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Originally published March 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 11, 2007 at 3:03 AM

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Percy Allen

Star power — without footing a big bill

Tricia Patton might just be Stephon Marbury's biggest fan. However, she has never seen a game at Madison Square Garden and she'll admit...

Seattle Times NBA reporter

NEW YORK — Tricia Patton might just be Stephon Marbury's biggest fan. However, she has never seen a game at Madison Square Garden and she'll admit that all she really knows about the Knicks guard is that he plays in the NBA and grew up in New York.

"Somewhere in the Bronx," she said.

Actually, Brooklyn. Coney Island, to be exact.

But that's not the point. What matters to Patton, a 37-year-old mother of two adolescent boys, is she believes Marbury was thinking of her and people like her when he bucked the trend of peers and launched a line of inexpensive basketball shoes and athletic gear priced at less than $15.

"I can get three for the price of one," said Patton, who stood in line at Steve & Barry's University Sportswear flagship store in Manhattan with her arms full with boxes of the Starbury One, Marbury's signature inexpensive high-top sneakers.

They're for her sons, she said, teenagers with differing tastes in fashion. Her oldest, Marcus, she playfully calls Carrie because the 17-year-old has a shoe fetish for high-end footwear that rivals the "Sex in the City" character's obsession for Manolo Blahnik. Her youngest, Jamar, 13, is a budding hoops star.

"He just wants shoes that he can play in, but the other one, he wants what his friends have, Nikes and things like that," Patton said. "I don't mind getting that for him, but I'd rather buy these if they're just as good."

And that's the billion-dollar question. Will anyone spend $15 on shoes that normally retail between $100 to 200?

Marbury believes they will. In fact, he's convinced of it. Raised in the Coney Island public-housing project, he recounts stories of when his mother couldn't afford shoes for his six brothers and sisters.

So when his endorsement deal with And 1 expired, he approached executives at Steve & Barry's with a not-so revolutionary idea of marketing to the masses. They adopted an unorthodox approach. Compared to other shoe companies, their advertising budget is next to nothing. They rely on word-of-mouth promotion, and the shoes are sold exclusively at Steve & Barry's, which could be a problem.

"After we launched, it was chaos in all of our stores," said Andy Todd, president of Steve & Barry's. "We had 1,000 people waiting in line and we sold out what we thought was a couple of months of shoes in two to three days."

The company declined to release sales figures, but Marbury has said that more than three million pairs have sold since the August 2006 debut.

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Todd calls it the Cabbage Patch Doll phenomenon, while Marbury says it's a grassroots movement.

"There was this outreach that everyone was saying was along the lines of Martin Luther King or Muhammad Ali," Todd said. "Where other star players are charging $200, Steph is looking out for the neighborhoods where he grew up."

Todd tells a story of the reception Marbury received in Minneapolis during a 40-city promotional tour. Three days before his arrival, a youth was shot and killed while being robbed of his $250 jersey. So when Marbury arrived with his $14.98 shoes, he was treated to a hero's welcome.

"Our jerseys are $10," Todd said. "Nobody is going to shoot anybody for a $10 jersey. We kept hearing how important this is to the community. Not just saving money, but saving lives."

The launch was so successful, Marbury will roll out a second signature shoe, the Starbury II, in a few weeks. Still, many market analysts are waiting — pardon the pun — for the other shoe to drop.

"I don't think it's going to have much of impact on the industry for a couple of reasons," said Matt Powell, chief retail analyst at SportsOnesSource, a Princeton, N.J.-based company that tracks sporting good sales. "They're only a handful relatively of Steve and Barry stores [just three in the state of Washington]. I think they got 150 outlets as compared to Foot Locker, which has 4,000 outlets."

Ever since Michael Jordan showed up at the 1984 All-Star Game with a pair of signature Nikes, the Swoosh has been the reigning king of the $17 billion shoe market, controlling 80 percent of the industry. While Adidas spent $400 million for an 11-year deal to dress NBA players, Marbury is taking a different approach.

"People have tried to make some noise about the price of the shoe, but selling inexpensive shoes has been done before," Powell said. "Shaquille O'Neal sells a shoe at Payless for $25, and that shoe has not had a significant impact on the industry."

To be sure, Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing also attempted to sell cheap shoes to the masses. The difference, however, is Marbury is putting his feet where his mouth is.

The two-time All-Star, who is the fifth-highest-paid player in the league, wears a pair of his discount shoes for every game.

"You've got to stand behind what you say," Marbury said. "You're only as good as your word. Who would believe me if I wasn't out there in them? Nobody. ... But this isn't about me. It's about the people and giving back to the people that put me here."

The price of fashion
Some of the top-selling basketball shoes and their pitchmen:
Shoe Company Price Player Endorsement deal
T-MAC 6 Adidas $200 Tracy McGrady Lifetime deal, $75M
KG Bounce Adidas $200 Kevin Garnett Lifetime deal, $45M
Air Jordan XX2 Jordan Brand $175 Michael Jordan Undisclosed
Air Force 25 Nike $175 Amare Stoudemire $3M annually
LeBron IV Nike $150 LeBron James 7 years, $90M
Kobe I Nike $130 Kobe Bryant 5 years, 45M
Answer X Reebok $125 Allen Iverson Lifetime deal, $50M
Jordan Melo M3 Jordan Brand $115 Carmelo Anthony 5 years, $20M
Wade 2.0 Converse $100 Dwyane Wade 6 years, $50M
Starbury One Steve & Barry's $15 Stephon Marbury Nothing
Sources: SportsOneSource, Sports Business Weekly, PR Week and Eastbay.

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