NBA All-Star Weekend has transcended beyond being just a celebration of basketball to become the biggest annual celebration of urban culture. Sure, the game’s biggest stars take center court, but the festivities that happen during All-Star Weekend have almost taken precedence over the game. Basketball is the official sport of the city, with hip-hop and streetwear being its musical and fashion counterparts. Ultimately, they’re all elements of a greater urban culture that has influenced the world. For brands, having a presence during All-Star Weekend is mandatory to maintain a sense of relevance and cool, and this is especially important for sneaker companies. Sneakers and basketball are like peanut butter and jelly, so brands like Nike and Adidas invest heavily on marketing initiatives to win consumer loyalty in a competitive space.

Amongst the brands hosting activations in Los Angeles during All-Star Weekend 2018, Nike and Adidas probably had the biggest presences outside of the NBA. Adidas took constructed an immersive experience in Downtown LA that mimicked a small-scale music festival with exclusive sneaker drops, basketball courts, and an eye-catching brand activation in a warehouse. Deemed the Adidas 747 Warehouse, it housed thousands of sneakerheads and featured performances from an impressive lineup including N.E.R.D, Kid Cudi (with a surprise appearance from Kanye West), and Childish Gambino.

However, while many thirsted over Yeezus, I attended the more low key and exclusive closing event at the Nike Maker’s HQ just down the road. For the weekend Nike took over a space in the Arts District where it hosted product drops, fireside chats, customization experiences, and events that celebrate the “makers of the game”. On its final night, Nike held its own music show headlined by  Nike endorser Kendrick Lamar.

The guest list to the event was tight, making it an ultra-intimate show, which is a rarity nowadays with Kendrick’s superstardom. The accompanying lineup was very strong with Kamaiyah, Sabrina Claudio, and H.E.R., who were all handpicked by Lamar for this special night. I’m a fan of each and everyone held it down, while all decked out in Nike apparel and sneakers, of course. Kendrick rocked his set, and let me tell you, there’s nothing better than seeing someone at the peak of his or her craft up close and personal. It definitely makes you appreciative of their talents.

Granted the event was purely a music show with no explicit promotion of Nike products, but I didn’t think it was necessary to ingrain the Swoosh in the minds of customers. To me, Nike is one of the greatest brands ever because it consistently delivers engaging brand experiences through its products, marketing, retail, and activations. When a brand extends itself beyond its product and creates a community and niche culture around it, that brand is going to be around for a while. Nike influences sneaker culture, which in turn impacts the greater urban culture. Everyone already knows the shoes. It’s about connecting that Swoosh to ancillary momentos like a Kendrick Lamar, so whenever you listen to Good Kid. M.A.A.D City or DAMN you’ll be reminded of that amazing night that Nike provided you for free.  

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Rex Pham

Originally from the Bay Area, who then moved to Los Angeles, then out to New York City. NYU Stern MBA c/o 2014. Inspired by the grind of NYC to create something that has value. Lover of all things digital, culture, and brand strategy.