Kawhi Leonard is one of the best players and weirder dudes in the NBA, so it was surprising but not surprising when he signed a sneaker deal not with Nike or Adidas or Under Armour but New Balance, the company that makes the shoes your dad’s been calling tennis shoes and wearing since the ’80s.
And while Kawhi’s penchant for saying “Board man gets paid” when grabbing a rebound is about as cool as the average dad’s trash talk in a pickup game at the Y, he’s still an NBA superstar, and NBA superstars are by definition cool dudes. The new commercial he shot for New Balance in his hometown (and new professional home) of Los Angeles? Also cool, both in spite of and because it’s inflected with Kawhi’s trademark eccentricity.
A silky rhythm and blues take on the hymn “Higher Ground (I’m Pressing On the Upward Way)” kicks in as Kawhi climbs into a vintage, weathered convertible. He drives around L.A., taking in the palm trees and freeways you’d expect, shown in desaturated shots worthy of your kid’s moodiest Instagram photos.
Intercut with motorist Kawhi are dramatically lit shots of hanging-out-in-a-gym-by-himself Kawhi. He stares at the camera, smashes two balls on the ground at once, dribbles, holds up his shoes, spins around in blue smoke, hits a mid-range jumper, and stands tall with his hands outstretched—you know, stuff you do at basketball practice.
It’s all kind of awesome, and the bipolar ad is almost enough to make us want to pick up a new pair of New Balances.