TORONTO — Miodrag is a basketball fan, but mostly he roots for his Michigan State Spartans.
An upstate New Yorker, he’s an Uber driver on the Canadian side of the border, where demand for the ride-sharing service is off the charts.
And he’s happy to talk hoops as he ushers you around town, unless the chatter turns to the NBA.
He doesn’t care much for it. Until you bring up Anthony Davis.
“The unibrow!” Miodrag says. “That guy’s awesome.”
Davis always had an idea there would be people like Miodrag, people who associate him with his eyebrows, which meet in the middle and have made the Pelicans star one of the NBA’s most recognizable faces.
“I didn’t really trip about it,” Davis said Saturday, just before he took part in the NBA’s Skills Challenge. “I knew it was a thing that was going to be connected to me in the basketball world forever.”
These days, a host of companies are hoping you’ll recognize The Brow. They see the face behind it as a marketable one.
Besides his shoe deal with Nike, Davis is featured in ad campaigns for Red Bull and H&R Block. He has become a fixture in NBA ads for everything from its League Pass subscription service to its Christmas Day jerseys, a commercial in which Davis’ lone line of dialogue — “This unibrow needs that uniform” — referenced his signature facial feature.
Believe it or not, Davis saw this coming.
When Chicagoans Davis and Wayne Blackshear were in college in 2012 — Davis at Kentucky, Blackshear at Louisville — Blackshear said Davis had seen the power of The Brow back in high school.
“He told me, ‘James Harden’s got “Fear the beard,” ’ ” Blackshear said then. “He’s like, “ ‘That’s going to be my trademark. I’m keeping my unibrow, and it’s going to be “Fear The Brow.” ’ ”
Davis saw the future. Now he’s looking ahead to an even bigger brand for The Brow.
Already he’s a Nike spokesman, but he hopes to expand his role with the brand. He wore a unique All-Star shoe to Saturday’s practices and played it coy when asked whether he’ll have an All-Star Game shoe Sunday night at the Air Canada Centre.
But Davis hopes to expand his reach with Nike. Unlike stars Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant, Davis has yet to build his own line, a signature series of shoes bearing his name with his design input. That’s in the works, he said, and he’s hoping at some point there will be buzz building for signature shoes.
For now, though, he’s building a strong relationship with Nike. On Saturday, he visited concert venue Massey Hall for Nike’s “Bring Your Game” event, with dozens of local kids from Nike-supported groups.
On a spot-lit stage, Davis taught young players a signature move — a one-dribble pull-up jumper — then fed teenage boys and girls the ball to try it against him. At times he’d contest their shots. Once, when a kid demanded Davis play tighter defense, Davis backed off and dared him to shoot. The kid let fly and came up short. Davis laughed and gave him a dismissive wave.
The kid cracked up.
“It’s always good to spend time with kids. It’s the same thing as (when you’re a kid),” Davis said. “You went to Nike camps when you were a kid and tried to get better, and now NBA guys come to camps where you are and help you get better.”
Davis has high hopes to expand his brand. A partnership with H&R Block introduced him to a new audience. So does an ad campaign with Red Bull.
“You work with Red Bull, it opens you up to a different market,” Davis said. “They may not have a lot of basketball clients, but they have people into snowboarding and skating and a lot of action sports. You kind of build your audience outside of basketball.”
And there’s a chance for Davis to expand further.
The NBA has embraced the unibrow. At this weekend’s All-Star festivities, each member of the East and West All-Star teams was assigned a signature Twitter emoji, visible when their first and last names were hashtagged.
LeBron James had a crown. Carmelo Anthony had a likeness of his headband-wearing face.
And Davis? Simply the outline of the unibrow.
The league — and Davis — is hoping you come to associate it with him even more.
“Everybody has their own thing that’s unique, whether you can see it or not,” Davis said. “For me, that’s it. It’s never a thing that bothered me. It has its own recognition.
“It’s cool. Like, I have my own emoji.”