One of the NBA's First Signature Shoes Is Back on the Street
The new Ralph Sampson franchise honors the PUMA Majesty kicks he rocked in the ‘80s
Born in Harrisonburg, Virginia, in 1960, Ralph Sampson started growing like a weed while he was practicing his jump shot.
In addition to getting taller by the day, the hotshot hoopster’s foot size grew with each passing year and, by the time he was 17, so was his shoe size.
A standout player for four years at The University of Virginia, Sampson was able to find success on the basketball court despite struggling to find a shoe that would fit him, often resorting to combinations of different socks to find something that was somewhat comfortable for his long yet narrow feet.
Luckily, by the time Sampson was taken No. 1 overall in the 1983 NBA draft, relief was on the way.
PUMA, which was already represented on the NBA hardwood by Walt “Clyde” Frazier, inked Sampson to a deal and began making his signature shoe, the Majesty, which made its NBA debut at the same time Sampson did: two days before Halloween of 1983.
Clad in his Majesties, which had been designed to account for Sampson’s arch as well as the narrowness of his feet, Sampson took the court (wearing an extra pair of socks just in case) and went for 18 points with 12 rebounds, three assists and four blocks against 7’2″ San Antonio Spurs center Artis Gilmore.
“It made a big difference,” Sampson tells InsideHook. “It was amazing because it was my first official NBA game, but also because I had my own shoe that had my name on it. First game, first time wearing the shoe. I had just gotten them, maybe two weeks before and I just broke them in a little bit while we were in practice. It was one of those moments you never forget. That was the start of the Majesty and the rest is history.”
That history includes a nine-year NBA career that saw Sampson be named Rookie of the Year, make the All-Star team four times and take home All-Star Game MVP honors in 1985.
Not required to dress up for games the way NBA players are today, Sampson would instead don one of the 100 sweatsuits he owned on game days and coordinate with the pair of PUMAs he’d be wearing to take the court that night.
Though he no longer wears his sweatsuits all that much, his signature PUMAs are still a staple on his feet. “The pants used to be wide, but they’re a bit narrower now,” he says.
Though the original Majesty shoes that were first released during the 1984-85 season became a highly coveted rarity among sneakerheads after eventually being discontinued, PUMA recently introduced a new version of the shoe in both high and low top that’s popped up on the feet of current NBA players like Rudy Gay, Danny Green and Terry Rozier.
“I’ve seen the evolution of PUMA getting back in the business, but I didn’t know they were coming back and going old school,” Sampson says. “I saw them sign Clyde Frazier, and I’m like ‘Oh, that’s pretty interesting because Clyde’s iconic in his own right and they gave him a lifetime contract.’ Then they called me and told me they were bringing my shoe back. I was extremely excited to just be back in the arena. Now it’s ‘cool’ to wear a Ralph Sampson shoe from the ‘80s. It kind of brings me back to the forefront of the sports world with basketball. People always said I was ahead of my time.”
So, what’s it like to be synonymous with a signature shoe and brand the way Michael Jordan is with Nike and Stan Smith is with Adidas?
“I tell people all of the time that PUMA was the icon company that started all of this stuff,” Sampsons says. “It wasn’t Nike, Jordan Brand, Under Armour, Adidas, or any of that. PUMA started it and are now back in it and I think they’ll keep it going. Jordan Brand and all of that stuff is cool and they had the right timing with Michael, but it doesn’t have the same culture and the same start that PUMA has. It doesn’t have the history that PUMA has and they’ll never have that –– obviously in my opinion. It makes me never forget that the sky is the limit.”