The Footy-Hoops Crossover Phenomenon

As soccer’s influence on American culture continues to rise, we’ve seen an increased amount of crossovers between the beautiful game and basketball. 

Last week, Nike unveiled a new edition of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Zoom Freak 5 signature shoe, dubbed “Ode to Your First Love.”

giannis zoom freak 5 ode to your first love

giannis zoom freak 5 ode to your first love

The release is the latest that pays tribute to Antetokounmpo’s family and upbringing, and its soccer-inspired aesthetics are a nod to his father, Charles, who was a professional footballer in Nigeria. The quilted pattern on the toe box is reminiscent of classic Nike boots including the Total 90 line and early models of the Mercurial.

It’s a beautiful shoe, but more importantly, the drop is one of a growing number that blend the worlds of soccer and basketball.

Earlier this year, we highlighted the expanded LeBron James x Liverpool collection that featured everything from jerseys to sneakers and apparel. Before that, we had Air Jordan’s massive collaboration with PSG, not to mention Neymar’s brief stint in Jordan-inspired boots.

lebron liverpool collection

While it may seem out of the ordinary for different sports to intertwine as closely as soccer and basketball have, the trend makes sense if you look at it from an United States-centric point of view (for most Americans, this is already a given).

The beautiful game is slowly creeping itself into the periphery of everyday American culture, and with it we’ve seen more brands — especially soccer leagues and organizations — try and take advantage. More competitions are coming to U.S. soil, including major ones like the 2024 Copa America, 2025 Club World Cup, and the crowning jewel, the 2026 FIFA World Cup. We’ve also seen an increased amount of international and club friendlies, and La Liga could be playing official league matches Stateside soon.

FIFA has long dreamt of tapping into the massive American market, and much like the Bene Gesserit planted the idea of the Lisan al Gaib on Arrakis, the global governing body will go to no end to create a future in which soccer becomes a mainstream sport in the country.

From a basketball standpoint, the NBA has become an overwhelmingly international league over the past few decades. The vision of late former commissioner David Stern has more or less been realized. From Europe in the 1990s, Asia in the 2000s, and Africa in the 2010s, the league’s efforts to globalize have paid dividends in both revenue and talent development.

You could easily argue that the current top five players in the league were born outside of the country. There hasn’t been an American-born NBA MVP since 2018, a streak that looks to continue in 2024, as the top three favorites to win the award all hail from outside countries.

With the NBA’s international push, it’s only logical that more life-long footy fans would both play in the league as well as become fans of it. In attendance at a recent Dallas Mavericks playoff game was none other than Real Madrid owner Florentino Perez, who greeted former Real Madrid basketball star Luka Doncic prior to tipoff.

As more American basketball fans become soccer fans and international football fans become basketball fans, it makes sense from a marketing perspective for brands to look to target this growing Venn Diagram cross section.

But while this trend has grown, it isn’t necessarily all that new. If we look back, there are plenty of instances in which the worlds of soccer and basketball have collided.

There is, of course, Antoine Griezmann’s love affair with Derrick Rose. The French midfielder tweeted praise for the former NBA MVP as early as 2013, and the two did a jersey exchange in 2016 when Rose played for the Knicks.

In 2018, fresh off a France World Cup victory, Griezmann famously interrupted a Paul Pogba post-game interview to sing Rose’s praises. He’s also shown off a phone case with Rose’s face on it, which objectively is a little creepy.

Griezmann loves Rose so much that he even dressed up as him for Hallow—oh wait that was [redacted].

There’s also Kobe Bryant, who, having grown up in Italy, was an AC Milan fan, and made no secret of his love for the game.

kobe v mambacurial

Through Nike, Bryant paid a visit to Paris Saint-Germain’s training facility, where he kicked the ball around with stars like Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. In 2015, the brand and basketball legend teamed up to release the now highly coveted “Mambacurial” edition of his signature basketball shoe, which like Antetokounpo’s “Ode to Your First Love” release, blended basketball and soccer aesthetics. Several more versions of the “Mambacurial” Kobes dropped following the initial release, including one with an FC Barcelona-inspired colorway.

Steve Nash, a two-time NBA MVP, has footy skills of his own, and credited his background in soccer to helping him with his elite court vision. His brother, Martin, played pro soccer as well in various leagues including MLS, and is now the head coach for Canadian Premier League side York United.

Fast-forward back to the present and the blend between the two sports is as apparent as ever. The unique ownership structures of soccer teams across the globe has led to more NBA players investing in various clubs. To name just a few, Antetokounmpo and his brothers are part of MLS side Nashville SC’s ownership group, Kevin Durant’s 35 Ventures invested in the NWSL’s Gotham FC, and LeBron James has had a minority stake in Liverpool since 2011.

Basketball has long been the sport in America that has moved the cultural needle. If we use music, particularly rap music, as the litmus test, basketball might still hold that title. But soccer is slowly closing in on it.

In the 2000s, throwback NBA jerseys were all the rage, and were the de rigueur music video wardrobe. Basketball players and teams were frequently referenced in rhymes as well, from Lil Wayne’s 2009 ode to Bryant, to Kanye West’s iconic “the LeBron of rhyme, hard to be humble when you stuntin’ on a jumbotron” line in “Devil in a New Dress.”

The UK rap scene has long been referencing footballers on their tracks, and as the grime and UK drill influence has spread across the pond, we’ve started to see more American rappers donning football kits and name dropping footballers. “Kick it like Messi” has become somewhat of a cliche in the rap game — much like “ball like MJ” or “shooters like (insert hooper here)” have before it.

In due time, it could be that soccer has a similar influence on American culture in the way that basketball currently does.

With the 2026 World Cup poised to be the tipping point of soccer in the United States, we could see the sport grow from niche to mainstream. Ironically, this could make the basketball-soccer crossover opportunities fewer and far between, as the novelty of the beautiful game will wear out once it is part of everyday American sports culture. So enjoy this while it lasts.

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