October 3, 2017 at 5:10 PM
Walk into the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse before any given game, and you’ll see the standard assortment of baseball apparel and equipment. That day’s jersey and the corresponding hat hang at each locker. Bats and gloves from various companies fill locker shelves. Under Armour, Adidas, Nike and New Balance cleats and sneakers are scattered everywhere.
Almost everything is MLB-issued or sanctioned, but if you look down at a few players’ feet — and squint — you’ll find something out of place, something that belongs down the road in the Wizards’ locker room: tiny NBA logos on the side of otherwise plain white or red socks. These are not just any socks, though. They are the iconic “logo man” socks NBA players have treasured for years — their comfort so legendary that an uproar erupted when the NBA switched to another company for on-court socks two years ago.
“Hey, man, I need some socks,” NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley implored Dwyane Wade in a popular 2009 phone commercial. “Those cushy, cotton, NBA logo socks. I need them for my footsies. They’re so comfortable. … A little bit above your ankles. Hey, hey, hey, give me them socks!”
Over the years, the socks have trickled from basketball players onto the feet of pro athletes in other sports, from MLS locker rooms to MLB clubhouses. One reason is given, above all others.
“They’re the most comfortable socks I have,” Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon said. “One hundred percent.”
How these particular socks came to be the official socks of the NBA, let alone popular in unaffiliated leagues, is an unlikely story. And even as the manufacturer’s long partnership with the NBA is coming to an end, the socks remain as desired as ever.
For Bare Feet was founded on April Fools’ Day 1984 by current President Kelly Baugh’s mother, a grade-school teacher, after Baugh’s older brother, Timothy, was diagnosed with a brain tumor during his freshman year at Indiana University. Doctors told Sharon Rivenbark that her son would benefit from activities making use of his motor skills, and she was struck with the idea of manufacturing socks.
“Sharon started the sock business so her son would have a place in the world, a business of his own,” the company’s website says.
The family opened as a small store in Nashville, Ind., with a $1,200 loan from Baught’s grandparents. Three years later, Timothy died, but the business set up in his honor continued to grow. In 1996, For Bare Feet became an NBA licensee. In 1999, the company became the official NBA on-court sock provider, a deal that continued through the 2014-15 season.
“We’ve been told nobody in the world makes socks like we do,” Baugh said. “And it’s not any one thing that makes them special. It’s every single aspect that makes them special. It’s the technology, the development, the raw materials, how we produce them and the attention to detail.”
The socks company Stance took over in 2015 as the on-court sock provider, but For Bare Feet remained an NBA licensee. That deal, however, will conclude at the end of this year, officially terminating the unlikely industry-altering partnership. But the company’s product remains in demand — even beyond the basketball universe.
The socks infiltrated the Nationals clubhouse seven or eight years ago. Jerry Walter, one of the Wizards’ equipment managers, was helping in the Nationals clubhouse, and Adam Dunn, the hulking slugger, was in search of some short, thick socks. He tried the “logoman” socks and stuck with them.
Ryan Zimmerman followed suit. The first baseman still wears them and prefers white ones, though he hides them during games under high red socks because the NBA logo can’t be shown on the field. Rendon, a rabid Houston Rockets fan, wears red ones almost every day.
“That’s because Rendon thinks he’s in the NBA,” Zimmerman said.
Their teammates Stephen Drew, Trea Turner and Gio Gonzalez don the socks. Brandon Snyder and Matt Skole, both of whom played for Class AAA Syracuse this season, are also faithful. Snyder said when he played for the Baltimore Orioles in 2010, the team made a trip to the NBA Store in New York just to buy boxes of the socks.
Nationals clubhouse manager Mike Wallace, who provides the socks for players who request them, ran out earlier this year, so he had to place an order online.
“Zim’s a white sock guy,” Wallace said. “And I just got some red ones for giggles. I have those out and saved the white ones that I have for Zim.”
The NBA sock industry is in transition again after Stance’s tenure as the league’s on-court provider lasted two seasons. Nike has taken over as part of an eight-year partnership deal with the NBA that includes everything from the uniform to headbands and hooded warmup jackets. The socks were revealed earlier this month, and they are the first Nike socks to feature the NBA logo. They also have the swoosh, though the Charlotte Hornets, owned by basketball legend Michael Jordan, will instead have his Jumpman logo on their socks.
Related: [See the Wizards’ new Nike jerseys]
“Who doesn’t love the swoosh?” an NBA team equipment manager said. “That’s what everybody wants. Everybody wants to see that swoosh.”
After applying input from Olympians last summer as well as college teams, Nike created two kinds of on-court socks: the NikeGrip Power Crew and Quick Crew. The Power Crew has more cushioning, while the Quick Crew is lighter. Teams will have colors that match each of their jerseys. The Nike sock reviews, so far, are positive.
“These new ones are kind of in between the ones we had last [two years] and the old ones,” Wizards center Ian Mahinmi said. “But I really, really like the old ones. The baseball players that are wearing them now, lucky them. The old ones were just good. … They were working for us.”
But business is business. The NBA moved on, transitioning from a small-town, family-owned operation to a global behemoth. Now time is running out for loyalists, baseball players included, to stock up on the cushy, classic socks.
Ava Wallace contributed to this report.
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