How NBA star Damian Lillard turned foot injury into a sneaker business

How NBA star Damian Lillard turned foot injury into a sneaker business

Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers dribbles against the New York Knicks at Moda Center on March 14, 2023 in Portland, Oregon.

Alika Jenner | Getty Images Sport

While playing college basketball at Weber State University, Damian Lillard suffered a broken bone in his right foot as a junior that kept him out of all but nine games of the 2010-2011 season.

That was just one of the multiple foot injuries and issues like plantar fasciitis that Lillard, now an NBA All-Star point guard for the Portland Trailblazers, has dealt with over his playing career. Exacerbating issues related to his flat feet, Lillard said the injuries stemmed from the lack of support he was getting from the standard insoles found in basketball sneakers.

That led Lillard, aided by a business proposal from his agent Nate Jones, to launch Move, a footwear insoles performance brand, something he believes not only can assist professional athletes like himself and those that aspire to reach that level but anyone who finds themselves on their feet often.

“Foot health is something that I think a lot of people could really benefit from paying closer attention to,” Lillard told CNBC’s Dominic Chu at CNBC’s Small Business Playbook virtual event on Thursday. “We can do nothing without healthy feet as athletes.”

The company, which has an investor group that includes fellow NBA star Chris Paul, launched in December 2021 and sells insoles starting at $39.99 that have a carbon-like composite base, a dual-foam system to help absorb shock, and additional torsional support for better heel and midfoot stability. It had more than $100,000 in sales the first month through the direct-to-consumer channel and was projecting $1 million in sales for 2022, CNBC previously reported.

Lillard said that while focusing on foot health is critical for NBA players – many of whom wear custom insoles or other products to help take the stress off their feet given the sheer amount of games, practices and training that occurs every week – it’s also important for young athletes whether or not they ever achieve their goal of playing at a pro level.

“You can extend your career by just taking care of your feet, but just think about how many young athletes deal with injuries, and it doesn’t even get to a point where they continue to play or have a successful [basketball] career to make money,” he said. “It’s more important right now because of how active they are, how much time we spend training and playing games … you’re seeing more and more injuries, especially to feet.”

While sneaker insoles make up a small portion of the more than $150 billion global sneaker market, it is a crowded space filled with custom products sold by podiatrists and footcare products sold at big-box retailers from companies like Dr. Scholl’s, which is owned by private equity firm Yellow Wood Partners, and Superfeet, owned by private equity firm Westward Partners. A high percentage of sneaker wearers also just use the standard insole that comes with their shoes.

But Lillard thinks that as more people understand why paying attention to the health of your feet is important, Move will not only find its way into more NBA locker rooms but into the shoes of other workers as well.

“There’s something to be said about people who work and are on their feet all day, there’s a lot of data on the value of using insoles and wearing them all day for comfort,” he said, adding that Move has since added “All Day” insoles to reach that audience.

Lillard’s status as one of the best scorers in the NBA has helped shine a spotlight on Move insoles, but he believes the long-term success of the company will come from letting the company “speak for itself.”

“The product has to speak for itself and the people that are putting the insoles inside their shoes,” he said. “That’s the real competitive advantage.”