Do you remember your first sneaker, that very special one?
To tell his story, Diego chose a very special pair of sneakers – the Nike Air Zoom TI Street. It might not be the most known or obvious choice, but it was his first Nike sneaker. Although it was about two sizes smaller than his feet, what mattered was he had the pair he wanted.
In his interview, Diego told us about how his passion for basketball first started. After watching Space Jam, he realized the sport would always be a big part of his life. To follow his dream of working with Sports Marketing he changed areas and today he has been at Nike Brazil for 11 years, working with what he loves: basketball.
“Well, I’d first like to thank you guys for the invite. As I had mentioned to you before, I’ve been following your work for a while now. It’s very cool, and it has something that’s different from what’s been happening out there, and I mean that in a good way. So, I thank you guys for the invitation.
My name is Diego Garcia, I’ve been working at Nike for 11 years now and I also work with my greatest passion, basketball. I’ve been playing basketball since very little and today I have the privilege to work with sports within the brand that I admire since I was a kid. I’m also going to take this opportunity to say that the person who will be speaking here today is Diego the individual, not the business one – I’m not here on behalf of Nike, all my opinions are my own and have nothing to do with the company or the brand, even though my life is very intertwined with Nike after more than 10 years. Our talk will be with Diego the individual.”
“This passion came into my life with a basketball, a game and a jersey, and then one day I went to the cinema to watch a movie starring Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes – and it made perfect sense to me. From then on, I dedicated myself on learning how to really play the game. As there was no basketball court in my neighbourhood, everyone would see me bouncing the ball on the sidewalk in front of my house and naturally I started to be known as the ‘basketball kid’.”
When did you have your first contact with basketball and in which moment you realized it was a passion?
DiegoI’ve always had a lot of contact with sports because of my family. I have an uncle who was a football player and later on became a physical trainer and to this day he has been working for a team; in fact, he has been over more than 10 years in India working with football. Another uncle of mine was an amateur street runner, but he was one of those amateurs who were always alongside the elite runners – it was like his profession. These are my first memories of sports, going to the games and to races to keep up with my uncles.
Basketball came into my life in an unexpected way, because I never had anyone in my family who played ball. My father played when he was young, but in his adult life it wasn’t something so present to the point that he would pass it on to me. And then when I was 6 or 7 years old, this uncle who was a runner, gave me a basketball and a Jordan jersey as a gift. Today I can see that those items completely changed my life. I started to play with the basketball in my backyard, and the Chicago Bulls jersey kind of brought the Michael Jordan figure into me. That’s when I started to engage more with the game, and in a playful way, as a child I’d think “There’s Michael Jordan wearing the same jersey I have”. And from then on, all I can remember is being absolutely in love with the game.
The key factor that made my passion even stronger was Space Jam. The movie made me declare myself a basketball fan. This passion came into my life with a basketball, a game and a jersey, and then one day I went to the cinema to watch a movie starring Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes – and it made perfect sense to me. From then on, I dedicated myself on learning how to really play the game. As there was no basketball court in my neighbourhood, everyone would see me bouncing the ball on the sidewalk in front of my house and naturally I started to be known as the “basketball kid”. On the other side of the street there was one of those garbage bins, people used to keep the dogs away from the trash, you know. That was my basketball hoop. I used to throw the ball in that bin all day long and so then I became a reference in the neighbourhood.
Space Jam was a huge cultural phenomenon, it is very impressive how this movie marked an entire generation.
DiegoYeah, it is the ability to change a person’s life without them noticing. This movie entered my life as one of the main unconscious influences of this new passion – basketball. Perhaps if it wasn’t for the movie, I don’t know how much I would have gotten myself into the sport. It totally made the difference.
And now there’s Space Jam 2 coming out, are you excited about it?
DiegoMan, everything that has a sequel, has always the chance of not reaching our expectations. The people who watched and grew up with the first original movie, will never look at the sequel the same way. But it will be awesome, and I believe that the role of this movie is to bring new kids into the game – just like it happened in the original – showing how much basketball extrapolates the game as performance, and how it is a wide sport with a huge cultural intersection. So, I am eager to see how this movie will come to life.
In life, and especially when you play a sport, you normally have an athlete as your idol, the inspiration that motivates you. Who was this idol to you?
DiegoThe figure Michael Jordan was an introduction to sports and from the moment I started to search more about him, it opened my eyes to other things. Apart from being the greatest basketball player I admired, he also was a reference of a successful black man, which was something we didn’t see much of at that time. I bought the Jordan book and started to see the power he had as a person, as a human and not only as a basketball player. So, having him as a reference was a big deal for me in my youth.
As for my adult life, another reference I have is Kobe Bryant, who perhaps is the actual athlete from my generation, because I kind of got Michael Jordan at the end of his career. My biggest identification with him, more than the game itself, is for everything he represented and represents until today – the Mamba Mentality. His philosophy is one of hard work, perseverance and making things happen, which is a message that means a lot to me. I see that it is a message very similar to Jordan’s, but Bryant to it way deeper because he started to talk about it, and he even wrote a book about the Mamba Mentality.
That might have been his greatest triumph. Because Jordan had this thing with perfection – he was an extremely competitive guy and losing was never an option. And Kobe kind of broke things down, he would say “you will lose sometimes, but perhaps the way you’re dealing with your loss might help you in your next victory”. And this message is meaningful to all kinds of people, not only basketball players. The Mamba Mentality can be applied to absolutely anything in the world. Even with my problems and flaws, how can I continue to grow and be better than I was yesterday? It’s not about being the best one in order to be better than you. Being a champion or being named as the best, is a consequence. We are constantly against each other one way or another, but that doesn’t mean it should be pejorative as in “I need to destroy you in order to excel as the best”. So, this is the reason why this human side of Kobe makes more sense to me.
“The figure Michael Jordan was an introduction to sports and from the moment I started to search more about him, it opened my eyes to other things. Apart from being the greatest basketball player I admired, he also was a reference of a successful black man”
In a way, Kobe humanised the formula to be the best, he would always say: “We all can be masters of our craft, but in order to achieve that you must sacrifice a lot in your life. You might be the best one in the world, but might not be the best friend, the best dad nor the best husband. These are the sacrifices not everyone is willing to make”. I think his perspective is easier to understand than Jordan’s.
DiegoIt is crazy to think about the impact he had in basketball and on an entire generation of people who started to look at the game differently. Perhaps we won’t even understand everything he represented; it will take some years until we fully understand his impact. Just like we can now clearly see how Michael Jordan changed the history of basketball: there’s before and after Michael Jordan. I think at some point in history we will also be able to understand that there’s a moment before and after Kobe Bryant. Who’s the best of all time? There is no answer to that, it’s not about who’s the best. Each generation has its own context and its own game style. But I think those guys are above this topic of who’s the best one, who’s the greatest scorer, who won more or less titles.
You have been working at Nike for 11 years now, it must be so gratifying to be able to work with the things you love the most, in a brand you’ve always admired. What was your trajectory like until you got to where you are today?
DiegoAbsolutely. I am grateful every day for being able to do what I do, because I know I have the privilege of working with something I am passionate about, within the best brand and main company in this industry and segment. That is a privilege I will never forget, and that’s also linked to my trajectory. I think everyone has their path, with struggles and effort in some way. But perhaps, coming from where I come, “I shouldn’t be where I am”. When LeBron James was awarded his MVP, he said something in his speech that made perfect sense to me. He was giving his speech on stage, thanking everyone, when suddenly he said: “I shouldn’t be here. I am a kid from Akron, in upstate Cleveland and the kids that come from where I come from, don’t make it this far. So, I shouldn’t be here”. But when he says he shouldn’t be there, it’s not in a negative way, it’s more like a “I need to acknowledge everything that I’ve done that led me to where I am today”.
So, this is how I see my path, I come from a poor family of the working class. We live in the outskirts of Osasco in a place called Jardim D’Água. I come from a hardworking family, our goal was to have a job – it didn’t matter which one, we just needed enough to pay the bills and support the family. We didn’t have much perspective on having a career back then. Having a career, working for a multinational company and being part of this company’s leadership was not part of the things we would see on a day-to-day basis. But somehow, I believed in it, and I think I was quite naive about it at first. And I actually appreciate the fact I was naive and had this big dream of working for Nike.
I graduated in Advertising and Marketing at Uninove, which is not one of the best rated colleges in São Paulo. People who graduate in colleges like Uninove, are usually trying to get a degree just so they can get a job, they don’t usually have much ambition on having a huge career. In college I found out that Advertising was dope, but it just wasn’t for me. I was more of a business kind of guy. Then I discovered Marketing and loved it, it was what I truly wanted to do, and I would also be able to work with the advertising elements but in a much broader way. After I graduated in Advertising, I took several other courses in Sports Marketing and found out that this is a huge area with many specialisations and segments. I wanted to work with something I actually loved and had passion for, because I wouldn’t be able to simply work for a paycheck at the end of the month. Well, and what’s the other thing I love? Basketball and sports in general.
Then to my surprise, I found out there was an area in marketing called “sports marketing”. It wasn’t, and still isn’t a well-known area, it is a very neeched area and still under development. And so, I started to sneak myself into the scene, because I realized I wanted to work with that. This also meant giving up on some other things as well. I had already been working for 3 years in sales for a multinational company, and I was doing pretty well. But that company worked with digital security for banks and cell phone operators, it was everything I absolutely did not want for my life, even though it paid my bills quite nicely. So, then I started to look at other stuff and ended up at Sadia. It had always been a brand with a close relationship to Olympic sports, they used to sponsor many teams and I saw an opportunity there to get a little closer to what I wanted to do. I also went to Sadia to work at the sales area, it wasn’t sports marketing yet, but at least there was a section inside the company that worked with that sector. I would be getting a lower salary than the other company, but at least I was getting closer to what I wanted.
Over that time, I set myself two main goals: to work with what I truly loved, which was basketball and sports marketing; and at the one place I admired most, which was Nike. That’s the brand I’ve always loved and that brought me closer to basketball. So, I said to myself: “my dream is to work with basketball at Nike ”, and I trusted the universe to take care of it and by that I ment working my ass off to find openings at Nike and trying a million times. Here’s a funny story that happened at that time: I was about 19 years old and somehow, I found Nike’s HR manager’s email address and I literally wrote her a letter, which I signed, digitized and sent to her by e-mail. In the letter I basically told her how passionate I was about the brand and about Michael Jordan, I even mentioned being a Corinthians fanatic, explained how all those things together made perfect sense, and of course I also wrote about my professional trajectory. I wasn’t applying for anything specific, I was just asking for a chance in any possible area, I was basically a teenager back then. Obviously that letter didn’t get me anything, she never even replied, as she shouldn’t, because that’s not how you get a job. But at that time, this showed me how badly I wanted to work there.
As time goes by, you kind of forget the bad things you went through to get where you are. The other day I was cleaning up some old files from my computer and I found the letter I had written. I did the math from when I sent it until I got hired and it took 5 years. I had that dream in my mind for about 4 or 5 years until it finally happened. I applied for many recruiting processes, but I never heard back from anyone and nothing really came out of it, and in the meantime, I continued to work on improving myself. Until about 9 months later when I was working for Sadia, I applied for an opening and got in. It wasn’t what I wanted, it had absolutely nothing to do with basketball, it was in the sales, and I would even get money less than at Sadia: so, summing up, I cut down my salary by a third in order to get to Nike, but I did it.
So the ”get to Nike” chapter came to an end, and the “making my way inside Nike” chapter had begun. But getting back to your question – from that kid who got a basketball ball, a Michael Jordan jersey, watched Space Jam and fell in love with the sport, a whole story happened there. That was half of my life, until I got the job at the company I dreamed of.
“Over that time, I set myself two main goals: to work with what I truly loved, which was basketball and sports marketing; and at the one place I admired most, which was Nike. That’s the brand I’ve always loved and that brought me closer to basketball. So, I said to myself: “my dream is to work with basketball at Nike ”, and I trusted the universe to take care of it and by that I ment working my ass off to find openings at Nike and trying a million times.”
“Your path won’t be linear, you’ll have ups and downs, at times you’ll find yourself at rock bottom, and that’s the moment of development for a next step. It’s tough, when you’re in this kind of situation you can’t really see the bigger picture.”
It’s very cool to know your whole history. This shows we always have a journey to go through, we don't just get what we want when we want it.
DiegoNow that I’m halfway through my career path, I can look back and see exactly what you are talking about. Nowadays, because of social media, young people end up suffering a lot more pressure on their professional careers because they see other people succeeding and think to themselves “everyone’s making it, everyone else is successful but me”. And that’s not how life works. Regardless of who you are or where you’re coming from, your path won’t be linear, you’ll have ups and downs, at times you’ll find yourself at rock bottom, and that’s the moment of development for a next step. It’s tough, when you’re in this kind of situation you can’t really see the bigger picture. Nowadays I am able to look back and understand this. Whenever I have the opportunity to speak up in a platform such as yours, which I know reaches young people who are going through this phase, I like to talk about this other side of it all so people won’t think that it’s just about studying, graduating and becoming a successful professional in a huge corporation, super quick and easy, that’s not real.
And what is your role at Nike nowadays?
DiegoNowadays I’m the head for sports marketing and basketball in Latin America. Basically, my job is to deal with everything related to basketball performances: the relationship with the athletes, with the leagues, federations, all things related to high performance within basketball goes through me. Apart from Brazil, I also do some countries from Latin America, like Argentina.
It’s a lot of basketball every day and I never get tired of it. I always joke around saying that I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do is read basketball news to see what happened and what’s going on around the basketball world. I have my breakfast, go to work, and I’ll be thinking about basketball all day long. Then when I get home, there are two things I do to relax: I’ll either play basketball, or I’ll watch a game. It is a lot of basketball, but it feels natural to me – I guess it links to what I said before, these passion came into my life when I was a child, it wasn’t something I chose. It’s literally part of who I am, and it’s a privilege too.
Let’s talk about sneakers now, in what shoes do you most like hoop in?
DiegoMan, I’m a big Kobe sneaker fan too. Not only because it’s his signature sneaker, but because his line brings a lot of technology and disruption. Kobe had the first low-top sneaker in basketball history – consciously made a low cut . He broke the myth that if you play basketball, you must protect your ankles; or that big men need to use high-tops. Nowadays, most players use low-top sneakers, high-tops are a minority – all because of Kobe, he brought this to Nike.
He once told the story about the process, he said “I would see the guys playing football with those low cut boots and, come on, Ibrahimović is like 1,95m, almost the same height as me! He runs the whole field, changes directions, jumps, skips, and he doesn’t twist his ankles”. Kobe brought that to Nike and obviously their reaction at first was like: “What do you mean? You want to change something that has been going on for years?”. But he continuously insisted until they agreed to do some research and found out that indeed, there was a technical and scientific reason for what Kobe was talking about, the high-top sneakers were not necessarily the thing that would protect you from a possible torsion. That changed basketball history. I’m a huge fan of Kobe’s sneakers, they are also versatile, because you can use them to play in any position. Some people also talk about Lebron’s sneakers being heavier, each shoe has its element, but I think Kobe’s a more versatile one, everyone likes them.
And good luck to the people who want to buy Kobe sneakers now. You’ll only be able to find it at the resell market and you’ll have to be prepared to spend some money because it’s all over and that’s just it.
Out of all your sneakers, why did you choose your Nike Air Zoom TI Street for Kickstory?
DiegoI was joking earlier about this with you guys, that I think people expected me to bring a super rare sneaker that nobody has and all that, I even said that maybe this shoe would be a little disappointing. But because of you guys I discovered that it’s not a super known nor popular sneaker, there’s not a lot of information about them out there, so in the end, it’s a rare sneaker after all (laughs). It’s certainly not at the “top of mind” of sneakerheads or sneakers fans. But it has a sentimental value to me, because this was the first Nike I bought with my own money.
I’ve had the privilege of having sneakers since I was a child, but very far from having the ones I wanted. I had my school shoes and one to play basketball in – which had to last for a few years. I bought this sneaker when I was a teenager at about 17 and starting college.
Those who live in the outskirts know that there is always someone selling something, like clothes and sneakers, for a cheaper price than the market because a friend brought from abroad. So, a friend of mine told me he was selling these Nikes and of course they were brand new. I really wanted to have some Nikes and I’ve always loved white sneakers but, although it was much cheaper than the store, there was a catch – it was a size and a half smaller than mine and obviously I didn’t have the option to choose a different size. So, I told him “It’s smaller than my foot, it’ll be too tight”. And he replied: “Just remove the insole. It will fit” (laughs). I took the insole off, and it was still fucking tight, but what mattered at that moment was that I had the sneaker.
That was what I could afford. Just so you can have an idea, this sneaker is a US size 9.5 and at the time I wore a 10.5. Nowadays I wear 11.5 or 12. The fact that it was too tight wasn’t bothering me – I had the pleasure of being able to have and put on the sneaker, I didn’t care about the pain or discomfort of it being smaller. I wore this sneaker for 2 or 3 years straight. Its sole is vulcanized, super thick, and I wore it so much that it’s the heel is all worn out. And look, I only wore it on special occasions – it was my going out sneaker – because it was the only one I had for that at the time, so it has a great sentimental value to me.
I have some other pairs of sneakers with me today, but I still keep this one because it reminds me of those tough and hardworking moments, but also moments of happiness and joy, because I had the sneaker I loved and I got to buy them myself. I think there’s this perspective I still apply to my life today which is: sometimes we’re in a bad or difficult phase – but man, perhaps if you look at it from another perspective, you’ll see it’s not that bad. And for me this sneaker has this symbology too: it didn’t matter it was too tight, the joy of having this sneaker was greater than that. So that’s the perspective I was looking at.
“I think there’s this perspective I still apply to my life today which is: sometimes we’re in a bad or difficult phase – but man, perhaps if you look at it from another perspective, you’ll see it’s not that bad. And for me this sneaker has this symbology too: it didn’t matter it was too tight, the joy of having this sneaker was greater than that. So that’s the perspective I was looking at.”
Do you remember when your passion for sneakers first started? When was that moment you saw a pair and you felt that “click”?
DiegoWhen I played basketball, I didn’t look at the Nikes and Jordans much because it was something unaffordable for me. So, I focused on the ones I could have (and this one I actually did have): the AND 1 Tai Chi, which was half white and half black. At the time, AND 1 was booming as a culture and as reel streetball, we didn’t even see AND 1 as a brand. These guys were on ESPN touring through the United States on a bus. Then they came over to Brazil and the sneakers were affordable and they also lasted a lot longer because they were made to play on the street. So, they were perfect for me as I started playing basketball at Villa-Lobos park and at a school close to my house, because there was no other place I could play. If I didn’t have sneakers that lasted for a long time, I’d be screwed, because I wouldn’t be getting another one again until my next birthday. So, that sneaker had to last for at least a year.
I remember I got the Tai Chis as a birthday gift from my godmother and, man, I felt bad for wearing them, I didn’t want to play on concrete with my brand new AND 1s. But if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have anything else to wear to play basketball. So, this was one of the first sneakers I remember taking extra care.
I don’t have them anymore, because I used them until there was nothing left. And because of the way I ran at the time, all my sneakers wore out on my toe. My Tai Chis ripped a hole on my toe and I remember to stuff newspaper and cardboard under the sole and wrap it with silver tape. I used them until the very last moment, there was no way to save or to pass them on, I had to throw them away.
Yeah, AND1 was huge, it was "the brand" for anyone who played basketball. And they were the ones who brought the streetball “boom”, which ended up bringing a lot of new people to basketball around the world.
DiegoMan, AND 1 was one of the first brands in Brazil’s recent history, that managed to talk about lifestyle in the truest possible way. I remember I bought an AND 1 shirt at Centauro and I wanted to walk down the street with it so people would know I played basketball. They had those trash talk Ts, with phrases for true ballers. It was a cool time. AND 1 exists until today and although they have a different position now, the importance of this brand for basketball culture is undeniable.
After working so long at Nike, do you think your relationship with sneakers have changed?
DiegoI still have a very affectionate relationship with sneakers. It’s definitely related to the fact I didn’t have many pairs growing up, so until today I take care of every sneaker I buy with a lot of affection. I don’t like getting them dirty and that’s the way I am with sneakers, even though I have many. It’s not about having the newest Jordans and leaving them the box, about the affection that continues to this day, even though I’ve seen and had all the sneakers imaginable.
This one I’m wearing is one of them. I almost never use them because their the sneakers from the Fresh Prince and I grew up being a super Will Smith fan. I used to watch the show a lot and because of my history and personality, I saw myself as the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. When this sneaker came out, I couldn’t get them because they sold out too quickly. And then I went on a trip with a huge friend of mine who said: “I saw this sneaker and it reminded me of you, so I bought them for you as a gift”. He lives in Canada, so he has easier access there than we do here in Brazil. Man, when I opened the box and saw them, I said: “Dude, I can’t believe you got me these sneakers!”. That’s why I have a very affectionate relationship with these Jordans.
So, the affection for my sneakers continues the same. Even after eleven years I never really got the vibe that “they’re just another pair of sneakers”. For me, it’s never just another pair of sneakers.