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The Vertical: Devin Booker’s shoe brand rise could help transition Kobe kicks

Kobe Bryant's signed shoes given to Devin Booker as a gift. (@Dbook on Instagram)

From the lens of the shoe marketing giants like Nike, feel-good stories of rising stars can present opportunity.

Take Suns guard Devin Booker for example. A high-profile recruit who played for a Nike-sponsored AAU team, Booker’s bench role with Nike-sponsored Kentucky didn’t mean the footwear brand was throwing big sums of money at the Suns guard when he was selected in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Luckily for them, they already had an in when Booker exploded onto the scene.

As The Vertical’s Nick DePaula points out in his list of the top sneaker rookies of 2015-16, Nike’s grassroots efforts paid off. Booker is still wearing Nikes, and the shoe company is in position to help the 19-year-old continue to build his personal brand.

Since his time as a sharpshooting high school prospect and one-and-done guard on a loaded University of Kentucky roster, Booker largely was seen as an under-the-radar player in the eyes of sneaker brands. The lack of appeal never quite made sense because Booker seemed to possess a combination of explosive scoring potential and a willingness to build his brand. The 13th overall selection in the draft ultimately signed with Nike after a lukewarm shoe-deal courting process.

By the end of his rookie season, Booker left no doubt about his ability to evolve into a cornerstone scoring guard.

Again putting on the lens of Nike — more specifically, their Kobe-branded shoes Booker wears — Kobe Bryant’s final game in Phoenix last April seems more significant.

Not only was this about Bryant passing the torch to a younger player like Booker but a power move (conscious or not) to keep the Kobe brand growing beyond the Laker stars’ retirement.

For most of the year, Booker could be seen rotating through a mix of bold and loud custom colors from the NIKEiD website of Kobe Bryant’s signature shoes, like the Kobe X and Kobe XI lows. As he looks to continue to improve his consistency with an increased role next season, Booker will be one of many high-scoring two guards around the league who is expected to carry Kobe Bryant’s sneaker line now that the Lakers great is retired.

That game, where Bryant gave Booker a signed pair of shoes afterward, could have been a convenient exchange of two Nike representatives.

But it also marked a very public business opportunity for Nike and Booker, the latter of whom appeared in a Foot Locker commercial with fellow 2015-16 rookies D’Angelo Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns and incoming rookie Ben Simmons.

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