words, images & interview // Nick DePaula
With LeBron James breaking out the “Finals” Nike LeBron 8 PS on the biggest stage of them all during this year’s NBA Finals, we recently caught up with Nike Basketball Senior Designer Jason Petrie just hours before Game 4 on Tuesday to learn all about the red-based special edition signature sneaker. Of course, the Heat were leading the series 2-1 at that point, and the momentum has since shifted in Dallas’ favor as the series now heads back to Miami.
Read ahead for an exclusive look at the “Finals” Nike LeBron 8 PS.
Nick DePaula: Can you talk a bit about this year’s Finals shoe that LeBron is wearing?
Jason Petrie: Eugene Rogers, Nike Basketball Color Designer, and I worked on it. Eugene has a role in everything that’s special like this. My role was referring to what LeBron wanted and what he thought looked cool.
NDP: Had you guys talked to the team at that point, in terms of getting everyone on the same page to wear a matching color?
JP: Getting everyone in the same color shoe is a shared goal with the Heat. We worked together on the Christmas colorway to get red on everybody. It’s always that kind of exercise with color. There’s no individuals on the Heat. Special moments for the 8 were going to be red – for the Christmas version and the Finals.
NDP: With Kobe the last couple of years in the Finals, he’s had a lot of graphic stories on his “Big Stage” shoes. Are we not seeing any graphics here because of maybe LeBron’s preference, or maybe even a team guideline?
JP: Part of it is just Kobe changing shoes so much, and having so many options. Kobe had the Finals shoe, the Rings shoe, the Parade shoe and even other stuff. The red 8 PS is the Finals shoe for LeBron, and there’s no graphics there – it’s just about the statement of the team color. Should the Heat win, we’ll definitely do something to celebrate and have some fun around LeBron’s first Championship.
NDP: Was the way you blocked the tongue just a carry-over from the direction that his shoes have been taking lately? You guys have been doing his black shoes with a red tongue and red laces, and having that straight block more recently.
JP: Well, we did do that, but then we gave him red laces, white laces, yellow and black so he can just do whatever he wants. I’m sure if that shoe gets released, that we’ll have some lace options for people to do whatever he did in the Finals. We just didn’t know what he’d want, and he likes to switch laces anyways.
NDP: What’s it like as the designer of his shoes to have LeBron reaching the Finals this year?
JP: Oh man. I think it’s just great for him, and I just know how much it means for him and how hard he’s working. That’s the biggest thing. It’s kind of frustrating to see people still talk about him shrinking, because when you look at what he’s doing and what the matchups are, he’s playing great. As a fan, us too, we felt like he’d get there, and just as the team that works on his stuff around here, we knew that eventually they’d figure it out and that they’d get to the Finals. They’re just too good. If you really watch basketball and you know how good Dwyane Wade is and to see them come together, it’s just great to be that excited about basketball again at this stage of the season.
For me, it’s been since Mike played against the Jazz, and you couldn’t believe when they won, because you just didn’t know, and Utah was real good. With the Heat, we’re only just starting to find out how good they can become. At the same time, it’s also been nice to appreciate Dirk, because he’s balling out of his mind. I always knew Dirk was good, but watching him now, he’s so much better than he was in 2006. He’s just a monster
NDP: I just figure Dirk realizes this might be his last run, so he’s really giving it all he has.
JP: I’ll tell you what, he’s absolutely unstoppable. It’s a shame that the Heat have a couple of lockdown guys and they can clamp down on his help.
NDP: From all of the times that you met with LeBron during the season, did you ever get a sense from him that they weren’t confident they’d get to this point? Or did you sense all along that they knew they’d figure it out and be able to reach this stage?
JP: Well, LeBron is always confident in his team, and I never talk to him directly about things like that, like, “Do you think you guys can do it?” But we’d hear him breaking down plays, talking about the teams they were going to face or about the attitude of the team and how much he loved the guys, and I just got a sense that they were a confident group. He just wants to win. You know, he’ll do whatever he needs to do out there to help them win. Whether it’s score or defend, he’ll do whatever. I just believe that he’ll do that. I don’t know Dwyane Wade, and I’ve never really met him, but I know from watching him that he’s great, and those guys together are good buddies and I know that Chris is a good guy from the time that I’ve spent with him. They’re all good guys and they have Pat Riley at the top to respect, and I’ve been amazed at times to watch them.
NDP: Both you and LeBron joined Nike during the summer of 2003. At the time, your first shoe was the Max Baller —
JP: Yeah, shoes for Dirk! [laughs]
NDP: But what’s it been like to have started at the same time as LeBron, and now you were able to design the shoe that he’ll perhaps be winning his first title in.
JP: Well, it’s certainly nothing that he would ever associate together. [everyone laughs] But I’ve playfully associated that in my mind, and it’s a fun little anecdote to the story. It’s been a long time for me being around here and being a fan of his and wanting him to win, and it finally possibly coming true with a shoe that I designed — I never thought that that would happen. I’m just really lucky and really honored that he’s playing in it. I was just telling one of my boys the other night, when he had that crazy dunk in the red shoe, “Sweet! That legitimizes the shoe.” It’s now like when MJ hit “The Shot” in the IV and kids like me have that poster on their wall. It’s not a memorable shoe like that until he has a moment in it, and we all have our memories of that moment.
If this is when he wins a ring, then that’s a historic moment for him. That’d be beyond amazing. Most of all, I just know that it’d be a huge thing for him and it’s always been the ultimate dream for him. It’d be great for us as a category and certainly amazing for me personally, but I think more importantly, it’s a journey that he’s earned and something that he needs to do so he can move on to the next step.