There were two things Dallas-area native Tyrese Maxey noticed when he first arrived in Philadelphia after being drafted by the 76ers in 2020 from Kentucky.
First, he was going to need a coat. TO real coat.
And second, many of the people he saw were wearing New Balance shoes.
“Being in the city of Philadelphia, that’s all I see,” Maxey told The Athletic. “When you hit the streets, when you’re living downtown.”
Athletes can take on the personality of a city — including the fashion. Now, the Texas-born Sixers guard has a little more Philly in him after New Balance announced Wednesday it signed Maxey as a brand ambassador.
— New Balance Basketball (@newbalancehoops) January 11, 2023
The roots of Philadelphia’s obsession with New Balance are tied to the 1980s. New Balance released a $100 running shoe, the 990, in 1982, at a shocking price more than 40 years ago. The shoe instantly became a status symbol because of the cost for runners or anyone who wanted to show they had cash while being comfortable.
Over time, it would be said by some that the “N” on the shoe represented “North” for North Philly, and the comfortable shoe was favored by those on the streets hustling all day. Whatever the reason, the shoe is a part of the region’s fashion makeup, and Maxey is happy to be a part of the New Balance family.
Shoes are as big a part of a city’s personality as its sports team. Timberland boots are synonymous with the New York rap scene. Converse Chuck Taylor shoes have been ingrained in West Coast hip-hop culture for decades.
New Balance has been a central part of the shoe scene in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. Maxey can show off the running shoes when he isn’t on the court, and those in the city have noticed as Maxey has been seen more wearing New Balance.
“Being on the East Coast, it’s cold and people are big on coats and things like that, and they’re huge on New Balance out here. It’s amazing to see,” Maxey said. “It’s cool to be a part of it now because when I walk around with mine on, they’re complimenting the ones I have on. It’s funny how I always hear them say, ‘Maxey, those jawns right there are fires.’”
Beyond the Philadelphia connections, Maxey’s friends and other NBA players are associated with the basketball brand. He said the relationship his agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group, has with New Balance wasn’t a major factor signing with the company.
It was more about the on-court relationships for Maxey.
“My intro to the brand on the basketball side was, of course, Kawhi (Leonard), seeing it on him from afar, and then when I got into the league,” Maxey said. “Then (there is) Dejounte Murray and Jamal Murray. Not just because they’re with New Balance but because one is with Klutch (Dejounte), and one is also from Kentucky, and they’re guards at my position. I’ve been seeing what they’ve been wearing, and it’s been really cool.”
As Maxey recovered from a November foot injury that sidelined him for more than a month, he thought about which shoe he’d wear when he returned to the lineup Dec. 30. He opted for a bright shoe, a greenish-yellow highlighter.
You couldn’t miss them. And the message behind the choice was simple.
“Happy to be back,” Maxey said.
That’s just the start. Maxey already is thinking of unique colorways for the remainder of the season. It’s an opportunity for him to see how flashy he can be with his footwear.
“I have a lot of different things in mind,” he said. “My mind is always moving, and the creative juices that I have are flowing.”
Maxey, however, won’t go as far as to call himself creative or an artist in a broader sense. He knows his lane of him.
“I feel like with shoes, yes,” Maxey said. “I’m not a big drawer or anything like that, but shoes tell stories sometimes. I’ve been big on that since I was a child.”
Maxey said his family is enjoying wearing New Balance gear, and he’s looking forward to partnering on public service, which is important to him. Maxey believes he’s part of something on the rise, much like he is with his NBA career.
In 21 games played, Maxey is averaging a career-high 21.2 points in his third season. He also is averaging four assists and three rebounds and is shooting 40.3 percent from the 3-point line.
“One thing that I’m looking forward to is, one, building relationships, and two, helping them build the brand,” Maxey said. “It’s extremely hot right now, and I feel like one of the things I want to do is push out all these different colorways and these different flavors that they already have in place, the different styles that they have in place. And then the community work, as well.”
Though Philadelphia has influenced his fashion, it hasn’t overtaken Maxey’s lingo.
“I don’t say ‘jawn’ that much,” Maxey said when asked whether he used one of the area’s most popular slang words. “I catch myself saying it a little bit. I don’t say it that much.”
The fans might not have won Maxey over with slang, but they have with their passion. It’s another reason he’s so fond of Philadelphia.
“I love the fans here,” he said. “I love them because they’re real, they’re honest, they’re tough. They know the game. They know what they’re talking about. They know what players are getting out of it. They care about winning, and that’s what I care about. I like putting in the work. I like being successful when I put in the work and when we put in the work as a group, and it matters.”
(Top photo: David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)