaborations. I’m really grateful. Molly [Qerim] and I walk around the house. I feel like their women’s gear is flyer than the men’s stuff. They’ve done a terrific job of continuing to grow and make themselves mainstream. 

You mentioned Kyle Kuzma. He’s one of the brand’s biggest signings, so far. What do you think he brings to the brand? 
I think people are sleepin’ on my nephew. We talk about the Lakers and the “big two,” the dynamic duo, and rightfully so, but they have a big three. I’ll never forget we were doing a game at Philly. I said this before the show. Y’all don’t understand. This young man can score. When he gets going, he gets going with the best of ‘em. I think he had like 40 in that game. He went crazy. When you look at what [the Lakers] have done up front, they got LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, Anthony Davis, Javale McGee, Dwight Howard, they are going to have lineups out there that look like the old school Laker teams with Magic Johnson running the point. I think this is [Kuzma’s] opportunity to have an All-Star year, and really become the type of player that people respect and appreciate enough to say the Lakers have a big three.

Jalen Rose PUMA Basketball
Image via PUMA

With the season about to kick off, I just want to get some predictions from you. We’ve talked about the Lakers already. What are your thoughts on this “Battle of L.A.” storyline, and what that can do for the league?
I’m happy that it legitimately exists. I’ve never said the Clippers were a contender to win it all [before], and the Lakers weren’t making the playoffs [the past few seasons]. Now, all of the sudden they are legitimately the two favorites in the West. But I got a stumbling block that a lot of people are sleeping on. Because LeBron is in his 17th year, Anthony Davis has had nicks bruises throughout his career, Paul George is dealing with two shoulder surgeries, and Kawhi Leonard missed 21 games last year due to load management, they likely won’t meet in the Conference Finals. They won’t have the two best records. Teams like Denver, Utah, and Houston have a legit opportunity to upend the apple cart where the [Lakers and Clippers] are actually facing each other in the second round, as opposed to the Conference Finals. If I had to pick a team right now to win the West, it would be the Lakers. LeBron James hasn’t played meaningful basketball in six months. He had big time numbers last year. I think their height and bulk gives them a slight advantage over the Clippers, but it’s going to be great theater to watch all of the dynamic duos around the league. 

One that people are sleeping on, the Dallas Mavericks. Luka [Doncic] is 6’7”. Kristaps [Porzingis] is 7’3”. Their dynamic duo is going to make more threes than anyone in the league, those two guys. There’s so many. You go to Philly, you go to Houston, Mike Conley is now in Utah with [Donovan] Mitchell, we talked about the Lakers, we talked about the Clippers, [Nikola] Jokic is going to be in the MVP conversation with Denver among the league leaders in points, rebounds, and assists. He can really ball. And CJ [McCollum] and Dame are going to get Nurkic back at some point. So, the West is going to be stacked. 

What about the East? 
I got Philly. That’s with Ben Simmons not making jump shots. If he makes jump shots...well he made one. We threw a parade when he made that one. And I was happy to see him do it because I love big guards. Rooting for Magic, and Steve Smith, and Penny Hardaway growing up, I root for big guards. Ben has a complete game other than that. He plays D. He drops dimes. He’ll dunk on you. He’s unselfish. I love his court demeanor. Joel Embiid will be a 20-10 guy with a couple blocks. Philly is my team, but the Bucks will have the best record in the regular season because there won’t be any load management for the Greek Freak. He’s going to go hard for 82 games like James Harden.

Who’s in your MVP discussion?
Harden, Greek Freak, Jokic, [Anthony] Davis, Steph, LeBron, Embiid. Those are the guys to me, as an MVP voter, that I anticipate to be in the conversation.

Other than Zion, who are you looking at from the rookie class that you think can really make a splash?
Ja Morant. I like him with Jaren Jackson Jr. I remember watching Jackson at Michigan State. He can shoot the three. He can block shots. And Ja Morant is just electric dropping dimes and finishing at the hoop. I love the [Memphis Grizzlies] young nucleus. Coby White with the Bulls has a chance to play quality minutes and be a game changer. My under the radar guy is Tyler Herro with the [Miami] Heat. He can dribble, pass, and shoot. He’s fearless driving to the basket. I wish players had the option to come out, and enter the draft after high school. We’re going to get back to that. But I can’t ignore the fact that players have been more prepared as first and second year players because of that [college] experience. But if Zion [Williamson] is healthy, it’s Zion. No doubt about it.