The deal is expected to pay Kuzma more than $20 million over the life of the contract, with additional incentives that could escalate the total value, according to industry sources.
Kuzma is now one of the highest-earning players with Puma and a featured partner with the company. He also will be featured in brand campaigns and key product-feedback sessions and have creative control over future collections.
“The No. 1 thing I was trying to look for was a little bit more control, a little bit more freedom to do certain things. Not to be restricted from an idea standpoint,” Kuzma said. “Having a brand fully commit to me and see that I have visions too — that could work out well for the brand and me as well. Puma was that.”
To celebrate the signing, Kuzma met with local Lakers fans at a Puma-branded taco cart along Fairfax Avenue, a district home to Los Angeles’ longtime streetwear scene and many of the leading sports culture brand boutiques.
Billboards and out-of-home murals around town merged his “Kuz” nickname icon with the last two typeface letters of the brand’s logo, highlighted by the Puma cat affixed atop. The 24-year-old handed out T-shirts featuring the same “Kuzma” hybrid graphic and took photos with more than 250 fans.
“The addition of Kyle to our expanding hoops roster is a huge step for our brand,” said Adam Petrick, Puma global director of brand and marketing.
After Kuzma signed a two-year shoe deal with Nike as an unheralded rookie out of Utah, the negotiation window of his sneaker free agency this fall was well timed. The original Nike deal paid him a base of just $25,000 per year, which he far outpaced almost instantly. He was named to the NBA All-Rookie first team and simultaneously listed on the Charge 25 under 25 most marketable athletes across 48 sports.
This year, Kuzma’s rising profile in marketing deals ran parallel to the Lakers’ reluctance to include him in the heavily covered Anthony Davis trade, all at a time when he shifted his representation by hiring the massive and well-established Creative Artists Agency for on- and off-court representation. His longtime business manager, Vin Sparacio, also took on an elevated role in the shoe-deal talks.
Kuzma’s newly hired team at CAA eventually negotiated what is expected to be one of the highest-earning veteran sneaker deals this fall, among a deep free-agent class. The third-year forward is set to earn more from Puma than the Lakers this season, a distinction that only Derrick Rose and Lakers teammate Rajon Rondo share throughout the league.
“It kind of just speaks to the day and age we are in,” Kuzma said. “I have the best of both worlds. Pretty talented on the basketball court, but people can really relate to me off the court. From my journey, who I am, and so many different things and the passions that I have — people can relate to it.”
In shoe deals, the incumbent brand typically will offer an initial extension contract in the spring or toward the end of July, with players allowed to begin taking pitches from competitor brands after Aug. 1. Most deals expire on Oct. 1, creating a 60-day window for negotiations to escalate.
With Kuzma participating in USA Basketball’s training camp during the first week of August, the window made for a natural opportunity to meet with Nike executives during the early swoosh-sponsored scrimmages and practices in Las Vegas.
Once a new agreement with Nike couldn’t be met, Kuzma and his team headed to Boston for Puma’s official presentation. They enjoyed the luxury of The Puma Jet, flying back and forth on the company’s private ambassador plane from Los Angeles, in time for Kuzma to be back at USA Basketball practices.
“I don’t think any companies have that,” Kuzma said, smiling.
Puma’s key pitch messaging wasn’t to simply sell him on what it could offer.
“That was the main thing — the meeting was more about me,” Kuzma said. “It was pretty much, ‘What do you want to do?'”
The brand views him as a rising, expressive star on a star-laden roster expected to contend in the Western Conference who also can bring market size and added visibility to its casual line through the growing attention paid to his arena-entry fashion.
In moving on from Nike, the Lakers forward will look to establish himself as a face of the brand while giving up wearing his idol Kobe Bryant’s longtime Nike signature sneakers.
“It was tough from the simple fact of how much I love Kobe. Everyone knows that I wear Kobe’s shoes,” Kuzma said. “It was tough, but at the end of the day, I have dreams and goals and I imagine myself being at that type of level in this business.”
Kuzma will be wearing Puma’s new Clyde Hardwood sneaker in both retail and custom colorways to start the season while working behind the scenes on a variety of future basketball and lifestyle sneakers and clothing.
The company already has partnered with emerging fashion and streetwear brands such as Rhude and Chinatown Market for collaboration capsules, with Kuzma expected to be incorporated into the process and hands-on in creating future Puma fashion capsules with outside designers.
“What was huge for us was that Puma will allow Kuz to express his creativity on and off the court,” Sparacio said.
One of the first themes Kuzma hopes to celebrate on his sneakers will be a tribute to late rap icon Nipsey Hussle, a Los Angeles native and Lakers fan also known for his small business-empowerment and community efforts. Hussle had been a brand partner with Puma, with the company recently launching a co-branded collection with his The Marathon Clothing store to benefit his ongoing foundation.
“Ever since that moment, trying to carry on that marathon and that type of symbolism, it kind of meant a lot to me,” said Kuzma, who has a “TMC” flag tattoo on his arm. “I wanted to go to Puma, not only for everything that I’ve got going on, but to do some things within this community like Nip did.”
Going forward, that creative input will be the hallmark element of Kuzma’s new partnership with Puma.
“His performance on the court speaks for itself, but his personality and style off the court fits perfectly with our team,” Petrick said. “He is tuned into the culture around the sport, and we’re excited to collaborate with him as we move into the upcoming NBA season.”