Suns cultivate family culture through Oubre’s Valley Boyz pop-up shop

Kelly Oubre Jr. drew a large crowd for his pop-up store that provided proceeds to Deandre Ayton’s hurricane relief fund. The two hope their friendship exemplifies the bond of the 2019-20 Phoenix Suns. (Photo by Dylan Hunter Carter/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Even after tying for the second-worst record in the league last year, a fresh attitude overtook the Phoenix Suns last season. 

It came after the arrival of Kelly Oubre Jr., whose charismatic nature and fashion sense captured the attention of fans. The trade in mid-December was made to adjust the Suns’ timeline and provide an exciting two-way presence on the wing to complement the duo of Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.

What the Suns, who open the season tonight, didn’t expect was the friendship that swingman Oubre, 23, and Ayton established, leading to the Valley Boyz movement. Something that began as a conversation between teammates grew into a representation of a passionate fan base eager for something to embrace. It culminated on Saturday afternoon when Oubre hosted a pop-up shop at Manor, a retail shoe and apparel store located at Uptown Plaza on East Camelback Road.

Hundreds of Suns fans lined up as early as 3:30 a.m. on Saturday to pick from a variety of Valley Boyz merchandise including shirts, hoodies, sweatpants, hats and bags, with proceeds going toward Ayton’s UNICEF hurricane-relief efforts for the Bahamas.

“Me and D.A. (Ayton) created it actually from here,” Oubre said as he pointed to his heart. “We had a real deep conversation about who we wanted to create as an identity. At the end of the day, this is lovely, but we still have to play basketball, but you kinda see where we’re coming. We’re from the heart.”

Ayton, a Bahamian native, hosted numerous events in support of a country that was ravaged by Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm that took place in late-August. According to reports by The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the death toll in the Bahamas is in excess of 60 people. 

Although they are 2,000 miles and many cultural divides away from the archipelago, fans in Phoenix can recognize the importance of the devastation inflicted on Ayton’s homeland. As a result, they gathered in droves to purchase apparel and support the former No. 1 pick’s relief efforts.

“I knew the plan and the outcome of merchandise and all that, but support-wise, I did not know it would turn out like this,” Ayton said. “That’s a lot of people. I didn’t know that many fans were going to come out. … You’ve just got to embrace the love and just put some work behind it.”

 Ayton and Oubre weren’t the only Suns to show their support on Saturday afternoon. A handful of players, including Booker, forward Mikal Bridges, center Aron Baynes and rookies Cameron Johnson, Ty Jerome and Jalen Lecque made appearances at the store to meet with fans and check out the exclusive merchandise.

Several players, including Jerome and Lecque, sported individualized Valley Boyz hoodies with their jersey numbers and one simple message lining the top where their names usually lay: Family.

This is a testament to the culture that the Valley Boyz hope to inspire within the Phoenix Suns organization. With underlying familial values to lean on and a revamped roster with only six returning players from last year’s group, the new-look Suns are ready to build something exciting.

For some, like die-hard Suns fan and YouTuber Brandon Condron, the Valley Boyz movement represents a turning point for the team.

“Especially since the past couple of years haven’t been what we expected them to be, I think this is really good for the culture,” Condron said. “It brings youth and swagger.”

Swagger is one thing that Oubre carries both on and off the court. Voted to the Final Four in GQ’s 2019 NBA Style Showdown, Oubre was the perfect player to put together an event of this type. His aptitude for fashion is duly noted among basketball fans. Now he’s branching out to create apparel specifically for Suns fans.

“It’s about the city – everybody coming out, showing love to the squad,” Oubre said. “It’s a blessing to be here and to see everybody smiling.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix