Interview // Leo Chang Details The Hyperdunk 2011

Interview // Leo Chang Details The Hyperdunk 2011

words & sneaker photography // Nick DePaula
portraits // Zac Dubasik

Ever since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Nike Basketball has clearly been on a tear with their direction towards sleeker silhouettes championing lightweight containment.

The Hyperdunk 2011 hopes to carry on that legacy of high performance that we’ve come to expect from the series. As Nike Basketball Design Director Leo Chang explains in our in-depth conversation, he set out to bring literaly every aspect of the shoe closer to the foot. Whether that meant countless trips to Asia to come up with new three-layer upper composites on the spot, or moving the Hyperdunk series to an entirely new last to finally put an end to the complaints of “too much volume,” he was up for the task.

I recently talked it up with both Leo Chang and Nike Senior Product Development Manager Tom Wray to hear all about every last detail built into the shoe. Wray, who has spent a considerable amount of time on the Kobe Bryant signature line and some of the brand’s biggest models, helped Chang to get after perfecting the geometry of the shoe’s sizable midfoot shank and tune the shoe’s Flywire package just right. Enjoy an in-depth look at the Hyperdunk 2011 ahead, as well as several exclusive pullover and early round samples.

Nick DePaula: This is the third Hyperdunk of the series that you’ve done now. Can you talk about some of the things you wanted to improve upon from the last one, and where this year’s version takes us?

Leo Chang: Going into the Hyperdunk 2010, I think we went somewhere pretty cool. Especially in the tooling, where we went with Zoom / Zoom, and I think that was something that a lot of ballers really appreciated. You included.

NDP: Oh yeah. Never a Lunar guy for hoops. [laughs]

LC: The other thing was that we definitely evolved from the original Flywire package, which was a thicker TPU-based and kind of a plasticky package, to more of a Skinwire that was evolved from the Zoom Kobe V. We felt like that could give you a better conformable fit where it went over the toe, but we still felt like we could do better than that. We also wanted to improve just generally, the fit and volume inside of the shoe.

That actually started with the Hyperfuse and the Kobes. Both of those shoes are built on a specific last, and having literally a third of the NBA wearing the Hyperfuse last season at some point was pretty cool. If people were liking the way that played, and maybe it was still a little narrow because of the stiffer Hyperfuse package — but we were on a good path. With Flywire, it’s a little bit more conformable, so we wanted to look at using that last to improve that one-to-one fit. That was the main goal going into this year’s upper. How do we learn from that? The past shoes have been on a wider last.

NDP: Was there anything in particular that inspired some details of the shoe?

LC: Some of the inspiration I got was from looking at the Kobe VI upper package, and how they used layers well. Design wise, I liked how on the LeBron 8 V/2, the whole upper was a combination of mesh and Flywire. I wanted to almost merge those together a bit, and also look to improve on the breathability too. One of the things that we saw on the Kobe VI was they actually perforated in between the Flywire, and gave it some added breathability in between the hot melts. Better fit. Breathability. Midfoot shank rigidity. Those were the goals.

NDP: Yeah, the shank is much more sizable than year’s past.

LC: Definitely, and we went away from the shank that we had in the 2010 for a number of reasons. The shank gave pretty much everyone great support, but it was a bit flat and still bending when we didn’t want it to. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen, and the shank really evolved both in size and geometry.

Tom Wray: Early on, there was a big push to follow the Kobe VI too, in terms of Kurim applications. Here, we can take the best parts of that package and evolve it. On the Kobe, with the scales, that part of the shoe got pretty overworked and played a big role in the look. They had eight or nine colorways for each season, and there was a lot of Kurim out there [laughs], so we wanted to use the same package, but give it a different covering application and top layer.

LC: Early on, we started out with quite a few different meshes too. I don’t know why we hung onto all this stuff, but I knew you guys would appreciate it. [laughs]

NDP:  Well yeah, we always do. [laughs]

Below: The very first pullover sample for the Hyperdunk 2011.

Above: An early round upper sample of the Hyperdunk 2011, that actually incorporates the 2010’s tongue, and the Hyperfuse’s tooling.

NDP: As you got to designing the upper, how did that all come together?

Leo Chang: We looked at things like sublimating the Swoosh into the pattern even, but we ended up feeling like it wasn’t as rich as we’d want. Really, for this whole shoe, it started out with me not actually having a real design on paper, but I knew what I wanted from material combinations. I had the factory take the Hyperdunk 2010 and try new upper packages, and then I began to draw what the upper silhouette and lines could look like. I knew we needed protection in the toe and in the heel, and then I went back after weartesting and looked at covering up even more areas, like the eyestay holes to make sure they didn’t tear. The Flywire pattern definitely evolved along the way.

NDP: So there wasn’t actually as much of a direction in terms of the exact design when you first started out?

LC: I definitely wanted to stay within the Hyperdunk language, but I was more driven by the concept of the composites and what the layering system could do. I wanted to let that guide the design, and there’s definitely still a lot of the same language. You still have the exaggerated collar and the high to low feel. I just really wanted to worry first about this super lightweight upper that fit great. The first sample we got, I put it on, and it was like, “Finally!” It was the upper that really achieves what the original Flywire upper set out to achieve. It had a great one-to-one fit, there weren’t any pressure points when you had it and it flexed well. I think that was one complaint that we got on the 2010.

NDP: Yeah, I thought the same thing. And it varied by color. The team colors were fine for me, but on the USA version though, that white synthetic had a *pop* to it when you flexed.

LC: Yeah, and those are the little things that we want to get better at. We weren’t happy with that, so we just were looking at making the fit and flex even better.

NDP:  Each year, the Hyperdunk gets lighter. Was that the case again here?

TW: We’re still really looking to push lightweight performance. The Kobe V and VI had come out in the 10.5 and up zone, and Leo was looking to have us get the Hyperdunk in that zone. By starting minimal and adding support just where you need it.

NDP: Where’d it end up?

LC: Actually, we got a few samples back that were in the 10.5 ounce zone, but we felt like — and it wasn’t that it was too light — but we just wanted to make sure that we got the fit, support and durability down right. When you start taking away more, people think it’s not going to be as durable and it’s not going to be as stable. We actually started out with an internal counter to get a bit lighter, but then we added on an external counter to get a better 3D molded heel shape and lockdown. We felt like adding things that were a benefit would be better than getting it lighter at an expense. Now, it’s around 11.5 ounces, and we basically are around the same weight as the 2010. It’s micro-fractions of an ounce lighter than last year, but the upper fit, the shank and the heel counter are all so much better, in my opinion. People are going to love it.

NDP: Can you talk about the outsole design? One thing that you notice right away is how both the heel and forefoot Zoom units are visible through a window.

LC: That was something that we just wanted people to know that it was Zoom / Zoom. Last year, there were still some questions about the cushioning set-up, so I just wanted people to be able to know right away this year when they turn the shoe over.

TW: It’s a great call out, and Zoom is our best technology, but people often just have to trust that it’s in there. Rarely do you see it.

NDP: Is it 14mm in the heel and 8mm in the forefoot?

LC: Yeah, exactly. And also, having the window and cut-away in the heel gives it a nice deflection back there. On the outsole, we also have the same dynamic herringbone and outrigger for traction and support. Actually, we were looking at the 2010 and even on some Kobes, and we were seeing some blowouts right above the outrigger on the harshest of cuts. Extreme cuts. When you dip too low with the rubber on the midsole, sometimes that skinwire can peel out. We wanted to creep that up this time around for more durability. I actually got a letter from a couple of kids that said the upper peeled out there. So the first thing I thought was, “Well, how do we solve that?” We added more rubber up around the outrigger to really protect that zone.

NDP: Is the stance a bit different than before? They seem to have a bit more toe spring than last year.

LC: Well, since the last is different, you naturally just have a little more toe spring here. If you look at the Kobe V and VI, they have a bit more of a kick in the toe, and that’s because of the last.

TW: Pretty different fit than the QF-8 last.

NDP: Yeah, and I’ve always heard the QF-8 described as just a more generally accommodating last.

LC: The general man’s last.

TW: It was the go-to last forever. All of the Jordan game shoes were done on the QF-8 forever.

LC: What we were finding was that it works great with leathers and synthetic leathers, but once you start getting to this zone where you have a really thin composite package, it creates a lot more volume within the shoe.

NDP: Interesting; the platform can then feel wider.

LC: Exactly, it feels more wide and sloppy inside, and you really need a sleeker, more form-fitting last here, like the Kobe last, to really get the fit and stability that you want.

NDP: One thing that’s different too is how the triangular window is gone along the collar, and now it’s hinted to with the layering you did.

LC: Sure, and it’s a nod to it. I kind of felt like a broken record again if I were to make the hole just over and over, and I wanted to try something different. The rest of the upper was so meshy feeling, that maybe filling that in made sense.

NDP: Something that Zac and I really liked from the KD line was the notch that you guys added into the collar, which you added here for the first time in the Hyperdunk.

LC: It’s not that expensive to put in there, and the lobes are one of those things that just give you that much more support and extra lockdown.

NDP: From the looks of it, there’s two versions of the Hyperdunk. There’s the first version with the full mesh upper, and the second that you guys are calling “Supreme” that has the beefed up Kurim toe?

LC: The Supreme version was the result of treating the “supreme” version of our shoes as something more than just cooler colorways with new materials and aesthetic treatments. If it’s going to be called Supreme, we should be amping up the performance too. The Kurim stuff is expensive and we couldn’t afford to do it at the pricepoint of the regular version, so the Supreme version gave us this opportunity to do it. The point of the Kurim was to make the toe drag and lateral support areas of the foot even more rugged and supportive. Erick Goto [Nike Basketball Graphic Designer] and I traded the design back and forth to each other and we painstakingly adjusted every bevel angle on the Kurim part! The Kurim design continued the more angular, sharp and fractal design language I had going on in the heel counter. It’s kind of funny looking at some of the older samples and seeing how big the ass was in the tooling early on too. [laughs]

NDP: A little chunky. But not quite 2K5 status!

LC: Yeah, so we scaled that back a little. [laughs] Another thing we changed along the way was the shank not being visible on the lateral side.

TW: A lot of that came from our long-term weartesting and just the shank wear that we could see. We wanted to protect it there. We went right to the end and maybe even a bit past our end deadline to make sure that we had all of the durability checkmarks that we wanted. When you get to a fine line between “super light” vs. “durable enough,” you can’t sacrifice anything.

LC: In terms of the overall design, I really wanted to keep the midsole line language similar to the original Hyperdunk and have a wedge there for support. I had considered having a more built-up wedge even for just super over-the-top midfoot support, but it was a little overkill and it was actually splaying out and compressing down on real hard strides and landings. That was causing the shank, when we had it originally exposed on the lateral side, to get some minor hairline fractures. The shoe was performing great and the shank was great too, but it was just one of those loading fractures, even though it wouldn’t bend. We didn’t want any returns based on that, and even though I loved how it looked with the shank coming out a bit on the lateral side, I really wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to crack at all, so we added some more rubber over the top of it for protection. And actually, the one Blake Griffin wore in the All-Star Game was something we made just for him, and at that point we still had the exposed shank on the lateral side.

Below: An earlier sample of the Hyperdunk 2011, with the….ahem…..more “chunky ass.”

Above: Tom Wray, Nike Senior Product Development Manager

NDP: You mentioned Blake of course, and how was it decided that he was going to be the guy wearing it? Were you aware of that decision while you were working on any of the earlier samples, and did that affect how you were designing it?

LC: He wasn’t involved or discussed really during any of the early samples, but it was just one of those things where we thought it could be a moment, and we wanted him to wear it in the Dunk Contest. For a few reasons, it didn’t end up happening for the contest. He really liked the shoe though, so he wore it the next day for the All-Star Game. It was one of those things where Chuck Terrell, our Sports Marketing contact with the players, was telling me how Blake had been describing his ideal kind of shoe a long time ago, and he told him, “This is what I’ve been talking about! This is what I wanted!” That was really cool, and he likes a lightweight, thinner upper. He really liked the 2K4 back in the day, and he references that a bit.

TW: It’s just crazy to think that a guy who is that big can really be supported and love a shoe like this. When he was at Oklahoma, he wore the first Blue Chip.

NDP: Would you say the biggest challenge along the way was in getting the right material package for the upper?

TW: Yeah, for the upper, definitely. For the tooling, being able to get the shank right and have it give the midfoot rigidity and support that we wanted, but not enter into that fine line where we had too much geometry and too high a sidewall. Getting the upper package to where it was providing the support and durability that we wanted was great too. On the factory side, they get nervous sometimes when we get into these new upper packages and they can often want to reinforce and layer everything. But we got to a really good place on support, and we had to, because this will eventually be a team bank product.

LC: Early on, we had a radiant film Swoosh, but it was one of those things where we kept ignoring the feedback that it wasn’t bonding well. [laughs] Because we all thought it looked cool! It’s one of those things that you can do on a Promo level, and when a friend of mine from Nike Training saw it, he took it and did it on the PlayStation Huarache Trainer they did. It worked out great there, but it might not hold up like a team shoe needs to.

NDP: What are the actual strands made of now? I know originally they were tested with Kevlar, and then Vectran was used in the Hyperdunk. Now are they just nylon?

LC: Yeah, it’s a nylon thread. For us, we wanted to help make it more pliable around the foot and have it flex better, and we finally got there. When the Hyperdunk 2010 launched, I wished I would’ve went back then to have a more sleek last. It was a huge volume shoe for us and we did around a million pairs, and when one option is using a general man’s last to fit that many people, we got cautious about using a last that was too tight like the one the Hyperfuse and Kobe are on. But, we looked at the amount of people wearing the Kobe and Hyperfuses, and we figured it was time to jump in there for the Hyperdunk 2011.

NDP: That’s great to hear. I didn’t like the Hyperize at all. I thought it was just way too sloppy and had a ton of volume. I liked last year’s Hyperdunk, but it could still be better.

LC: Yeah, the Hyperize had too much volume, and we made changes with the upper for the 2010 Hyperdunk. Now, we’re going even further with the last.

NDP: The other thing I’m happy you changed too is just dropping the Lunar Foam and going to a forefoot Zoom Air bag. That makes such a difference to me.

LC: Good, and that’s consistent with the feedback we’ve gotten from a lot of other people too. Another thing we’ve really worked on with the Nike Sport Research Lab, just from looking at slow-motion video, is that we can really better tune the Flywire cables so that they’re working to harness you in right over where your foot is moving during a cut and those motions. We got a chance to check this shoe on a high speed video, and it really holds you in nicely. Another thing that makes a big difference too is just looking really closely and refining the radiuses of the perimeter and the outrigger.

NDP: You mentioned that this Hyperdunk is a bit over the 11 ounce zone and doesn’t make a big leap from last year’s version. Is there an end goal with the Hyperdunk now to get to a certain weight? I’m sure you’ve heard, but other brands have gotten to 9.8 ounces.

LC: Yeah, we heard. [laughs] We’re always going to be lighter than where we’ve been. That’s really the plan, but we’re going to make sure that we’re not compromising anything else too. We want to make sure that the kid can always get that nice premium Zoom feel with the Hyperdunk here, and we’re not compromising on cushioning, support or durability.

I feel like in the past, based on some feedback I’ve heard from consumers, they wanted things a little bit more durable here and there. Those are the things that I want to make sure we have in the shoes first, and then we’ll start to look at how light we can get. There’s definitely going to be moments ahead where we’re going to push it, and you’ll see the Hyperdunks get lighter as well, but for now we like where we’re at.

TW: With our team bank product, we just really feel like we owe the average high school athlete a shoe that they can expect to get a season out of. For elite D1 and NBA guys, durability might not be as big of an issue for them. But for a high school kid that goes out and lays down $125 from his parent’s wallet or his own, they should get the better part of a season out of these and we know those are the guys we need to be keeping happy.

LC: People write me letters and emails all the time, and they’ll say, “Hey, I paid a lot of money for these, and I want it to last.” We might’ve had delam problems on a few shoes where people had to return them, and they want them to last instead. We strive all the time to make our products more and more durable, and that’s always the goal — to have a great balance of lightweight stability, durability and comfort. I want to push how light we can go for sure, but there are some realities of what people need the shoes for too. I’ve had kids tell me, “Lightweight is cool, but it’s already pretty light.” So let’s just make sure that everything they need is there. With all composites along the upper that we do, it’s definitely a science project to make sure that each layer bonds right to eachother. We went through rounds and rounds of different materials to get it right.

Available Now: Nike Zoom Hyperdunk 2011

Below: A look at the top and bottom sides of the Hyperdunk 2011’s 3D molded midfoot shank.

Below: Additional looks at Flywire packages, early samples and the all black launch colorway of the Hyperdunk 2011.

Interview: Deron Williams & Tyreke Evans

Interview: Deron Williams & Tyreke Evans

Interview: Deron Williams & Tyreke Evans At Call Of Duty Escalation Map Pack Launch

words & interview // Zac Dubasik
photos // Katrin Auch for Activision

Their basketball seasons may have ended earlier than either would have liked, but this afternoon, Deron Williams and Tyreke Evans had the opportunity to face off away from the hardwood. If you follow many NBA players on Twitter, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that playing Call of Duty has become as much of an off-court pastime for some players as gambling on the team plane, or eating at Cheesecake Factory. And today is a lucky day for those players, and any gamers, who are passionate about Call of Duty: Black Ops, because it marks the launch of the new “Escalation” map pack, which made its debut on Xbox Live. And to help launch these additional maps, Williams and Evans faced off, along with media and Call of Duty developers.

Prior to their Grudge Match (which Deron’s team went on to win 4-2), I had a chance to talk with DWill and Tyreke about gaming, hoops and, of course, sneakers.

Zac Dubasik: How much time do each of you guys spend playing video games?
Deron: I haven’t played in a month because of my wrist surgery. But I play quite a bit. This is my late-night game. My kids don’t let me play during the day, so I play after games, and when we come back from road trips. I’m on it until like 3 or 4 in the morning.
Tyreke: [I don’t play] that much, but I play here and there. I’m not that good though. [laughs]

ZD: What is it about Call of Duty that you guys like so much?
Deron: I just like the game. I’ve tried a lot of games. Earlier on, I played Rainbow Six, and games like that. But this game just blows that stuff away. I’ve never been to war, but I think it’s pretty realistic, and the guns are pretty realistic. I shoot guns a lot, so I’ve shot a lot of the guns that are on the game, and I think that’s what I like about it.

Interview: Deron Williams & Tyreke Evans At Call Of Duty Escalation Map Pack LaunchZD: Tyreke, what do you think about how they are able to expand and add new elements to the games, like with this new “Escalation” map pack?
Tyreke: I think it’s pretty cool. Especially when you get to [the level] some people are at. When I play a lot, that’s the only thing I have trouble with: knowing where people are coming from. [laughs] I get stabbed in the back of the neck and things like that. The game is cool, it’s realistic, and really good.

ZD: Did you both grow up playing video games?
Deron: Yeah, I’ve been playing video games since Nintendo, and Mike Tyson’s punchout, and all that. Then I graduated through everything there’s been over the years. Now I play Xbox.

ZD: And you Tyreke?
Tyreke: I’ve been playing games a lot. Madden, NBA Live, NBA Jam. My brothers and I always had games.

ZD: Tyreke, the big news came out this week, and it looks like you are definitely going to be in Sacramento next season. Could you talk about what it’s like to finally have an answer?
Tyreke: Sacramento is a good city. The fans always come out and support us, even when we aren’t winning. They always support us. That’s where I got drafted. We do everything for the fans, and hopefully we can make it to the playoffs next season.

ZD: How aware were you of everything that was going on during the season? Did you have much information?
Tyreke: I really didn’t know. Fans were asking me if we were leaving; they thought we knew. But we didn’t have any clue what was going on. We were just like them, trying to find out what was going to happen. We just worried about playing, and trying to finish the season out strong.

ZD: Did you find it to be distracting?
Tyreke: A little bit. When I’d go out, people would be asking all the time. They didn’t want us to leave, and people were upset about it. They had an all-purple day out there. It was pretty crazy.

ZD: In contrast to that Deron, where everyone was wondering what would happen to the Kings, and where everyone was talking about where a few other players may or may not make moves to, your trade pretty much took everyone by surprise. Could you talk about what that was like, and how big of a transition it was moving from a smaller market, to New Jersey?
Deron: It was definitely different. It caught me off guard when I got traded, and took me a little while to fit in. It wasn’t the best timing for everything to happen.  But, since things have settled down, and I’ve had a chance to be around the organization, they’ve been great to me. They’ve made me feel really comfortable. I had a conversation with the owner, Mr. Prokhorov, and the direction he wants to take things in has got me really excited. I went and saw the site for the new arena, and how things are progressing there. There’s definitely some things that I’m looking forward to over the next year, and that will help me decide on what I want to do with my future after that.

ZD: Has it been tough this Playoffs, watching from the sidelines for a change?
Deron: Yeah, it’s been tough man. You know, this is the first year I haven’t been in the Playoffs since my rookie year. We had four straight years of going to the Playoffs, and it’s tough sitting there watching games when you feel like you should be out there playing. But, hopefully we can bring Jersey back to the Playoffs next year, and have a good move to Brooklyn after that.

ZD: Have you been following the Playoffs much, and watching a lot of games?
Deron: I’ve been watching off and on. I don’t sit there and watch the whole games, because it just pisses me off. But, I’ve caught a couple games, and a couple different scenarios.
Tyreke: I’ve watched a couple games, but I’m in the same boat. You can’t watch too much. It makes me want to get in the gym and start working out. But I’ve watched a few games here and there.

ZD: Have either of you been surprised by any teams, or players so far?
Deron: The whole Playoffs have really been a surprise. With Memphis winning, and knocking out the number one seed, and Atlanta upsetting Orlando, there’s been a lot of upsets. And now, a lot of teams are down 0-1 that you thought would be up 1-0.

ZD: One of the big stories this season in the NBA has been the great play of so many point guards. Has that been motivating and inspiring for the two of you?
Tyreke: For me, I’m really just starting to get the point guard position down pat; I was a 2-guard all my life. Now, I’ve moved to the point guard, and I’m just trying to figure out some of the tricks that can get me better, and work on my game. I’m looking forward to it, to get better.
Deron: I think it’s a challenge every night. Every night, you are going to be going up against tough point guards. There’re really no nights off; there’s never really an easy night. And I think that’s the main thing – there’s a lot of competition, friendly competition, and rivalries that are going to form over the next several years.

Interview: Deron Williams & Tyreke Evans At Call Of Duty Escalation Map Pack LaunchZD: I have a few sneaker questions now. Deron, you wore a lot of Hyperfuses this year, both the mid and low. Could you talk about how that shoe worked for you, and what you liked so much about it?
Deron: I love the Hyperfuse, and the technology is great. I’ll say it’s probably the best shoe I’ve been in, since I’ve been in the NBA. As far as support, I tear up shoes. I’m pretty hard on shoes, because I do a lot of cutting, moving and changing pace, and these have been the best ones for me. I usually have to change shoes every two games, and I still do, but I wouldn’t need to with these. They’ve been good to me.

Do you get involved with the colorways and materials?
Deron: We talk a lot about it. Nike comes to me every summer, and we go over different colorways, and what I like, what I don’t like about certain shoes. Even though I wear Hyperfuses, I always like to make a little change to them here and there.

How about you Tyreke? In college, and then in your rookie season, you wore the Hyperdunk. And then this season you went with the Hyperdunk 2010. Could you talk about those shoes?
Tyreke: They were good. I think the ones I wore last year were the best shoes, and the new ones that I had were really light.

ZD: What are you guys into wearing off the court?
Deron: I rock Nikes man. Air Maxes. Blazers. Occasional Dunks.
Tyreke: Me too. I wear Nikes.

ZD: Do you have an all-time favorite shoe?
Deron: Air Max 95s are my favorite shoe.

ZD: The neon’s?
Deron: Yeah. I just had to throw those away, because I wore ‘em too much!

ZD: How about you Tyreke?
Tyreke: There’s a lot of shoes that Nike makes, but I’d probably say the Air Force 1. White-on-white.

ZD: Last question. Do either of you want to make a prediction on who will end up taking the NBA Title this season?
Deron: I think Miami is going to win it.
Tyreke: I like Miami.

Interview: Deron Williams & Tyreke Evans At Call Of Duty Escalation Map Pack Launch

Interview: Deron Williams & Tyreke Evans At Call Of Duty Escalation Map Pack Launch

Interview: Deron Williams & Tyreke Evans At Call Of Duty Escalation Map Pack Launch

Interview: Deron Williams & Tyreke Evans At Call Of Duty Escalation Map Pack Launch

C.J. Watson of the Chicago Bulls Talks Sneakers

C.J. Watson of the Chicago Bulls Talks Sneakers

Interview: C.J. Watson of the Chicago Bulls Talks Hoops

words & interview // Brandon Richard

Earlier, we talked a little bit about basketball and life with Chicago Bulls guard C.J. Watson, but what you may or may not know is that C.J. is also quite knowledgeable about sneakers. Outside of what he wears on the court, he’s also been known to keep tabs on shoes in his downtime. In our first interview with C.J. nearly a year ago, he cited the Air Max 95, FILA Grant Hill and Air Jordan II as a couple of his all-time favorite models.

In the second part of my interview with C.J. this week, I asked him a few questions sneakers, namely his love affair with the Nike Zoom Hyperfuse this season. He also let us know why he didn’t stick with the Air Max Fly By for long, recalled his test run of the Air Max 360 BB Low and gave us his thoughts on sneakers continuing to get lighter and lower.

Also remember that C.J. and the Quiet Storm Foundation are giving away tickets to Game 2 of the NBA Conference Semi-Finals against the Atlanta Hawks! Entering is easy; simply head over to the contest page, make a $10 or more donation to his foundation and wait to see if your name is the lucky one picked. The winner may also receive a chance to meet C.J. in person after the game.

Brandon Richard:  For the majority of the season, the Hyperfuse was your playing shoe of choice. However, recently we’ve seen you introduce the new Air Max BB 360 Low into your rotation. Is there any particular reason you’re giving the BB 360 burn after using the Hyperfuse all season long?
C.J. Watson: I just liked how they looked and felt, and after wearing them a few times, I went right back to the Hyperfuse.

BR:  Can you tell us some things you like about the Hyperfuse?
CJ: I like how light the Hyperfuse is. They are just what I need: light, sleek, with a cool look and design to them.

BR: You also spent some time playing in the Air Max Fly By with the high ankle strap. However, by the end of the year, you were back in the regular Hyperfuse. Did you find yourself preferring the feel of the Hyperfuse over the Fly By?
CJ: Yeah, I liked the feel of the Hyperfuse better. I wear two pairs of socks, and the Air Max Fly Bys were giving me a bunion, so I went back to the Hyperfuse. The Air Max Fly Bys were kind of tight and narrow, and I didn’t really like that.

BR: Two of the biggest trends we’re seeing with basketball sneakers is making them as lightweight and low-cut as possible. You’ve tested both throughout the season. Do you have any opinions on sneakers continuing to get lower and lighter?
CJ: I don’t know how much lower and lighter they can go, but if they do, we will be playing in socks after a while. But I think it’s always good to come out with something different and new that people haven’t seen.

BR: Were there any other shoes you picked up throughout the year that didn’t make it to the court?
CJ: I like a lot of different running shoes, so I picked up a few [pairs] of the new Air Max ’95 and a few Jordans. I think Jordans should only be worn off the court. He’s too great of a player to wear his shoes on the court. No one will ever be as good as him.

BR: You’ve talked about being a sneakerhead in the past. Is that something you still have time to keep up with these days? Moreso during the off-season?
CJ: Not as much anymore. I still have a lot of different kicks and try to get the hottest sneakers out, but I’m not as addicted as I was when I was younger.

Interview: C.J. Watson of the Chicago Bulls Talks Hoops

C.J. Watson of the Chicago Bulls Talks Hoops

C.J. Watson of the Chicago Bulls Talks Hoops

Interview: C.J. Watson of the Chicago Bulls Talks Hoops

words & interview // Brandon Richard

When boarding a plane in Miami back in July of 2010, C.J. Watson received news that would change his life forever. After two years of speculation and uncertainty, the Golden State Warriors agreed to trade him to the Chicago Bulls. The drastic change in scenery would not only give C.J. a fresh start, but an opportunity to contend for an NBA Championship. While his journey certainly isn’t complete, the former Tennessee standout that worked his way through European and Developmental leagues to get to the NBA has come full circle.

For C.J. joining the Bulls organization couldn’t have come at a better time. Those mid-2000s “Baby Bulls” teams were solid, but this year’s Thibodeau-led group is the best we’ve seen since ‘you know who‘ exited the United Center. He also has the task of backing up the guy we assume will be named league MVP within the next week or so. His role has changed from the Golden State days. The minutes aren’t always there, and because of that, the double-digit scoring averaging from a year ago has decreased. However, he’s playing a vital role on a team that’s winning a bunch of games, and he’s more than willing to embrace that role if it means walking off the court victorious.

Speaking of embracing roles, there’s a group of reserves in Chicago that have taken it to the next level. Players like C.J., Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson, all talented in their own right, have formed what is known as the “Bench Mob.” The energetic group that plays with a lot of heart and hustle has not only helped Chicago obtain the league’s best record, but they’re as equally loved in the United Center as the starting 5.

Off the court, C.J. is still pushing forth with his Quiet Storm Foundation. In addition to basketball, playing in a major city has also created new opportunities for Quiet Storm. The foundation hosted a Vegas Nights event at the Chicago Cultural Center back in January, with proceeds benefiting three local schools. Additionally, C.J. and Quiet Storm hosted his annual Black History Essay Contest, participated in by students from both Chicago and his hometown of Las Vegas. The contest was highlighted by a luncheon ceremony for all of the kids, including groups flown in from Vegas.

I was recently able to catch up with C.J. and ask a few questions about the Chicago Bulls season and all of the changes going on in his life. In addition to the interview, I was given some information that will excite Bulls fans everywhere. In association with Quiet Storm, C.J. is giving away two tickets to Chicago’s Eastern Conference Semi-Finals game against the Atlanta Hawks. Entering is simple: just head over to the contest giveaway page, make a $10 or more contribution to the Quiet Storm Foundation and a winner will be chosen at random to attend Game 2 on Wednesday night. Winners may also receive the chance to meet C.J. after the game.

Make sure you enter for a chance to win and check out my interview with C.J. below. Stick with Eastbay for a second part where C.J. chats with us about sneakers as well.

Brandon Richard:  Heading to Chicago, you knew you were going to a good situation. How soon did you realize that the Bulls could be a threat for the overall best record in the league and a legit contender for an NBA Championship?
C.J. Watson: I think it didn’t come until like mid-season, maybe January or February, when we had our whole team and everyone was healthy and playing. Then we realized we could compete with any and everyone in this league.

BR: Tom Thibodeau is certainly one of the most vocal coaches in the league. Behind the animated sideline behavior is a guy who is quickly gaining respect as one of the NBA’s best coaches. What’s one thing he taught you this season that you think has made you a better player?
CJ: He taught me about preparation and always being ready. He is the most prepared coach I have ever had as far as getting his players prepared [and] making sure we know all the opponents’ plays, coverages and calls. He also tells me to be ready and stay ready, because you never know what can happen at any given moment.

BR:  Chicago’s reserves, including yourself, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson, have assumed identity of “Bench Mob.” How did that nickname come about?
CJ: We started playing well, and everyone said we needed a nickname. I stole it from my college teammates at Tennessee. They called themselves the “Bench Mob,” and I remembered it one day, and it has stuck with us ever since.

BR: Individually, you’re all guys who could probably start and put up numbers on lesser NBA squads. What is it about the Bulls’ culture right now that is making it so easy for you all to play your roles and embrace the challenge of holding court for the starting five?
CJ: We all want the bigger prize at the end. We all know we can be good players in this league and can start on any other team, but in order for us to have a shot at the championship, we have to sacrifice something while still playing major roles and doing what we do on the court.

BR: After playing a year in Chicago, what did you find was the biggest difference between the city and your time in the Golden State?
CJ: The traffic in Chicago is horrible. Sometimes I’ll be sitting in traffic on the way to the game and I’ll think, “Why did I drive? I should’ve just rode with someone else.” The traffic is that bad sometimes.

BR: You’ve gone from battling your way out of European ball and the D-League, to being part of an NBA team that finishes the season with the best record in the league. Obviously there’s still a long way to go before you can sit back and fully reflect on your journey, but how does it feel to be playing meaningful playoff basketball for such a storied franchise?
CJ: It’s great and fulfilling at the same time. The journey is what makes winning and being successful so fun. For all of the hard work you put in to pay off is a great feeling, but there’s still a lot more to be done this year and in life before I can sit back and reflect on a great career.

BR: The Quiet Storm Foundation has been presented with a lot of new opportunities since your arrival in Chicago. The Vegas Nights Fundraiser back in January was a huge success. Where can we expect to see you and Quiet Storm this summer?
CJ: A lot of new opportunities have presented themselves for my foundation in Chicago and in other cities as well. In July, the Quiet Storm Foundation will be hosting a free basketball camp for about 300 kids in Las Vegas. There will also be a back-to-school event in August for kids in Las Vegas. Mostly everything will happen in Las Vegas this summer, because that’s where I’m from.

BR: You recently celebrated Birthday number 27. What’d you wish for?
CJ: I really didn’t wish for anything, but if I did, I would probably wish for health, strength and just thank God for another year to be alive. I would probably also wish for a championship in June, too!!!

Interview: C.J. Watson of the Chicago Bulls Talks Hoops

Joe Mauer x Playstation x Nike Trainer Event Recap

Joe Mauer x Playstation x Nike Trainer Event Recap

Joe Mauer x Playstation x Nike Zoom Huarache Trainer Low Launch Event Recap


words & images // Steve Mullholand

On April 6th, I get a call from one of my friends from PlayStation.

“Can you make it to Minnesota to capture the new PlayStation x Nike Training shoe, and by the way, it’s on the 9th?”

Being in the media world, good things happen – and they happen fast and they happen far away. But that is what makes it fun – you never know where you will be in a week or what story you will be covering. And if PlayStation and Nike are involved, you are guaranteed a good time with some great shoes.

Luckily, I was in Portland when I got the call. A quick call to Delta later, and I was able to change my flight up so I could travel to Minnesota on the way back down to Miami. Not exactly a direct flight, but at least I was headed east. When I landed in Minneapolis early on Saturday, April 9th, I was pretty excited to see the shoes, the box and meet up with Joe Mauer. But I was also interested in seeing the Mall of America, because I had never been. I’m going to have to pre-qualify this next sentence – I dislike malls as much as the next person – but damn…! The Mall of America is no joke. The roller coaster, sheer amount of shops and the huge number of people – even when the doors opened – all made for a great experience. When I made my way to the Nike Store, it didn’t disappoint either. The well laid-out store had something special sitting on the stage awaiting us – a rather large wooden box – and the reason I made the trip.

After getting through security I met up with my friend Alex from PlayStation. We went through the run of show and then he lead me back to the stage where the custom box housing a custom PlayStation and custom cleats where waiting for me. I’ve seen a lot of sneaker boxes over the past few years – everything from carbon fiber to acrylic – and as soon as I saw this box I knew it was going to be in the top 10 sneaker boxes of all time. And man – it did not disappoint.

As you can see by the photos – the box is next level in more ways than one. The base on top of the box with the metal PlayStation logo immediately signaled that something special was within its hold. Upon opening the lid, you’ll notice an amazing customized PlayStation with a baseball controller. It was real nice. Within the second level were two sets of shoes – one pair of customized Joe Mauer player exclusives cleats with “The Show” logo on them. The second pair was the PlayStation x Nike Training Zoom Huarache Trainer Low – super clean and well done.

Joe Mauer x Playstation x Nike Zoom Huarache Trainer Low Launch Event Recap

I only had ten minutes to take photos of the shoes, box and PlayStation, so I took a quick light reading (I had no strobes, so I knew I would have to be smarter than the lights…) and went at it. I fired off 100 shots or so, and then the crowd started moving in. You could tell – these kids were really excited about the event and the chance to see their local star Joe Mauer up close and in person.

Joe Mauer x Playstation x Nike Zoom Huarache Trainer Low Launch Event Recap

Joe got up on stage and was super nice and laid back, eager to interact with everyone. Nike had already picked out three lucky kids to play PlayStation’s “The Show” with Mauer. They put the game on home run derby mode and had at it. The first three kids were pretty good – one of them really good — but when Joe got up there, you could tell he knew what he was doing. After they played a round of home run derby, we got to check out photos of several Nike Training shoes that local area students had designed on NIKEiD.

Joe Mauer x Playstation x Nike Zoom Huarache Trainer Low Launch Event Recap

All in all, it was a great event to showcase Mauer’s with really solid kicks and an amazing box. I guarantee the kids that got up early on a Saturday morning to attend the event were not disappointed. A lucky few were even able to buy the PlayStation x Nike Training Zoom Huarache Trainer Lows at the event. Afterwards, I was able to get a few questions with Twins Catcher and “The Show” front man Joe Mauer:

Steve Mullholand: Have you had the opportunity to bring your own influence to the design for catcher’s gear and cleats?
Joe Mauer: I had an opportunity to meet with the Nike team in Beaverton during the off-season.  We discussed the concept of the shoe and it was great to see them incorporate some of my feedback, and they even added my Dad’s saying on the laces, “Bear Down.”

SM: What was it like playing in cold weather growing up and is there any advice you have for kids going through similar issues of having games rained/snowed out?
JM: Growing up in Minnesota you definitely have to get used to playing in the elements.  Although I must say that with the new Target Field, you simply can’t beat playing outdoors on a perfect summer day.

SM: The catcher’s position is one where defense is most important. With you being such a huge threat on offense and defense, do you feel any added pressure to perform at a high level both at the plate and defensively as a catcher?
JM: Being a catcher, you are involved in every single play of a baseball game, so you constantly have to stay focused. I think that focus translates well when I get up to bat because I spend 90% of a game staring at pitchers.

SM: With 162 games on the schedule, Major League Baseball without a doubt has the most grueling run to the postseason. What do you think are the keys to being as mentally focused in April as you are in October?
JM: I think our team is fortunate that we have a really great spring training program that gets you into the right mindset immediately when the season starts.  The coaches promote competition from day one, and we have a great mix of players in the locker-room that thrive off of that.

SM: Did the Zoom Huarache Trainer Low play a role in your training for the current season? If so, what were your impressions and did they help you with any baseball-specific drills?
JM: The new trainers are amazing.  Because so much of what we do on the baseball field is lateral movement, it really is important to have a shoe that gives you the proper support.  You can go from the weight room directly to the field, without having to worry about changing your shoes.

SM: Though video games are generally regarded as a downtime activity, Playstation has gone above and beyond to bring a sense of realism to the players on ‘The Show.’ Do you find that being involved with the game’s development and playing at home helps you familiarize yourself with other teams and their in-game tendencies?
JM: Video games have come a long way since I was younger.  MLB The Show is definitely a useful tool because they have done such a great job of capturing every little detail.  I know our pitchers have used the game to stay current on opposing lineups and become more familiar with each players stance.

Joe Mauer x Playstation x Nike Zoom Huarache Trainer Low Launch Event Recap

Joe Mauer x Playstation x Nike Zoom Huarache Trainer Low Launch Event Recap

Joe Mauer x Playstation x Nike Zoom Huarache Trainer Low Launch Event Recap

Joe Mauer x Playstation x Nike Zoom Huarache Trainer Low Launch Event Recap

Joe Mauer x Playstation x Nike Zoom Huarache Trainer Low Launch Event Recap

Joe Mauer x Playstation x Nike Zoom Huarache Trainer Low Launch Event Recap

Joe Mauer x Playstation x Nike Zoom Huarache Trainer Low Launch Event Recap

Joe Mauer x Playstation x Nike Zoom Huarache Trainer Low Launch Event Recap

Joe Mauer x Playstation x Nike Zoom Huarache Trainer Low Launch Event Recap

Joe Mauer x Playstation x Nike Zoom Huarache Trainer Low Launch Event Recap

Joe Mauer x Playstation x Nike Zoom Huarache Trainer Low Launch Event Recap

Joe Mauer x Playstation x Nike Zoom Huarache Trainer Low Launch Event Recap

Joe Mauer x Playstation x Nike Zoom Huarache Trainer Low Launch Event Recap

Joe Mauer x Playstation x Nike Zoom Huarache Trainer Low Launch Event Recap