When An NBA Star Used His Name To Make Shoes Less Expensive Famous basketball players usually charge more when their names appear on them. But what happened when an NBA All-Star tried to use his name to charge less?
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When An NBA Star Used His Name To Make Shoes Less Expensive

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When An NBA Star Used His Name To Make Shoes Less Expensive

When An NBA Star Used His Name To Make Shoes Less Expensive

When An NBA Star Used His Name To Make Shoes Less Expensive

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/540965328/540965329" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Famous basketball players usually charge more when their names appear on them. But what happened when an NBA All-Star tried to use his name to charge much, much less? Stephon Marbury recalls the the great "Starbury" sneaker experiment.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Normally when a celebrity athlete endorses a product, it gets more expensive. Kenny Malone from our Planet Money podcast tells us about one big-name basketball star trying to use his name to make his sneakers cheaper - much, much cheaper.

KENNY MALONE, BYLINE: All right, Stephon is taking his shoe off. He is holding it up.

STEPHON MARBURY: (Laughter).

MALONE: Stephon Marbury is a two-time NBA All-Star who is not afraid of a bold sneaker choice.

I'm colorblind, so I think it's like a salmon.

MARBURY: It's like a salmon pink.

MALONE: But Marbury's boldest sneaker choice came in 2006 when he launched the Starbury, a basketball sneaker that cost $15.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Another basketball star is lending his name to a new sneaker.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Stephon Marbury unveils his line of high tops at a low cost.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Making them affordable for low-income families.

MALONE: Marbury was everywhere explaining how, when he was a little kid, he couldn't afford fancy shoes. And so he partnered with Steve & Barry's, a discount retail chain, to make this affordable sneaker. But interview after interview, the same question would come up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: One question I might ask is, are you cutting corners at the production end? 'Cause that's a sensitive issue.

MARBURY: Not at all. This shoe is...

MALONE: What the Starbury had was a price signaling problem because in retail, we use price as a signal of how good an item is. So the $15 price tag had unintentionally signaled that the Starbury was garbage. Stephon Marbury tried to fight this a couple of ways. For one, he challenged people to take an expensive shoe and his shoe...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARBURY: And you cut both of the shoes down the middle with a chainsaw, it'll do the same exact thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: You'll see the same thing.

MALONE: He did this over and over until finally...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARBURY: Cut it down the half, and it'll do the same exact thing.

JOHN STOSSEL: Really?

MALONE: John Stossel of "20/20" actually took him up on this, took two shoes to a sneaker expert...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STOSSEL: So he cut both shoes up. And he and others in the business concluded...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: They are constructed the same way.

MALONE: Marbury decided there was really one way to fight this price signaling problem once and for all.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: The opening tip controlled by...

MALONE: On November 1 in 2006, Stephon Marbury wore his $15 sneakers in a real NBA game. And it seemed to be going great until the third quarter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Oh, Stephon has turned his ankle. He's asking to come out of the game.

MALONE: He hobbled over to the bench.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #3: Remember, he's playing in those reduced priced shoes.

MALONE: It was not the shoe, though. Someone had kicked him in the shin or something.

MARBURY: You know, it's part of basketball.

MALONE: Marbury wore $15 sneakers for the entire season, and sales did great. In total, he sold over 4 million pairs of affordable sneakers. But in 2008, the financial crisis hit. The Steve & Barry's company went bankrupt, and around the same time, Marbury left the NBA. And for a lot of people who followed the Starbury story, this was where the great affordable shoe experiment ended. But it turned out it was not the end.

MARBURY: (Speaking Chinese).

MALONE: And what does that mean?

MARBURY: I love China.

MALONE: Stephon Marbury went to play in the Chinese Basketball Association, where he led the Beijing Ducks to three championships. He has become a legend in China.

MARBURY: It's like a whole new life, baby. I can't tell you no lie. (Laughter) it's the truth - statues, museums.

MALONE: Am I mistaken? There was, like, a musical also?

MARBURY: Yeah, I did a musical.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "I WAS MARBURY")

MARBURY: (As himself) From that moment, our lives connect.

MALONE: Vice News went and recorded this play.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "I WAS MARBURY")

MARBURY: (As himself) I am Marbury.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, speaking Chinese).

MARBURY: (As himself) We all are Marbury.

MALONE: Stephon Marbury is now very well connected in the global hub of sneaker manufacturing. And so six years after it looked like his quest for cheap sneakers had died, Marbury is going to try and bring back the Starbury. There's a limited run available online, and the company is starting to ramp up production for a relaunch.

Can you still make and sell basketball sneakers for $15 that you could play basketball in?

MARBURY: Yes, you can because I want all the little kids to be happy when they're playing on the court with a fresh pair of kicks, you know what I'm saying? That's what it's really about.

MALONE: This time around, Stephon Marbury will also include a couple of higher-end shoes in his line. For him, that means 50, 60 bucks. Kenny Malone, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDREW BIRD SONG, "TRUTH LIES LOW")

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