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Sports Strength

Why Luka Doncic Is the NBA’s Next Sneaker God

Fashion comes in waves. Trends gain momentum and right before what’s hot spills into the mainstream, a more whimsical version bubbles up. Some 18-24 months ago, influencers had highly-stylized Instagram profiles curated by creative directors who managed and ‘directed’ each post, making sure they all laddered up to certain personal brand ‘motifs’ and that the grid pattern was actually an interpretation of society’s sentiment towards global warming. Now, Kendall Jenner and Emily Ratajkowski solely post, or ‘shit-post’ shots straight from an iPhone (or disposable camera) or repost pictures sent to them from an event without any narrative or correlation to their last post.

And, we suspect that the same thing is going to happen to NBA shoes. NBA sneakers are taken pretty seriously right now. For a lot of players, they are a mini billboard for something that they care about. These topics range but are almost always solemn; names of family members, a tribute to a loved one that recently passed, a psalm, a quote with personal meaning.

And in addition to the tributes and proverbs, players are also deliberate with their actual choice of sneaker. PJ Tucker, the undisputed sneaker king of the league has made the hyper thought-out—and borderline meta—sneaker game fashionable. But we anticipate that has reached its peak, so where are we going to find the prince of the next wave of sneakers? Need someone young, fun-loving with a counter-cultural appearance, and being talented on the court wouldn’t hurt either.

Perhaps the reigning Rookie of the Year from Slovenia?

This video represents Luka’s approach to the game perfectly. He’s jumping up and down in celebration of his veteran center in the same way an eight-year-old finds out he’s about to get ice cream. But yes, that’s your future sneaker god.

In a way, he’s sort of the anti-PJ Tucker. Actually, he is the anti-PJ Tucker. PJ Tucker is the sneakerhead scavenging for the John McEnroe Air Trainer 1s loaned out from the Smithsonian, while Luka is sort of just a high school kid who worked a couple of basketball camps during the summer and has a lot more cash than he expected.

He’s more interested in cool player shoes than he is in purchasing four-digit sneakers because they’re in vogue, and his preference is what we’re betting is going to win out in the long-term. 

He’s also got a few other things going for him. He’s about to take over the league on the court, that’s for certain. But with Kristaps Porzingis next to him, they’re going to carry around a super distinct Eastern-European swagger. Let’s just say you might see a couple of discotheques popping up around Dallas. Their drip is going to be different, and cool.

Luka also rocks the number 77 which again, is different and cool. 77 is a much higher number than any other marquee player and the sevens sort of flow right next to each other. It was just reported that LeBron is giving up his #23 to Anthony Davis, putting James in the market for some new numbers. Let’s keep a close eye—if Bron chooses something north of 50 then it’s a wrap. King Luka, we stan.

For more on ONE37pm’s favorite sneakerheads, check out this clip about the NBA’s most underrated one.

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Sports Strength

Two Cities, One Team: How Should the Rays Move Forward?

While revenues rise across the MLB, the league faces complex challenges in the near future. For one, the game has a marketing problem, something a revamped All-Star Game voting process has failed to rectify. While lucrative TV deals have lined owners’ pockets for years to come, and ensure a top-of-the-line broadcast product, attendance at games is declining. A players’ union revolt seems increasingly likely. If MLB is going to survive in a sports landscape where personalities drive audiences, they’re going to have to get pretty creative. 

Luckily, MLB looks like it’s prepared to. Last week, commissioner Rob Manfred gave the Tampa Bay Rays permission to explore a partial relocation to Montreal, where half of the Rays’ home games would happen in Canada, and the other half would happen in St. Petersburg. There has been some fallout; the prospect of a new Rays stadium seems stuck in purgatory, and St. Petersburg’s mayor has said the city wouldn’t fund a new facility if the tenants were part-timers. “We’re looking for open minds,” said Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg, hopefully.

The Rays rank second-to-last in attendance, well short of the MLB average of 27,000. Part of that is due to the decaying Tropicana Field, an indoor park in a city where the population is rapidly growing. While the team has had plenty of on-field success—books have been written about their influence—it hasn’t been improving the financial portrait of the team. It makes sense that the MLB, having just seen the Toronto Raptors’ finals broadcasts shatter Canadian broadcasts records, would want to explore having a bigger footprint in Canada. 

Manfred’s support, through this lens, feels obvious: Of course, he’s open to exploring revenue opportunities, especially given that the Rays’ current rights deal is also poised to underwhelm. The players’ union would still need to approve a move—I can’t anticipate that Rays players love the idea of two home cities, but crazier things have happened—and there’s a growing sense that players will find out how to get a bigger share of the rights revenue pie. Exploring a Tampa Bay/Montreal experiment seems like a step in the right direction for baseball, even though big obstacles are ahead

Read more about how Custom Cleats is changing MLB footwear here

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Culture News

5 Babe Ruth Memorabilia Items With Eye-Popping Price Tags

The Sultan of Swat. The King of Crash. The Colossus of Clout. The Great Bambino.

If that just gave you intense flashbacks to watching The Sandlot in your elementary school classroom, join the club. Eighty-four years after he retired from the game, Babe Ruth’s legacy is immortalized in the Baseball Hall of Fame, countless films and books, Baby Ruth candy bars and a number of prized collectibles that he left behind. 

A Babe Ruth jersey recently sold for $5.64 million, smashing the previous $4.4 million record (also held by The Babe) for the most expensive piece of sports memorabilia ever sold. His home run ball, all-star jersey and more are among the most valuable baseball keepsakes. And unsurprisingly so. Babe Ruth’s storied rise to international fame and lasting impact on America’s pastime is the stuff of legends. 

For those dreaming of owning a piece of Babe’s personal collection, get your wallets ready because these items are not for the amateur collector. All with prices in the millions, here are the five most expensive Babe Ruth collectibles ever sold. 

1. New York Yankees Jersey From 1928-1930
Hunt Auctions

Sold: $5.64 million

This record-setting Babe Ruth heirloom joined a small collection of items sold at Yankee Stadium by Hunt Auctions. The auction gathered pieces from third-party collectors as well as Babe Ruth’s surviving family members. The legend’s granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, said, “Babe’s collection has remained largely unknown to the general public and we felt it was time to bring these amazing pieces of his life to light.”

2. New York Yankees Jersey From 1920
SCP Auctions

Sold: $4.4 million

Before the 1928-1930 jersey (above), this circa 1920 Babe jersey held the record for the most expensive sports memorabilia ever sold. The item sold in 2012 to Lelands.com, a sports memorabilia auction house, and a spokesperson said they would sell the jersey privately. It is the earliest existing jersey known to be worn by The Babe, and it had previously lived at The Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore.

3. Contract That Moved Him to the Yankees
Lelands

Sold: $2.3 million

After six seasons with the Red Sox and three World Series wins, Babe Ruth found a new home with the Yankees in a historic purchase. For only $125,000 (or around $1.66 million today adjusted for inflation), the Yankees bought the player who would accrue enough revenue to move the team to the new Yankee Stadium, “the house that Ruth built.” An original copy of the contract, previously owned by Charlie Sheen, sold in 2017 for twice the amount that the other original copy did in 2005. 

4. World Series Ring
Lelands

Sold: $2.1 million

The Yankees dominated the 1927 World Series by sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates in four games, and Babe Ruth contributed two crucial home runs in the series-clinching game. His ring—inscribed with “G H Ruth” (for George Herman Ruth)—also belonged to Sheen. It sold for more than four times the price of any other sports ring auctioned previously. Sheen owned both the ring and the contract for approximately 20 years and said he “felt it was time for a new owner.”

5. Bat From First Home Run at Yankee Stadium
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Sold: $1.3 million 

Babe Ruth hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium against none other than the Red Sox—a team plagued by the supposed “Curse of the Bambino” for 86 years. Ruth is quoted as saying, “I’d give a year of my life if I can hit a home run in the first game in this new park.” On April 18, 1923, he got his wish on the stadium’s opening day. A Chicago sports memorabilia company, Mastronet, Inc., purchased the bat in 2004—the same year Boston’s decades-long drought is said to have ended. 

Read Next: 10 Music Biopics to Add to Your Must-Watch List

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Sports Strength

Here Are Our Extremely Iconic All-NBA Fit Awards

This year, NBA fits went mainstream. We’ve spent the last year itemizing the best looks, month-to-month, and as the season went on the competition seemed to heighten. Fashion-forward players like Kelly Oubre and Nick Young have become fashion stars in their own right—it seems possible that industry insiders could have no idea that they are professional basketball players. The stakes have never been higher.

Just as Toronto closed the door on the 2018-2019 basketball season, we’re here to make a few final statements about the hottest fit year on record. This is a conversation that’s still happening—but today we’re calling out the five best dressed, the Rookie of the Year, the most improved and also the best dressed team. Let’s get down to it.

First Team (We Picked More Than Five, Sue Us)

Kelly Oubre

PJ Tucker

Dennis Schroder

Nick Young

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Iman Shumpert

D’Angelo Russell

We left some of the heavyweights off this list (Russ, Harden, Bron) because in 2019 we realized the more personal the ensemble, the more impactful. Hoodies with four-digit price tags aren’t automatic rouses like they used to be. 

We’re more impressed by thoughtful nuances worn effortlessly—like PJ evolving his pre-game beverage and then matching it to his shoes, or Shump repping his wife on his chest—than we are by something more extravagant, but clearly curated. It just hits different when we know the person walking the tunnel put their own sweat into it. Everyone on this list has something unique about their style—something that they now own: PJ’s heat-in-hand dominance, Oubre’s hype/goth fusion, Schroder’s beanies with attitude, Shump’s risk-taking and personality, and Shai’s flannels that hover above his shoulders.—Jacob Forchheimer

Rookie of the Year

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Like all rookies, LA Clippers PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had some growing pains on the floor. But off the floor, whew. Shai quickly delivered a veterans’ feel for the tunnel, mixing textures and keeping versatile pieces (like his black-and-white flannel) in the rotation. He knows what fits, how to wear it, and how to keep us intrigued throughout the full season. He never hit the so-called “rookie wall”, at least when it came to drip. We can’t wait for year two of the SGA experience.—CG

Team of the Year

This is the most interesting category imo. What’s most intriguing is that the final four teams’ roster DNA all took shape in their team drip. Phoenix, the fourth youngest team in the NBA brought trendiness and energy. The Bucks roster, stacked with long limbs to disrupt passing lanes and block shots also doubles as a lineup of 6-foot-6 and above runway models. And the Rockets, OKC’s runner-up, have the oldest roster in the NBA and therefore some of the deepest pockets. Little bit easier to stunt when you’ve got a team of stylists looking after your fits.

Ultimately, OKC’s biggest on-court criticism—their key players’ stubbornness to conform–is an asset when it comes to getting dressed. Russ and Schroder are loud and unique, PG is smooth, and Andre Roberson and Hami Diallo play their roles. Congratulations.

Closing Thoughts

A line I think about a lot comes from GQ writer Cam Woolf’s write-up of last fall’s streetwear con, Hypefest. In it, Woolf singles in on a pack of young men, and writes:

What struck me about the group was that a decade earlier, they might have been circled around a television rooting on the Yankees, who were playing that night. They’d be dissecting every at-bat, slinging around advanced metrics with inscrutable acronyms like ERA+, BABIP, or OPS+, and griping about Giancarlo Stanton’s deficiency against righties. Instead, they spend their days pouring that energy into clothes: tracking prices, posting in forums and Facebook groups, and trying their mightiest to compile an impressive collection of clothes and sneakers—the same way their fathers might have done with baseball cards. Style is now the lingua franca of a generation trying to prove their cool. And so Hypefest wasn’t so much an opportunity to walk around a carefully curated mall as a chance to be around other people who’d be interested in doing exactly that.

That passage underlines the tension of how NBA fits—a category that contains both sports and fashion—became one of American pop culture’s most important mirrors. In an age where personalities drive the biggest and fastest growing sports, these style extensions gave more depth to athletes we already tracked closely. Following a given athlete’s ongoing commentary via his style choices provided important shading, small details we could cling to. Sometimes, outfits carried more dramatic tension than the games themselves. There’s a reason so many brands want to bottle the influence of the most wave-making players. 

As tracking the NBA increasingly becomes a year-round concern, something as surface-y as outfit choices (and the resulting news cycle) serves as an intriguing proof of concept. In previous eras, the NBA focused on marketing the basketball. Now, they’re marketing a 360-degree lifestyle.

Check out our roundup of the best fits from 2018

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Sports Strength

Why ‘205 Live’ Is WWE’s Most Underrated Show

It’s impossible to speculate what exactly WWE’s recent ratings crisis means for the brand’s long-term plans, but fan discontent seems to be at an all-time high despite the company raking in massive profits. The contrast between what actual audiences want and what WWE delivers on its weekly shows is stark. Considering the massive amount of content the billion-dollar corporation produces, it’s striking that the flagship TV shows have become the most disappointing. Although it’s hardly as popular as RAW or Smackdown!, the WWE network-exclusive show 205 Live is precisely what many fight fans would actually want from a wrestling show.

205 Live debuted on the network in November of 2016, shortly after the success of the Cruiserweight Classic, a multi-week tournament featuring the most esteemed lighter-weight competitors on the planet. The enthusiasm for the project seemed a fresh start for WWE, who has been drawing heat from fans in recent years. The fast-paced and acrobatic matches on 205 immediately contrasted sharply with the deliberately plodding bouts on regular WWE shows. 

But with a small roster and limited storyline possibilities, the excitement for 205 waned somewhat quickly. The cruiserweight belt seemed to be instantly relegated to PPV pre-shows, and none of its stars seemed even close to breaking out. It didn’t help that writers baked in a patently sexist storyline essentially reducing wrestler Alicia Fox to a prop for a while. It then got worse: Shortly before he was terminated, Enzo Amore had a bizarre title reign and even claimed some baffling victories over far more beloved and superior superstars like the prodigious Tyler Bate. The choice to tack on the filming of 205 before or after live events meant that hyping up the crowd during the cruiserweight matches became nearly impossible.

It quickly became somewhat of an in-joke amongst wrestling fans that being put on 205 Live was basically a form of career death: fans didn’t care, WWE CEO Vince McMahon didn’t care—but the wrestlers always did. 205 has more recently managed to recover from some of its less sensible booking decisions and is now easily one of the best and most consistent programs on the entire WWE Network. 

Because WWE does not release numbers for its streaming content, it’s impossible to tell how well the show is doing in reality, but the quality of what’s actually depicted remains outstanding. Just this month, a recently re-debuting Chad Gable fought UK wrestling icon Jack Gallagher—their bloody and ferocious fight brought a dead crowd to their feet. Shortly after that, an incredibly fast-paced fatal four-way showed off the dynamic movesets of all the athletes and prompted zealous chants from the live audience. Then, at the Stomping Grounds PPV on June 23, it was a pre-show three-way match between Akira Tozawa, Drew Gulak, and Tony Nese that by far surpassed the quality of every other bout on the card—but probably received the least attention outside of critic circles. The international talent of the 205 roster is arguably the most skilled and entertaining of all the superstars but none of them are positioned prominently in WWE’s marketing or branding whatsoever. Why?

Debates about the internal politics of WWE and conspiracy theories around internal warring factions aside, I can’t help but wonder if part of the reason 205 never can get its feet off the ground despite the obvious excellence of the show has to do with the bizarre body standards of pro-wrestling as an industry. It would be easy enough to excuse 205’s lack of breakout success as a mere stylistic preference: not everyone likes backflips and somersaults. But McMahon’s purported disinterest in the show seems to cohere with his reported obsession with bigger men.

Part of the reason wrestling works as an art-form has to do with the spectacle of seeing these oversized individuals thrash each other about and plenty of storylines still use size as the main selling point. Entire narrative arcs play on the difference in scale between athletes, as displayed by the ongoing friendly rivalry between Braun Strowman and Finn Balor or Daniel Bryan’s entire career—an underdog story can easily be written if someone is notably smaller than their nemesis.

It’s not exactly a nuanced observation to say that the big names throughout wrestling have been larger guys. But the pressure to be a giant hasn’t exactly gone away in the new millennium, even as an expanded awareness about body positivity is just beginning to breach into the mainstream. The discussion around the policing of bodies has largely been facilitated by women questioning society’s rigid beauty standards and the fashion industry’s unhealthy obsession with skinniness, but the extent the dialogue can be carried over to wrestling is perhaps under-discussed.

We spoke with several pro wrestlers who said that the immense pressure to fit a specific beauty standard for both men and women in the industry is absolutely related to the ways that those who can achieve the desired gladiator look are given preferential treatment despite a sometimes obvious lack of skill. The rigidity around this aesthetic works both ways, with smaller and larger athletes feeling immense pressure to conform to a specific aesthetic: impossibly tall, incredibly (and sometimes artificially) hyper-muscular, ultra-lean, darkly tanned and ludicrously statuesque.

“I feel like there’s still the cookie cutter look going around still,” says Jack Prater, a pro-wrestler based out of St. Louis, Missouri. “I do feel that there is a way of thinking that you have to be cut from stone to make it anywhere.”

“Hulking-type folks who may not be technically or even character-wise as good are given opportunities just because they are big,” agreed Leo London, a Canadian pro-wrestler. “I feel there’s definitely a glass ceiling in place [for anyone not of a certain size]… I‘ve always had body and image issues and being a wrestler has worsened it.”

If that’s the case, then perhaps the lack of enthusiasm for 205 has little to do with the show itself or the internal politics around it and more to do with industry stalwarts’ conscious and unconscious biases against smaller athletes—who, in their view, can’t ever be megastars simply because of their size.

Read More: What Does Creative Control Look Like in Pro Wrestling?

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Sports Strength

Here’s What You Wear to the NBA Draft

It’s the afternoon before the NBA Draft, and Bruno Fernando is examining himself in the mirror.

“I look really good,” he says, almost stunned. “That’s crazy.” In a few hours, he’ll be the first ever Angola native to be selected in the NBA Draft. Right now, he’s getting styled by Adri Zgirdea—designer sneaker boxes line the walls, and gifting suite bags fill the rest of the room. A few agency reps and friends mill about, making sure Fernando is ready in time. Fernando eventually selects a pair of studded black Louboutin sneakers, shoes that match the piping on his dark blue, double-breasted tux. The jacket has a special lining, a hybrid Maryland Terrapin and Angola national flag pattern designed by Alec Stewart. 

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Sneakers by Christian Louboutin
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The suit is custom from blvdier clothier

Bruno is attending the draft with his agent, his brother and his “little brother,” fellow Angola native Silvio de Sousa, who is currently a junior forward at Kansas. His phone blows up with a FaceTime request about once every four seconds; his parents are watching at home in Angola, which is five hours ahead of EST. “No one’s sleeping tonight,” says Fernando.

The car ride from Midtown to Barclay’s Center isn’t helping the anxiety of waiting for a life-changing moment, but Fernando focuses on keeping his suit straight in the car. He watches the highlight video Maryland’s social media team produced to celebrate his NBA Draft, a clip that features his teammates signing a big banner commemorating his pioneering night in Brooklyn. He eases up. The stress of loading into the car during a torrential downpour evaporates; “There’s blessings in the water,” Fernando says. As we cross into Brooklyn, a rainbow appears east of the Brooklyn Bridge. Good vibes abound.

Finally, Fernando arrives at the Barclays Center and he’s surrounded by friends. It’s about to be a special night. He looks really good. 

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The custom lining designed by Alec Stewart
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Brooch and bowtie by Gucci (care of Barneys NY)
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Sports Strength

The Los Angeles Lakers Are Now the NBA Title Favorites

When the futures odds for next year’s NBA Finals were posted on May 4, the Warriors stood out as the prohibitive favorites. A lot has changed since then!

As you well know by now, the Toronto Raptors are the sitting NBA Champions. Kevin Durant. the jewel of the NBA’s free agency period, ruptured his Achilles in Game 5 and will be out for over a year, dashing his many suitors’ immediate plans. Klay Thompson tore his ACL and probably won’t be back on the court until next March, which also casts his free agency into immediate doubt. No one knows what Kawhi Leonard, the Finals MVP, wants. The Warriors are no longer heavy favorites; that would be the Los Angeles Lakers, who traded for Anthony Davis over the weekend. 

From a parity perspective, the Lakers’ ascendance in the eyes of Vegas makes sense. The Western Conference’s dynasty, the Warriors, just got dealt a number of huge setbacks, just as crucial financial decision deadlines loom. As rumors swirled that a trade for AD was nearing completion late last week, the Lakers slid down to 5-1 from 20-1. Now, with AD in the mix, Vegas is even more bullish on the Lakers, seemingly anticipating another superstar (Kemba Walker, maybe?) joining the fold in L.A.

However, the Lakers’ sudden rise to title favorite is a head-snapping plot twist. Even with LeBron having a very good season, it wasn’t enough to drag the Lakers into the Western Conference playoffs. Is Anthony Davis that much of a game-changer, or is the Western Conference diluted now that the Warriors won’t have two of their four-star contributors? How will the Lakers’ filling out of their gutted roster affect those odds?

These odds will fluctuate in the coming weeks, especially as Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving decide on their futures. If Kawhi comes back, the Raptors are sure to be favored—the fact that they’re 10/1 reflects the fact that oddsmakers don’t think he’s staying. (For a hint on where the smart money thinks he’s headed, take a gander at that L.A. Clippers futures bet—7/1). 

So much is yet to shake out. 12/1 on Philly looks worth a spin, given that they only lost to the Raptors by one shot. This offseason just got way more interesting, but not for the reasons we thought.

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Sports Strength

Talkin’ ’Bout Ketchup with Patrick Mahomes

Last fall, an ESPN magazine profile of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes revealed something shocking: Mahomes puts ketchup on everything. The habit went ludicrously far, to the point that Mahomes admitted to slapping ketchup between two slices of plain bread and eating that as often as two or three times a week. As he got older, Mahomes grew embarrassed to ask for ketchup, even though he wanted it; at steakhouses, his mother, Randi, would order it instead and slip it to him on the sly.

“I had gotten to a point where I’d ask for ketchup and the chef would come out to me because they thought that I thought something was wrong with their steak,” says Mahomes, calling in from the Chiefs’ training facility in Kansas City, Missouri. “And I was like, man, I just like ketchup.”

This information immediately went viral. An athlete from an older generation might have instantly gone into damage control mode, posing with famous chefs in steakhouse kitchens, flaunting unadorned prime cuts. But having grown up in an era where social media is every millennial’s second language, Patrick did something awesome: He leaned into it. Ketchup brands went nuts for it.

Heinz promised Mahomes a lifetime supply of ketchup if he passed for 57 touchdowns, which, in hindsight, was a lofty ask for a pro athlete who had been bombarded with free ketchup from the moment his affinity for ketchup went viral. (The record for touchdowns in a season is 55. If Mahomes had passed for 57, free ketchup would be the least of his concerns.)

Eventually, Hunt’s called—they had to have Mahomes as their spokesperson. Dan Skinner, the communications manager for Conagra Brands (which own Hunts), flew to Kansas City to woo Mahomes. Shortly thereafter, the biggest endorsement deal in the history of ketchup was struck.

ONE37pm talked to Mahomes about the deal, social media, the important distinctions between barbecue sauce, ketchup and other condiments, and his role in the development of Hunt’s new all-natural Best Ever ketchup formula.

ONE37pm: So, was there a bidding war? Heinz said they’d give you a lifetime supply of ketchup if you got to 57. 

Mahomes: A lot [of companies] called my agent. I got frigging ketchup from everywhere. There were companies I’d never even heard of that were sending me ketchups, and different styles of ketchups. I finally had to give some away, because I had a whole cabinet full of just ketchup from all these different ketchup companies. I was getting it for about two or three weeks after [the story went viral]. But it was a cool deal.

I mean, it was crazy when it happened, especially through social media. But I’ve definitely already gotten probably a lifetime supply of Hunt’s ketchup. So I think I’m good there.

You play in a market that is uniquely obsessed with barbecue and barbecue sauce. To you, what’s the major distinction between ketchup and barbecue sauce?

Mahomes: I only eat barbecue sauce with barbecue food, from the restaurant. If I take some home in a little to-go box or something like that, I usually eat ketchup with it at home. So I don’t know what’s so weird about me about that. But definitely while I’m eating barbecue food at restaurants, I use barbecue sauce. Sometimes I like a little spicy—kind of depends on what kind of barbecue food I’m eating.

Do you have a favorite spot in town? 

Mahomes: I’ve been eating Joe’s a lot. That’s been the one that I’ve been going to and getting delivered a lot. I’ve been on Joe’s. It was Jack Stack, now it’s Joe’s. So I kind of just gotta make my rounds.

What sealed the deal for Hunt’s? 

Mahomes: The biggest thing that I do with all my endorsement deals is always meet the people first. I always want to know who I’m trying to deal with and what kind of people they are. And I feel like that was a big deal for me, getting to meet those people and understanding that they are really good people and that they want to help me build my brand in the best way possible, as well as theirs. And then, obviously, I’ve used Hunt’s ketchup my whole life. So I knew I liked it, I knew I loved everything they were about, and I know that they’re going to keep trying to get better and better every single year.

I sense a divide between athletes who grew up with social media and those who didn’t. Do you see that kind of divide in the athlete community and in the locker room? 

Mahomes: I don’t know if it’s necessarily a divide. But being able to see what it was like when I was in high school and in college and watching the show, with me being the one tweeting at pro athletes, being able to conversate with them, and then now, being a pro athlete, I understand what it’s like, just because I’ve been on both sides of it. But I don’t know if it’s necessarily a divide. People are starting to really understand social media and the impact it has in our daily lives. And so I just kind of try to be authentic to who I am and try to keep that rolling.

What’s the next category you’re dying to break into?

Mahomes: I have some that are in the works already; I can’t really announce yet. But I mean right now I’m pretty set on where I’m at. I can kind of knock them out here soon, and then I’ll have a lot of free time where I can go out there and get ready for the football season. I’m excited about the opportunity to keep building my brand.

For more stories related to athletes’ individual business interests and partnerships, check out our 30 Most Entrepreneurial Athletes series.

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Sports Strength

How Custom Cleats Is Reinventing Baseball Style

The custom sneaker business is booming. With athletes yearning to stand out on the court and on the field, and leagues like the NBA and NFL loosening their restrictive color policies, the opportunity for custom designs has risen. Custom Cleats has become one of the premier customizers of cleats in sports. Started by Anthony Ambrosini in 2004, Custom Cleats has customized shoes for the likes of Marcell Ozuna, Clint Frazier, Russell Martin and more.

A former minor league catcher in the Montreal Expos system, Ambrosini decided to start his business after helping his brother Dominick manage a foot injury. The company grew after establishing a relationship with catcher Russell Martin, who was with the Yankees at the time.

The brand received exposure this season thanks to Yankees outfielder Clint Frazier breaking out some heat. This season, Frazier had the Air Jordan 11 “Concord,” Nigel Sylvester’s Air Jordan 1 collab, the Jordan 1 High OG Travis Scott and the Air Fear of God 1 all customized by Custom Cleats.

Ambrosini spoke with ONE37pm about how he started Custom Cleats, his side hustle stuffing envelopes at a young age and the first big break for his company.

When did you start Custom Cleats?

Anthony Ambrosini: In 2004. I started it when I was a minor league baseball player.

What made you think of doing that? 

Ambrosini: I always had a passion for baseball growing up, but I always did want to start my own business and pave my own way. I was the kind of kid who would go into the PennySavers and order… I don’t know if I’m dating myself, but there were always ads about making money by stuffing envelopes for companies.

So it would be, like, send $35 in, we’ll send you the equipment. At 12 or 13, I would send $35 in, expecting to make money stuffing envelopes for these companies. I always wanted to make my own money and create my own business, so I think that was definitely a passion at a young age.

When you started the company, what were you thinking? How did you come up with the idea to work with cleats and with sneakers?

Ambrosini: I’ve always had a background with construction, working with my hands. So I always had a know-how of how to work with machinery. But the reason why I started or came up with the idea was I played in the minor leagues with my younger brother Dominick.

We were both in low A ball out in the Midwest League one year, and he ended up suffering a stress fracture in his foot. He would wear sneakers and turf shoes through batting practice and infield and outfield all the way through to game time because regular cleats would just kill his feet.

Obviously, once the game started he would have to wear the cleats because there was no other option. Being an older brother and having a general know-how of how to do things, I said that I could try to incorporate the shoe that he wants to wear and try to put some type of traction on the bottom.

It started as a really low-level kind of concoction. I would run at the field where we were playing and the cleat would fly off, and I’d be like “Wow, that doesn’t work.” It took about a year and a half to get a reliable cleat that I could give him to wear. So once he wore the cleats that I felt comfortable with him wearing, five guys in the clubhouse wanted them. And at the time when I came up with a cleat that worked, we were in high A ball in the Florida State League.

That process of testing the models took a year. A lot of people don’t have the patience to deal with failure when something doesn’t work out early on. What kept you moving through the process, and what was it like seeing it work out in the end?

Ambrosini: I’m a very determined person, so once I set my mind to something, I’m going to do it. I didn’t care if it took me one year or 20 years. I didn’t care, I wanted to figure out how to do it, I was on a mission. The failures of the prototypes that didn’t work didn’t slow me down at all.

Once I had a cleat that he wore, that sense of accomplishment when he came off the field and said “My feet feel so much better wearing these cleats than the other ones I’ve had” made me feel good.

You built a pretty big following recently. Yankees outfielder Clint Frazier is someone who comes to mind. What was your first big break in terms of a client or athlete who helped bring more exposure or attention early on?

Ambrosini: Sure, that’s an easy one. The guy who always was vocal about what I was doing and was in the big leagues was Russell Martin.

How did that situation happen? 

Ambrosini: We started working together almost ten years ago when he was with the Yankees. Rob Cucuzza, the equipment manager for the New York Yankees, had called me and it was one of those moments where I missed the phone call and he left a voicemail. And I was listening to the voicemail and I was in disbelief, like “Wait, is this the New York Yankees?” Like, there’s no way.

Then I called him back, and sure enough, Russell Martin wanted me to make him some cleats. Then I realized this was really starting to spread. Once Russell Martin got his cleats, every single team that he signed with, I would get a grouping of players because he would talk about Custom Cleats so well.

How big of a role does social media play for you when a player like Russell Martin or Clint Frazier is wearing cleats that you customized?

Ambrosini: I believe it serves as a huge role because everybody wants to see what the new cleat is that’s coming out, and then if I have a grouping of major league baseball players who are wearing the cleats, it gives me some validity. The amateur customer who was thinking of doing a conversion but wasn’t really sure if it was a real thing, they see these players that are on television wearing custom cleats and now the name of Custom Cleats is out there. It has helped a lot. 

I read that you specifically work in baseball and golf. Do you ever want to expand into football or other sports that use cleats?

Ambrosini: We have made some football cleats. It’s very spotty, but we made a pair of cleats for Dez Bryant for the championship game. I’m not really sure if he wore them. I don’t think he did. I made a lot of cleats for Terrell Suggs when he was with the Ravens.

Now I’ve teamed up with Flight Club, and they are approaching their NFL clients and asking them if they would want conversions. We just did three pairs of conversions for Denver Broncos cornerback Kareem Jackson. We did a couple pairs of Kobes for him.

We’ve seen some players wanting to wear Kobes or Jordans, shoes that are normally basketball shoes, and using them unconventionally in other sports. What do you make of that?

Ambrosini: It’s the main reason I started the company. I knew there was a need and a want throughout professional sports and amateur sports. People do want to be able to express themselves in their own way, and the amount of sneakers, styles and colorways gives them such a big opportunity to pick something that’s personal to them. There are a lot of cleat options, but nowhere near the sneaker options out there.

What are some goals you have for Custom Cleats?

Ambrosini: Just to keep growing. I enjoy working with the professional athletes, and amateur athletes for that matter. I want to keep making cleats and I enjoy what I do. I want to get bigger and bigger, if that’s the plan.

Here’s how customs have changed the NBA’s sneaker game

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Sports Strength

What Does Creative Control Look Like in Pro Wrestling?

Earlier this month, in an interview with wrestling industry icon Chris Jericho that appears to have shaken the entire subculture, pro wrestler Jon Moxley (FKA Dean Ambrose) revealed the tortuous machinations of WWE’s bizarre scripting process. Exploring the Sisyphean tasks that WWE talent endure while attempting to have their voices heard, Moxley berated the tortuous and tyrannical logic of Vince McMahon and his team, who had sucked the joy from Moxley’s career before he was released from his contract in April.

But why was creative control so important for Moxley? And what do artistic liberties have to do with pro wrestling, anyway?

For outsiders, the distinction between what is “real” and “fake” within pro wrestling remains a complicated binary to navigate. Most wrestlers will tell you wrestling isn’t fake, it’s just predetermined—but perhaps that undersells the narrative function of pro wrestling as a medium. Because of the formal structure of pro wrestling, which tends to resemble a serial film sequence more than a traditional competition, an implicit element of fictionality is baked into the sport.

The truth of the matter is that while many of the moves in pro wrestling are delivered with “real” intensity—but are executed with minimizing injuries in mind, barring accidents or mistakes—pretty much everything that happens in the ring is planned for the purposes of telling a story. If you see it, it’s a work—or so I’ve been told by several personalities. Do the performers openly discuss the “fake”-ness of pro wrestling with fans? No, of course not—in the same way that superheroes don’t look into the camera and announce to the audience that they’re watching a movie (Deadpool aside).

But one of the differences between wrestling and big-screen caped crusaders is that wrestlers usually create their own characters, unlike the movie stars who play the Avengers. Wrestlers come up with the concepts, designs, aesthetics, attitudes, gestures and other characterizations for their alter egos all on their own. When an independent wrestler signs with a bigger company, they may find parts of their original vision edited or completely reinvented, but it’s likely they were chosen because of their unique outlook to begin with. It’s not so different from an indie musician signing with a major record label.

The fate of a wrestling character waxes and wanes depending on the bookers of the shows they find themselves on, and wrestlers are expected to obey the people who book them, even if they are booked to lose. In exchange, bookers tend to work in good faith with performers, allowing them some liberties to stay true to their characters within each show. Bookers are usually willing to listen to input from the athletes on the direction and sometimes even outcomes of matches. While some bookers focus on creating epics that may extend over years, decades and sometimes even literal generations, others work harder on easily consumable short-form stories that exist for one night only.

This is part of the problem. In the case of WWE, as per testimony from countless talent and insiders, 73-year-old billionaire Vince McMahon is the sole arbiter of every plot, of every word spoken, of everything within the company at all. Despite or because of this, an entire massive production team of writers, market testers and other assorted executives work to please him and him alone. What appears to have largely gotten left behind is input from the performers themselves.

In Moxley’s words, via Jericho’s podcast: “They take away the thing that you love. Like I was saying, being obsessed with wrestling 24/7, it’s like they take it away from you. ‘Oh, don’t worry about coming up with your own promos, we have a writer. Don’t worry about coming up with cool things to do in your matches, cause we have producers who will tell you exactly what to do in your matches. Don’t bother thinking of story lines, ’cause we’ve already written ’em for you.’”

“Don’t be an artist and be creative,” Jericho echoed.

In an international mega-company worth more than a billion dollars, it’s no surprise that an element of creative spontaneity has to be managed in a careful way so as to minimize unexpected blunders and maximize profits. But it’s also no surprise that the artistic product created from this attitude sometimes comes across as heartless.

This is precisely why the internet is lousy with so many rumors of unhappy WWE talent threatening to leave for smaller brands that may offer them more control over their own characters. In fact, All Elite Wrestling—the burgeoning brand spawned from wrestling scion Cody Rhodes’s discontent with WWE—has already promised that wrestlers will write their own promos, thus returning some autonomy to the performers.

The concept of “creative control” remains idiosyncratic within wrestling, but the dilemmas faced by the current talent, who sometimes must make a choice between financial stability and artistic integrity, are relatively new problems.

As a postscript to these musings, it seems notable that when Moxley popped up at AEW and New Japan Pro-Wrestling within days of his so-called WWE emancipation, he appeared with an entirely new attitude and a new look. No longer the wisecracking and goofy family-friendly lunatic, he literally scratched and bit his way to the IWGP United States Championship, defeating Juice Robinson amidst a flurry of middle fingers. He was himself again.

Recently, ONE37pm chatted with underground wrestling legend Mike Quackenbush