By SCOTT CACCIOLA
NEWARK — Few people are more excited about the emergence of Kristaps Porzingis than the proprietors of a mattress factory here by the murky waters of the Passaic River.
Lucrative endorsement deals are beginning to roll in for Porzingis, whose first season with the Knicks has been a pleasant surprise for fans accustomed to disappointment. But Shifman Mattresses, a 122-year-old purveyor of high-end bedding, was the first company to identify his potential, signing him to a one-year deal as its first brand ambassador soon after the Knicks made him the fourth overall pick in June’s N.B.A. draft. At the time, Porzingis, a 7-foot-3 power forward from Latvia, was still a mystery to most.
“Honestly,” said Phil Zucker, the general manager at Shifman, “some of it was just luck. We had no idea. I don’t even think the Knicks knew what they had in him.”
At the factory, Porzingis is impossible to miss. A framed replica of his jersey hangs in the showroom. There are posters and autographed basketballs. In exchange for some promotional work, Porzingis received a $25,000 bed — the largest bed that Shifman has manufactured. Bill Hammer, the president of Shifman, cannot believe his good fortune.
“This is our first partnership with anyone,” he said, “but I think we’re on to something.”
Deals like the one that Porzingis has with Shifman might seem like throwbacks at a time when star athletes are richer and more visible than ever. Many players have little financial incentive to shoot commercials or make appearances for small businesses. But there are exceptions.
Bradley Beal, a guard with the Washington Wizards, signed an endorsement deal with Easterns Automotive Group, a regional car dealership that employed Beal to stand in front of a Porsche and lip-sync its jingle: “At Eastern Motors, your job’s your credit!”
Timofey Mozgov, a center with the Cleveland Cavaliers, has filmed several commercials that are popular among teammates.
“Timo,” Joe Harris said, referring to Mozgov by his nickname, “has had some gems.”
One was for Sky Zone, a chain of indoor trampoline parks with locations in Northeast Ohio. In the commercial, Mozgov explains that he does his summer training at Sky Zone — a white lie, he acknowledged in a recent interview. But he and his son had fun while they were there, he said. His contract negotiations with Sky Zone were not complicated.
“They called me and said, ‘Do you want to do something?’ ” Mozgov said. “I said yes, so we did it.”
For Porzingis, a partnership with a mattress company makes sense. From a young age, Porzingis struggled to find beds that fit his frame. As a player in Europe, he often pushed two beds together. It was never ideal, he said. Now he has a bed that is the size of a hovercraft.
“I’m getting great sleep,” Porzingis said, sounding like an expert pitchman. “No, really. It’s unbelievable.”
It happened by chance. Last spring, Hammer was waiting for a flight at an airport when he met Dan Rohme, the vice president for communications at ASM Sports, an agency that represents many N.B.A. players, including Porzingis. Rohme and Hammer struck up a conversation, which turned to legroom and its importance, especially to larger human beings.
Rohme asked Hammer about his line of work, and Hammer said he was in the mattress business. Rohme was intrigued. Did Shifman make California king-size beds? Of course, Hammer said. In fact, he said, his company had manufactured custom beds for several athletes, including three for the former N.B.A. player Dikembe Mutombo.
“Good to know,” Rohme recalled telling him. “I have a few people who might be interested in what you do.”
Bill Hammer, the president of Shifman Mattresses, was at an airport last spring when he ran into a vice president of an agency that represents Kristaps Porzingis. Shifman later signed Porzingis to a deal. Credit Yana Paskova for The New York Times
Around the time of the draft, Rohme and Hammer reconnected. Porzingis was on board. He was not a global name — not yet, anyway. Phil Jackson, the Knicks’ president and the person responsible for drafting him, went so far as to express concern that he might be the next Shawn Bradley, which did not assuage fears among fans.
Zucker, the Shifman general manager, bristled at the comparison.
“What’s up with that?” Zucker said. “And then they started comparing him to Dirk Nowitzki, and that was like, O.K., that’s a big step up. That was great.”
Zucker recalled that Jackson had given Porzingis a four-pronged approach to life as the season approached: eat, lift, sleep, repeat.
“So that fit in perfectly for us — the sleep part,” Zucker said. “And I’m a huge Knicks fan, by the way. So I was like, ‘You need to be able to perform on the court.’ So he can go out, play hard and recover faster to be able to perform more effectively. That’s the whole mantra.”
Hammer, whose father, Mike, bought the company from the Shifman family in 1985, peppers his speech with mattress maxims. He says things like, “Most people don’t understand the importance of a mattress.” He is prone to small screeds on profit-hungry competitors.
Shifman does not have much of a marketing budget, Hammer said, adding that he prefers to put the company’s money “in the mattress.” His enthusiasm for bedding is boundless.
“Let’s go see a box spring,” Hammer said on a recent weekday afternoon. “It’s much more special than you think it is.”
Shifman beds are not cheap — they typically retail for $1,399 to $14,000. The company targets consumers who have disposable income and appreciate quality, Hammer said. That means Italian twine, box springs made from Eastern Canadian spruce and the craftsmanship inherent in 280 individual sewing operations.
Porzingis visited the factory in September to pick out his mattress and participate in promotional activities. He also took a tour and got involved — perhaps a little too involved. He went behind the tape-edge machine, which essentially cinches the mattress with large needles that move very fast. Dennis Lawson, a longtime machine operator, offered Porzingis some advice.
“Just be careful,” Lawson recalled telling him.
Porzingis revved up the machine and proceeded to play a small role in assembling his bed. It was a success. He walked away with all of his fingers.
“I thought Dan was going to pass out,” Zucker said, referring to Rohme.
Shifman has dozens of mattress styles with different levels of firmness: the exquisite, the majestic, the heritage. Porzingis opted for the ultimate, which is made of more natural materials than another style that he was considering.
“I asked him if natural materials were important to him,” Hammer recalled. “He said, ‘Absolutely.’ ”
A couple of weeks later, three deliverymen hauled the mattress and box spring to Porzingis’s apartment while he played NBA 2K16 on his video game console with Zucker.
“Oh,” Zucker said, “it was awesome.”
At 98 inches long and 80 inches wide, Porzingis’s bed — known as an athletic king — has 29 percent more surface area than a regular king does. The company actually made two of them — one for Porzingis and another for a fellow first-year player whose promotional deal with the company will be announced in January. (Hammer declined to identify the second player, other than to say he is 6 feet 11 inches and plays for a team in the Midwest.)
By now, Porzingis’s teammates have heard all about his bed. Some are more impressed than others. Robin Lopez, a fellow 7-footer, said he was content with whatever he had at home. Lopez said he suspected that it was a king-size bed, but he could not say for certain.
“I curl up,” he said, “so I’m good.”