From undrafted to sneaker deal: How Derrick Jones Jr. landed with Puma after Dunk Contest win


It wasn’t always like this, but life these days is good for Miami Heat high-flyer Derrick Jones Jr.

He went undrafted in 2016 out of UNLV. He caught on with the Suns as a 19-year-old but spent most of his early NBA days bouncing around in the then-D-League. He surprisingly earned a bid to compete in the 2017 Slam Dunk Contest, but fell short in the final round to Glenn Robinson III. 

So much has changed since, but that was probably one of the last times things didn’t go Jones’ way.

Now, he’s an integral part of an ahead-of-schedule playoff team in Miami. He defied gravity during prime time and won one of the more memorable Dunk Contests in recent history.

The trophy wasn’t the only thing Jones walked away with after that victory during All-Star Weekend. He also inked a multiyear footwear and apparel deal with Puma almost three years to the day since coming up short on the same stage.

From undrafted to a sneaker deal with a major brand.

“Being undrafted, that made me just have a chip on my shoulder. It made me want to prove to the world that I can do what I do and stay at this level,” Jones told CBS Sports. “There were a lot of doubters and all that but through everything I always fought and kept going. After the Dunk Contest when I got my shoe deal it felt like that pressure was just lifted away from me, like I didn’t have to prove myself anymore.”

The buildup to the deal was a long process. Jones is a legit sneakerhead whose locker deep within the confines of the American Airlines Arena is always filled to capacity with a variety of kicks. 

Jones wore custom Pumas for the contest even before signing the deal. He went to sneaker customizer Marcus Rivero to put together the perfect design for his big moment.

“Just putting my character on there, having that was fire,” Jones said. “Everyone loves the shirts, everyone loves the graphics so why not put them on the shoes. Then we had the Miami vibe to it so it all came together.”

If he needed someone to nudge him in the direction of Puma early on, then he definitely got that in teammate Kendrick Nunn, who left All-Star Weekend in his hometown of Chicago with a Puma deal, too.

Two undrafted teammates leaving the NBA’s midseason extravaganza with sneaker deals.

“It’s just great,” Jones said. “[Nunn] was the first one wearing Puma and I asked him how he liked them. He told me they felt like clouds so I was like ‘let me try them then.’ I tried them, I liked them and was always in conversations with him and the Puma people and always tried to make sure that we could take that next step to getting closer and closer to signing that deal. Then [Nunn] told me he was doing it and I liked the shoes enough that I made that move.”

You can’t take the smile off Nunn’s face when he’s discussing landing his Puma deal and the fact that he did it alongside Jones.

“It’s a dream come true,” Nunn said. “Me and him are both undrafted and that makes it even bigger. I’m happy for him always.”

Jones has had to make some changes since signing his deal. His overflowing locker isn’t too packed anymore. Shipments from Puma are starting to come in, but he’s taking things into his own hands to get his collection back to where he wants it. 

He admits to making “too much of a purchase” on the Puma website because he needs to get all the Puma Lifestyle gear. His favorite shoes so far are the Clyde Hardwoods and the Sky Dreamers.

Jones might still be catching up, but he wants it to be known that his status as one of the league’s biggest sneakerheads won’t change.

“I got a whole lot of stuff,” Jones says as he turns to his locker and points out a couple of his latest Puma additions. “I’m going to bring a whole lot out. I’m trying to get as many colorways and if I don’t get any crazy colorways, I’m going to have crazy customs. Either way you’re going to see some fire on my feet.”





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