words & interview // Nick DePaula
video // Jotham Porzio
After humble beginnings in the DMV and a journey that’s taken him to Austin, Seattle and now on to superstardom in Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant is looking forward to yet another season in the Association and another shot at the NBA Finals after coming up short last spring.
“Championship drive takes an entire team,” says Durant. “The new KD V represents the roadmap I follow.”
As Nike Basketball Design Director Leo Chang, who’s now penned all five of Durant’s signature models, explains in our exclusive interview below, ever-present theme of team and family never escapes the Zoom KD series.
Hear firsthand from Chang below as he breaks down the initial starting points for the new Zoom KD V, along with design and logo details and why Durant’s newest shoe comes equipped with heel Air Max, a first.
The Nike Zoom KD V is now available in both the “OKC” Black / Photo Blue colorway and “DMV” Bright Crimson / White / Wolf Grey colorway.
words & images // Nick DePaula
interview // Nick DePaula & Zac Dubasik
As Nike Basketball Senior Product Line Manager (and owner of a lengthy job title) Charles Williams explains it, “This is not your father’s Shox.”
And that’s a good thing.
For one, we live in a footwear world where every ounce counts. Shox, in their traditional form, also happen to be perceptively more firm than the more sculpted and radiused foam-based midsoles that we’ve all enjoyed playing in lately. Logically then, four decently sized columns of solid polyurethane with a plastic moderator plate sandwiching both sides of the heel unit might not even deserve a presence in today’s industry.
As footwear evolved, Shox had become, in the words of many at Nike, too costly, heavy and firm for today’s athlete.
To figure out exactly how the new Shox Hyperballer, still priced relatively high at $160, moves the needle for mechanical cushioning in hoops, we recently caught up with Nike Basketball Design Director Leo Chang, Nike Senior Product Development Manager Tom Wray and Senior PLM Charles Williams to hear all about the development process that hopes to usher in a new era of Shox.
Nick DePaula: How’d the Shox Hyperballer come about, and where does it fit into the line this season?
Charles Williams: Well, I tried my hardest to name this shoe the Max Hyperballer, because this is a Max shoe. If I could do a marketing campaign for this shoe, the tagline would be, “This is not your father’s Shox.” That was the whole premise with this shoe, to make it different. I got a brief from my boss’s boss’s boss, and the idea was, “We want to re-introduce mechanical cushioning.” We think there’s a consumer out there for it, and there’s a few other categories, specifically Running, that has done pretty well with it. Shox in Basketball has a heritage already, and everyone can remember when they first came out. I was a Sales Associate at Niketown Chicago when the Shox BB4 first came out, and I was right with all of the consumers that coveted that shoe.
NDP: So you had the mechanical cushioning directive from the top. How long ago did this project begin then? Did it start out in the Innovation Kitchen?
Leo Chang: Well, T-Wray worked on the first Air Shox shoe a few years back that never made it out, and that was actually for Fall ’10.
Tom Wray: That was a long process and got dropped, but yeah, Innovation had started the whole Air Shox concept, and it began as a corporate initiative that Nike Running took to market first. We tried to get on it and there were a whole bunch of things that held it back, whether it was weight, consumer relevance or costing. There was just the whole issue of basketball consumers having a sour taste in their mouths with Shox. In my simple mind, I too tried to think that we maybe shouldn’t even call it Shox — call it Max Air something.
There’s a Max Air bag here in four pods, and it’s not Shox anymore and it’s not going to play like Shox. It’s softer, more cushioned, more responsive and has better transition. Unfortunately, there was a connotation around Shox that it was going to be firm. The other factor is the costing aspect, and the number of molds that it takes to build the platform. It’s pretty amazing, and it’s about nine pieces to put that bottom together.
Williams: We really took our time developing this platform and the tail at the heel to make sure it was right. Leo and the team worked with the Innovation Kitchen and Fred Dojan quite a bit to really finish the project. Fred is a master, and he’s been the guy behind some of the best projects of the last five years. He’s the guy who worked on this technology, and he really lent a lot of knowledge to our Considered Basketball initiative from a few years ago. He has the ability to work years in advance and really innovate. My whole thing with this project was, “Fred, this cannot look like Shox of the past!”
He started really working on it, and one of the things that he was really able to pull off, that I hope consumers can appreciate, was bringing that heel stability wedge in quite a bit. It used to sit way out here [points wide]. [laughs] I was actually shooting to lose that tail altogether from an aesthetic perspective, but for basketball, there’s no possible way you can lose that. In Running, they don’t use a tail on their columns, but basketball has more impact forces from landing after a jump, and you definitely need it. It was really about taking the Hyperfuse look and feel, and modernizing the Shox platform for it.
Wray: The biggest thing was just pulling it in a bit. Even on the old Shox columns in basketball, the tail really stuck out a bit, and it was almost like a fifth column. In our original designs here, a few people on our team were still hung up on that fifth column, that little Avatar tail. [laughs] Fortunately, Leo was able to bring it in and make it work. It doesn’t stick out as far and looks a lot more integrated.
NDP: Leo, did you have any experience designing a Shox shoe? What was different about it?
Chang: I did some Shox shoes actually when I was in Running, but by the time I got to Basketball, not so much. Shox was a huge business for Basketball at the start of the last decade. They were doing a million pairs each. In Running, it was the same thing, and they were doing almost two million pairs of each model. I guess people just got away from the mechanical cushioning concept, and we’ve found that people have wanted to feel closer to the floor.
NDP: And even more than anything, the older Shox didn’t feel balanced. It’s one thing to be in a heavy shoe, but a shoe that isn’t balanced is far worse.
Chang: In terms of the tooling, we have a forefoot encapsulated Air unit, so you get that nice Air to Air transition from the heel to the forefoot and it should feel more balanced. I really started out by designing this bigger lateral support wing for some nice lockdown on the footbed for the bigger guys. At the time, it was also one of the lighter uppers that we were able to pull off for this kind of shoe. Whenever we put it on the scale, it’s the lightest upper we’ve ever done for a Shox shoe. If you compare this to the Hyperfuse though, it’s a very comparable upper and they’re both very lightweight.
Wray: The other thing too that we started to notice after the first Hyperdunk, is that guys in our D1 testing program really wanted us to make a lighter upper for a Shox shoe. They kept saying our older Shox approach was too heavy now, and they weren’t going to play in it. We’ve always tried to compare it to the full-length Max Air shoes we do, and not to the Hyperdunk, because it’s never going to be that light. Now though, we’ve gotten a Shox shoe to be the same weight as the Max Hyperdunk, and that’s an accomplishment.
Chang: Exactly, and it’s for the guy who likes the full-length Max ride. If you enjoy those, you’ll definitely like this.
NDP: So it’ll be worn by teams and on the college level? I think it helps that it shares a similar design as the Hyperfuse too, because a lot of teammates might want to wear the Shox version, while other guys can wear the Hyperfuse and they can all blend together on court.
Williams: Yeah, and Leo and the team decided that this was going to be a big team play, and we wanted to re-introduce it to the market slowly and not just push it down people’s throats. We can combine the two cushioning units of Shox and Air, and give people a familiar upper from the Hyperfuse that’s more modern. If you caught the playoffs, both Shawn Marion and Jermaine O’Neal were wearing them, and all of the rest of the Shox guys that have been wearing them on their own, especially Vince [Carter], have really had great feedback for us.
Even online, it’s gotten some favorable comments. If you think about the consumer that’s 16 or 17, Shox is really old to them. Even when they see it in this new form, that’s what they wore in elementary school, so they might not want that anymore and that’s the challenge that we have. Zac Dubasik: Was there any discussion around using a more traditional Max housing with the columns inside? Like what we saw a handful of years back with the Shox Limelight and Spotlight?
Williams: Not really, because this was really the story with the shoe all along. We wanted to bring back mechanical cushioning and start to introduce it to people that were the Shox consumer. There’s been Shox in Training, Running and Women’s Running, but ultimately, the innovation and performance of Shox was really born through Basketball.
NDP: Of course. Vince jumping over a dude at the Olympics didn’t hurt.
Williams: That’s how consumers viewed it too, and it was a staple in our line. We can always do a Max platform, and we have the Max Hyperdunk 2011 that guys like Chris Bosh will wear. We’ll always do that, and the goal here is to expand the line. Some things aren’t going to work, and some things aren’t going to be for everybody, but what we try and do is really make sure that we’re continually pushing and providing options. It sounds corny, but one of our maxims is, “The consumer decides.” My job is to not only get it out there, but make sure it’s not corny when it gets out there. As long as it has some of the proper attributes that people want, I think once people give these a shot, put it on and play in it, they’ll like them.
The great thing about this new setup too is that we can really work on versions that might be off the beaten path. We can use our DCS coloring process to give more life to the columns. That Shox unit is actually five different pieces along with the four columns. There’s the pebax plate, the moderator plate, the wedge and all that good stuff. Now, we can go in and do multiple colors and tell a cool story.
NDP: Is it safe to say that the older PU-based Shox columns are entirely done for then?
Williams: We won’t be using those again. I can’t speak for another category, because that configuration may be used in Running or Training again, but for us, when we do mechanical cushioning with respect to Shox, it will be in this new form. We won’t use PU again. I say that with all of the confidence in the world, because nobody in Innovation is saying, “Hey, I have an unbelievable breakthrough with PU.” This is the breakthrough.
Available Now: Nike Shox Hyperballer
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.
words & images // Nick DePaula
You learned all about the design details and performance insights that went into building the Nike Zoom KD III in Part 1 of our interview with Leo Chang and the Nike Basketball team that works on Kevin Durant’s signature product, but what about KD’s personal input right after a full-on workout? Or the colorways he most wanted to see this time around on his third namesake model?
Check out Part 2 of our Zoom KD III feature below, as Nike Basketball Design Director Leo Chang, Footwear Developer Dolores Thompson and Pro Sports Marketing Field Representative Charles Terrell help to walk us through both the shoe and what it’s like to work with KD. Nike Basketball Product Line Manager Will Eberhart was also kind enough to join in on the second half of our roundtable discussion.
To read Part 1, check here: Leo Chang & Nike Basketball Details The Zoom KD III (Part 1 / 2)
Nick DePaula: The price point of KD’s shoes is something that always sets him apart from other signature athletes. Is he contractually locked into that $88 zone and staying below $90 for the foreseeable future?
Charles Terrell: There’s nothing on paper, but that was something that we’ve always been eye to eye on that’s important to him and that we said we were going to do. As he elevates, it’s going to be harder to do, and I think that’s the challenge. But that’s a welcome challenge, and I don’t think it’ll be something we shy away from. We’ll have conversations with him too, when we think the time is right to re-assess the business.
NDP: In three to five years, Kobe will be older and LeBron will be onto his 13th shoe….
Terrell: Kobe won’t be playing in five years. [laughs]
NDP: Exactly. [laughs]
Will Eberhart: I think even more importantly for him, is his personal connection with the kids that are buying his shoes and how that relates to how he grew up. It’s more important to him to have a kid that can afford his shoes and have a kid that grew up like him be able to afford his shoes. We’ve seen it in the past, with a number of athletes who had very pricey shoes for their time period, who ended up going to funny companies.
NDP: Don’t hate on my man CWebb!
Eberhart: I’m just saying!! The reason was, guys who grew up like him couldn’t afford his shoes. It’s a personal thing for him to have his shoe be more affordable.
NDP: Is part of the long-term plan in keeping his price-points low also just sharing the tooling? We saw the 1 and 2 carry over the same outsole.
Dolores Thompson: Not necessarily. There might be certain upper molds like a KD logo or certain things that we might be able to share, but as far as the bottom tooling, no.
NDP: So the IV won’t be on the same?
Eberhart: As signature styles grow and evolve, you want more signature details in the shoe, and you won’t necessarily just share tooling. The goal is to keep him at a premium level as much as possible.
Leo Chang: On that note, this is the first time in a long time that we’ve done as robust and as nice of a shank on an $88 shoe. That’s something we do on a $100-$125 shoe level or more. We have this nice 3D shape that really prevents the midfoot area from bending in weird ways. That’s something that working with the Thunder Director of Sports Medicine Donnie Strack, we were we able to learn more about just the biomechanics of KD’s foot. Some of the guys were wearing the Hyperize at the time that we started these, and they felt like it was bending in weird spots, and Donnie was pointing that out to us and why those players didn’t like it. For us, it was all knowledge to incorporate into this shoe for him and his teammates, to make sure it doesn’t do that. Even after that meeting, we kept in touch and would always meet with Donnie when the Thunder came to town. Last time, he brought us actual X-Rays and MRI slides of KD’s foot, just to explain even further what was going on.
Eberhart: Now Leo is being really modest, because the other side of that is Leo taking all of that information and incorporating it into the right places and still keeping the shoe key to the athlete and making it commercially viable for the rest of the greater population.
NDP: Can you guys talk about some of the colorways that we’ll be seeing?
Chang: Obviously, he’ll be wearing his Thunder colors for home and away, and then we also are dong team colors for the first time.
Eberhart: There’s four team versions, a White/ Varsity Red, White/ Varsity Royal, White/ Gorge Green and White/ Black/ Metallic Silver. It was kind of a play to just stretch out his color opportunities by virtue of him getting more worldwide. It was an opportunity to say, “How can we get this into a more broader range and into team basketball?” It’s not your traditional team bank plan that’s blown out in ten colors, but it is a team-based look for those four colors. Three of which are probably your most widespread team colors, and then the Gorge Green being a nod to Montrose Christian, his high school.
Chang: The Black/ Photo Blue will be his away colorway, and then the white based with black, orange and yellow hits will be his home. Then, there’s also a White, Photo and Navy colorway for him to wear at home in the spring. We launched on Christmas Day in the yellow version of the KD3 that is basically this year’s Creamsicle. We let him decide what that’s called, like he did with the Creamsicle. He just made that up on the spot. He always loves bright, super bold colors on the shoes, and we wanted to play off of the yellow in their uniforms, and still have the team orange and photo blue in there to hook up as well. Using the fourth color in their palate was the goal, and we haven’t really used that color too much so far. We wanted to really blow that out, and we also used all reflective yellow 3M through the whole upper, and he loves that. Then, an icy yellow outsole to round it out.
Eberhart: That’s always fresh.
Terrell: The thing I like about this [Christmas] shoe is that, externally, I think it shows that he’s arrived, because our other two guys were wearing their special shoes on that day as well, in Kobe and LeBron. He was showcased, and it’s kind of his coming out party. It’s also us launching him internally, and saying, “Hey, he’s our guy and he’s prominent on holidays too.” He was excited about that too.
NDP: How do you guys decide who on his team wears his shoe? Is it just offered to everyone?
Terrell: Yeah, the whole team is offered to wear it. Some guys will wear it and some guys won’t, but the majority of them will wear the shoe because they like to support him. Other than it being him, it’s good product, and guys are really starting to take to wearing his shoe.
Eberhart: We’ve seen it a few times with LeBron and the Soldier series, and we’ve seen it often with Kobe, where even a guy like Derek Fisher, when he was still with the goodfellas, before he crossed over to the dark side. [laughs] He was a guy who was notoriously in a Max shoe, and now he was wearing a Kobe signature shoe to show support. It’s one of the things that Leo has really taken and injected into the shoe, that entire team dynamic. He’s making sure that those guys are able to support him by virtue of wearing KD’s shoe, which we saw on November 19th versus Boston. Kevin was hurt, but guys still wore his shoe in support of their guy. It’s very rare that you find guys that aren’t jealous of one another and are actually supporting the guy that is getting the majority of the accolades and a lot of the attention.
What’s also a funny story, or at least I think it’s funny, is that with the Black/ Photo Blue colorway, everyone constantly talked about a Black/ Red/ White being the “lucrative” or the most dominant colorway that you have to do at retail. It doesn’t make sense for a guy that plays in Oklahoma City! Our version of the Black/ Red/ White is the Black/ Photo Blue, and you’ll see that consistently. You saw it in the 2, it was the lead color for the 3, and you’ll see it in the 4 and so on. It’s Kevin Durant’s version of Black/ Red/ White. That was Michael Jordan’s colorway and what broke the mold. Naturally, if for the past twenty-five years you have the most dominant colorway at retail being led by the guy who pretty much changed the game, then Black/ Red/ White works for him. But does it make sense to do that for Kevin Durant, who’s colors are not tied to that and who has no connection to it? I don’t think so, so Black/ Photo Blue will be his lead colors and will continue to be.
Chang: Photo Blue was an entirely new color on our palette, right around the time that the 1 had hit. We started using that and it was the closest thing to the Thunder colors, and it was just one of those difficult colors that a lot of our regions didn’t really embrace. But now, it’s a staple on a lot of our other shoes and Photo Blue is on everything. There was another person that originally had worked on the brief before Will came on board, and they had written, “We gotta do something different with these colors. Who wears blue, orange and black together?” I was like, “Well, that’s kind of their colors. We have to work with that.”
Thompson: Maybe you shouldn’t write that down, and maybe you shouldn’t say that. [laughs]
Chang: His colors aren’t White/ Black/ Red, but it was a new opportunity to do something different and start a new legacy of colors and do something that we could make a mark with.
NDP: What about the Redskins burgundy and yellow colorway?
Chang: That actually came from our trip to China with him, and we were asking him what other colors he wanted. Right away, he said, “I want a Redskins based colorway.” So we ran that version and it has a gumsole.
Eberhart: That was just insight from the athlete. And, not what’s your favorite team, but what’s your heritage? Where are you from? The kid represents DC all day, and what’s most notable about DC? Redskins. So we ran with the Redskins, and it was a fight, but it’s been well received.
NDP: And this grey and yellow version?
Eberhart: It’s also just in time for Easter, and Oklahoma City only has two uniforms, but we were just thinking aloud, “What if they get a third alternate uniform and what would that look like?” This is our take on what that might look like.
Terrell: Did you tell the team what we’d like their alternate to look like?
Eberhart: Oh yeah. I sent them an email.
Chang: Lastly, we’ll do a Black and white version with a cool iridescent Flywire piece for the playoffs. One of the final details that I want to point out is just the tongue pull. It’s just one of those details that when you think about signature shoes, you want to have those iconic details that people remember. Every Jordan always had something that became iconic. That’s why they end up doing those hybrids where they throw all of those iconic details onto one shoe. [laughs] But we won’t be doing that.
NDP: Man, don’t do a Fusion KD please.
Chang: No way! [laughs]
Eberhart: On a Free bottom!
Thompson: As long as the three of us are working on KD, that won’t happen. [laughs]
Chang: But that tongue is just one of those fun, youthful details there. He’s still young, and we want to have fun with his stuff.
NDP: Obviously LeBron has a huge advertising budget and had his whole start of season campaign, but KD seems to be going the more viral route.
Terrell: We’re the grassroots guys here. The thing about KD is it’s been a slow-burn type of mentality with him. Obviously, he was a phenom coming out, but we still didn’t throw him out there with a bunch of pairs of shoes in the marketplace and all of these crazy colorways. We started him off small, and second was bigger, the third will be bigger, and the fourth will be even bigger. We got a pretty good cadence now, and hopefully his marketing will pick up a bit next year. We’re happy with what we have this year, and we’re not satisfied yet, but we do see growth and that’s what you want.
Everyone has been working hard on his product, being pro-active about things, and that’s the way that he is. He’s in the gym all of the time, and he’s always trying to get better and watch film, and it’s a dual action from both sides and you get great product out of that. Where we’re at now, he’s growing, and we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got a phenom here, and we’ve got to push it.
NDP: What inspired the “KD’s Neighbor” campaign, and was that something you guys created or was that a Wieden thing?
Terrell: Wieden came up with it, and they were just feeding off of him and how he is. There was an actual neighbor in Seattle that was like that. He had a situation like that. The kid came by to drop some cookies off, and he had an interaction like that, and Wieden heard that in a meeting and they bit on that.
Chang: A lot of the scenarios that are shown online, you guys just made them up on the spot.
Terrell: Wieden had a list of stuff, and then they ended up just adding more to it. There was one time where we were just in the weight room, and he thought it’d be funny if he was showing Mathias how to lift weights. Then it ended up being something funny where we wanted to make a joke about KD not being able to do 185. Then, they showed him benching three plates or something crazy.
NDP: Without showing the side of the bar of course.
Terrell: I don’t know what you’re talking about! That’s the kind of guy he is though, and you can make light of some things with him. A lot of the videos that we did with him, we didn’t script any of it.
Chang: Even the one where he’s in his scuba gear, that came from his Facebook picture of him wearing a wetsuit and scuba diving in the Bahamas.
Terrell: For him to actually want to do that and be comfortable, that just shows his growth. It’s all been gradual.
NDP: What kind of feedback on the KD III were you able to get just from meeting up with him?
Chang: It was cool when Will and I went to Chicago to meet up with Chuck at KD’s Skills Academy, and it was a so not normal experience. Will and I were in a focus group at a hotel talking to kids, and we get this text from Chuck, “Where you guys at?” It was like an hour before we were supposed to meet up with KD, and he’s like, “Where are you guys at? He’s at the gym right now! He’s waiting on you guys.”
Terrell: They were going to show him the shoe in his size for the first time, and he’s waiting there wanting to try them on.
Chang: We’re scrambling out of the hotel, throwing stuff in the bag and driving over to the gym, and that’s not normal for an athlete. He’s waiting for us to get there, and we weren’t even late. We were early. He’s there with his shoes off already all ready to go.
Terrell: He’s telling me, “I want to put the shoes on and go work out in them right now!”
Eberhart: What these guys aren’t telling you, is that he just got off of a plane too. It must’ve been about 6:30 pm. We were supposed to meet at 8, and his flight was supposed to get in at 6, so we figured he’d get in, put his stuff down and take some time to relax and then go to the gym. He went straight to the gym. No food. Guys that are with him are hungry and starving. [laughs] He didn’t just shoot around either. No, he went through a full workout. He did a two-hour workout with [Tim] Grover and is working on moves to get better for next season. That was the whole weekend. He gets up at 7 in the morning, hits the weights and goes to the gym. At his Skills Camp, he’d go through the drills full speed with the High School kids in the morning, take some shots in between, and then do all of the drills again when the college kids came. He’d grab lunch, get up a couple hundred shots, and then do the High School second session, and then do the College second session of the day. He’d go through at least three sessions a day!
Chang: Right around dinner time, he went and did a community service thing at a bowling alley, and then went back to the gym at night. From 8 til 10 at night, he was just working out.
Terrell: The flip side of that is, he’s doing all of this work, and now we’re getting all of this information about the shoe and it’s in real time. He can say, “I like the shoe, but it’s hurting me right here.” Because he’s been out there full speed, we know that he’s really testing them out. It’s not like, “I’ll get back to you in a couple of days and try them out.”
Chang: It was instant. Just seeing him run around out there full speed, doing cuts, doing drills and doing whatever. Right afterwards, when he was taking a break, we’re asking him how they felt.
Terrell: The thing with KD, is we’ve built that rapport, so he’ll allow us to get into his realm. Most guys want to just drink Gatorade and chill during a break like that, but he’s open to us.
NDP: When you guys were talking with him in settings like that, what were some things that he knew he liked right away, and some things he wanted to see changed or improved?
Chang: He just said it was a comfortable shoe, and he has a really narrow foot, so he just wanted the forefoot area to be tightened up just a little bit more. Overall, he was really happy with it. He thought it felt lighter.
Eberhart: And the Flywire. That Photo Blue pop jumped out at him right away, and he started talking about it before he put the shoe on. He had it in hands and was just tossing it around and inspecting it, and you could just see, he’s still a guy who is so humble, that anything you do for him, he feels that he doesn’t deserve it or he hasn’t earned it. He’ll just sit there like, “Wow. This is incredible.” He’s super excited to get it on, but he’ll still take it in, like, “Really, you did this for me?”
NDP: That’s how he seemed at the World Basketball Festival when he was getting interviewed by everyone. He was just like, “I’m not sure why everyone is around me and what the big fuss is.” [laughs]
Terrell: I always talk about this new athlete that we have, and he’s different. We know that. Working with him, you can really see it. The public might not know that, but it’s our job to promote that in his shoe and in his product and whatever we do. It ignites us to make sure that we’re on top of what we’re doing, and are complete and detailed.
words & images // Nick DePaula
Kevin Durant is not your typical signature athlete. As in, literally, he doesn’t even want his own signature on the shoe. That’s not because he doesn’t appreciate the thought, work and attention to detail from the Nike Basketball team that leads his sneakers, but he’d rather deflect than attract the attention. At all times. He’s also adament that his shoes represent more than just his name, as he and his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates have all taken to wearing them, whether it’s guards like Russell Westbrook and Eric Maynor, or even bigs like Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed.
Now just three years into the process of personalized and custom signature product, Durant and Nike Basketball Design Director Leo Chang are getting more and more familiar with eachother when bouncing off ideas and feedback, and when they set out to begin the process of designing the Zoom KD III nearly two years ago, it was a series of emails and exchanges that helped to shape the new silhouette, technology and direction.
I had a chance to catch up with Leo Chang, Footwear Developer Dolores Thompson and Pro Sports Marketing Field Representative Charles Terrell to hear not only every last point of inspiration and design detail that went into the Zoom KD III, but also to hear a bit about how the team works with KD, how his own approach to the process has evolved through the years and what he’s after in his own, more-we-and-less-me signature shoes.
Check out our in-depth conversation below, and be sure to check back soon for part 2 of our interview with Leo Chang and the Nike Basketball team behind Kevin Durant’s series.
Nick DePaula: Coming off of the KD2, what were some of the main things that you wanted to get after from the start and improve upon?
Leo Chang: We started the process by looking at the KD1 and 2, and we had a lot of story telling details that we created on the outsole, that talked about the hard work that he’s put into his game to get to where he is now, his family, and everything that’s important to him. On the 3, we knew we were going to create a new midsole and a new outsole, and everything head to toe would be new. What do we want this shoe to represent story-wise? How do we evolve his story? Really, that had to come from him. Chuck was great about reaching out to him and getting that information for us. So, what did he say Chuck? [laughs]
Charles Terrell: Well, we’ve had open communication with him from the start, and I think that’s what we’ve tried to keep focusing on with him. Being open and letting him know that he’s apart of the process. The first year he worked with Leo, the second year he and Leo got together more to work on the 2, and now we all feel like we have a rapport with our group, and that made it much more easier for him to elaborate this time around and really give us more details and inspiration. That’s what gave us a head start on things this time around, because he was more familiar with us and with Leo as a designer, and those things being in place is how the 3 began to evolve, and we’re still early on that path and still progressing. He had a big summer, probably a breakout summer for him, and especially also with Nike and the World Basketball Festival, so he’s growing and now the footwear is growing too. The 3 is better than the 2, and we’ll continue to get better.
NDP: What were some of the things that he was pin-pointing that he wanted to see design wise for the 3? Obviously, the strap is gone here.
Terrell: Right away, he said, “No strap. Kobe collar.”
Chang: Here’s actually the email that he sent Chuck. I’ll just read it. [laughs] “Ok, I’ve been thinking that on the KD3, I don’t want a strap!!! I think I want to try the Kobe collar on the shoe, and I want to display my true love and passion for the game, and how much I love the family aspect of the game, and how close me and my teammates are. I also want to incorporate the 62 point game I had down at Berry Farms, and also my love for Keri Hilson.”
Chang: But he also talked about his love for music. We were kind of building off his Velvet Hoop persona at the time [from the Hyperize campaign]. So I asked him what was the difference between him and Velvet Hoop. He said, “Velvet Hoop is different because he’s more the quiet but deadly type, but has a great sense of humor.”
Really, the team thing was huge for him too. As you know, coming off of the Sports Illustrated “Season Preview” cover, he really fought to have his teammates on that cover with him. And he didn’t want just Russ or Jeff Green.
Terrell: Sports Illustrated wanted to do the cover with him. He said, “No, I’ll only do a cover if I have my teammates.” So they said, “Ok, which ones? Westbrook?” He said, “Russell. Jeff. Thabo. Krstic. Me. They‘re all starters, but they don‘t get the credit.” That just kind of speaks to who he is as a person. Sports Illustrated said, “Well, we can’t sell that.” So he just said, “Well, if you want me, that’s how it’s going to happen.” So, they did it. I thought it was great on his teammate’s part to all be wearing the KD2 and KD3 on the cover. He’s supporting them, and they’re also all supporting him right back. It was really cool to see, and it was amazing on his part to do that. And he’s been like that throughout, even in college. He’s always been that way, and it’s the mentality of a different athlete in our stable. He has all of these accolades, but he’s still grounded and about team, and not about “me.” That speaks volumes about him.
Chang: Even when we were in China for the KD Tour over the summer, they went to three cities and he brought James Harden along with him. He brought Russ last time to Taiwan.
Terrell: He just feels comfortable with his teammates always around him, and it’s a win-win for us because they’re other Nike athletes. But it speaks volumes about him and also gives us direction about who he is. In his emails, he doesn’t give us a lot of words, but he’s not standing on top of a table and screaming at us about what he wants either. We have a great communication.
NDP: How often do you guys go back and forth normally when working on a shoe?
Terrell: It could be every three to four months that we check in. We’ll try to check in with him and see what he likes and what he doesn’t like. He’s really good now about telling us what he wants. Just the other day, he hit me up and said, “I want some more color on the court.” Not a problem, we can do that for him. Now, it’s more so from him and what he needs, and we don’t have to always press the button and call him. He’s able to hit us up, and that comes from him being comfortable with us.
NDP: Design wise, the insights were, “No strap. Kobe collar.” Where did that take you Leo?
Chang: He’s still looking at what LeBron is wearing and sees what he has, but Kobe has constantly come up over the years and what he’s worn. He was seeing that Kobe had been going lower, and he was like, “Well, that dude is a champion.” [laughs] We started thinking about the height that he wanted, and lowering it, so he gets a nice range of motion around the ankle. And actually, when we went to LA last year around this time to show him the KD3 sketches and everything, and a super busted upper [laughs], we were in the lobby and Nick Collison actually stopped me and was just chatting with me, cause he loves wearing the 1 and the 2. He said, “What I love about the shoes is that they’re lightweight, but not ridiculously lightweight like the Hyperdunk. They’re light enough, but it’s super stable.”
He was talking about lightweight stability, and that was one of the things that I thought was a great catch for what KD’s shoes should really represent from a performance standpoint. Lightweight stability, because everyone from Russ, Jeff, James and Nick, to KD obviously, all of those guys on that team, all different positions, are going to wear this shoe. In some ways, how do we meet the needs of all of his teammates? If you strip down the shoe too much in weight, you’re gonna lose a lot of the bigger guys. That was one of the key things. We want it lightweight obviously, because we don’t want the guys restricted by bricks on their feet, but we don’t want to overdo that and lose the stability or the confidence that the players have in wearing it.
NDP: Did you carry over the same cushioning platform from the 2?
Chang: Slightly different, because it’s a regular Phylon midsole, versus a lightweight Phylon that we used last year. Last season, he wore two pairs of the KD2 throughout the whole season. A home and an away. [laughs] That was it. And the Creamsicle once, of course.
NDP: Wow. That’s pretty much unheard of.
Terrell: That’s just how he is. He feels comfortable with something and he’ll wear it til they fall off. [laughs] Literally.
Chang: Both technically and cosmetically, the regular Phylon seems to hold up a little bit longer and better.
Dolores Thompson: From a processing standpoint, there’s a little bit more that you can get out of it from a definition perspective in a traditional Phylon than a lightweight Phylon. It’s the same process, but just a different compound and you get more definition.
Chang: Zoom in the forefoot again too.
NDP: Full wide and 6mm?
Chang: Exactly. And he plays on his toes all the time, and we watch him all the time and he barely ever touches his heels on the ground, even when he’s running. We just wanted to be purposeful of where we put technologies in things, because it’s $88.
Terrell: I think that’s a big key. That’s the zone that he requested when he came in. To Leo and his team’s credit, that’s the challenge.
Chang: Gahhh. [laughs]
Terrell: [laughs] Just making a shoe that marketing can get behind, yet still staying true to KD, has been a great challenge that up until this point has been great. I don’t know how it’s gonna go next year. [laughs]
Chang: He pretty much wears his shoe stock. There’s not a lot of customization going on with his shoes, like some other athletes have, so it’s even more important that what we put into his shoes will actually work for him. We’re not sacrificing performance for a ridiculous amount of embellishments or anything. That’s something that DT and I have, since the 2, have been pretty efficient with. When we put the story telling details on there, it’s on the parts of the shoe that need to be there. Like an outsole. You need an outsole, so why not build those details onto that.
Thompson: We’re not putting a lot of extra decorations on the tongue top, or the quarter or the foxing. Everything that is there needs to be there. We just try and embellish it to a point that it’s meaningful for him.
NDP: Some of the details that he definitely wanted carried over from the 2 are his mom’s initials?
Chang: Yeah, he wanted both his mom and dad’s initials and logo to return, the “WP” icon is for Wayne and Wanda Pratt. On the 1 & 2, we had it as a stamp on the inside of the tongue. Here, we’re trying to build more performance into the shoe, so those little extra screenprints will cost money, so that’s now built right into the tool and it’s a permanent thing that you can’t take off of the shoe. That’s definitely important, and there’s even more commitment to having that on the shoe.
When I read the email about what he wanted, there was that whole team aspect and how important that is for him. But I just wondered, “How do I put that on a shoe without being corny and just writing ‘TEAM’ on the shoe?” That’s kind of weird, and has been done before. So I wanted to do something that was a little more clever and creative than that. I was thinking that maybe I could use thunder bolts. One, it speaks to the team, and two, it also talks about energy. The team is so young and they’re full of energy and they get along on and off the court and have great energy when they play. That symbol alone represents them. You have five thunder bolts in the forefoot, and that represents the starting five coming together, and the bigger lightning bolt represents KD as the leader. That’s the long, drawn-out explanation of that. [laughs]
NDP: There’s also the piano keys all throughout the outsole. How did that come about?
Chang: That actually came later, and we were stuck on how we were going to incorporate the music thing and his love of music. Right around that time, we had heard from Chuck that he makes beats on the side, and he just likes making music and listening to music. We didn’t know that he actually made beats, and it was kind of cool that he likes to be the producer in the background. When he said he loves music, we were like, “How do we figure that out and put it in there?” We didn’t want to do musical notes, because that’s been done before too. I was thinking beat machine buttons, but that could really be anything. So I asked him again on one of the trips how we should incorporate that, and he was like, “Well, what about piano keys.” I just said, “Yeah! I can definitely work with that.” So we have that perimeter inside of the outsole, and it’s the perfect place to hide some piano keys in there without being overly corny about it.
Thompson: Leo is masterful at finding real estate for things like that. You’d never think to do something like that, but yeah, it fit perfectly. We also had his signature on the medial side, and he was like, “Can you clean that up and get rid of it?” That just speaks to him wanting to be sleek and not wanting to draw any attention to himself.
Chang: There’s other details too, like the tip of the toe has three stars for DC, and he’s always gotta pay homage to that. On the medial side, on the rubber wrap, you’ll see “Seat Pleasant.” Every time we met with him, he kept saying he wanted more details on the shoes, and obviously, he grew up basically living in the Seat Pleasant Gym. They still have “Kevin’s Corner” there, where he used to nap at and where his grandma brought him lunch and dinner. [laughs] It was important for him, and he wanted to pay homage to that. The controller buttons on the back, that was something from the fact that we knew that he was obsessed with playing video games. He’s just obsessed with playing 2K.
Terrell: All of them. His ritual is he’ll play pre-game. He has to play his 2K before the game. [laughs]
NDP: Does he play as himself?
Terrell: No, not always. They’ll do the random mode where it just stops on a random team and you have to play with them. He has to play some sort of game before he plays. He doesn’t take a nap pre-game like some other guys, so that’s what he does. [laughs]
Chang: And apparently, Chuck was saying that in China, he was undefeated. It was like 200-something people that he had played and he never lost. So obviously, that connection is huge for him, and every controller has four circle buttons like that, so it could represent any of those game systems. It could be an old school Super Nintendo. [laughs]
NDP: What’s going on with this midfoot piece here?
Chang: That, you can tell that the strap is sort of floating and pulls from the upper, and behind it is a longer eyelet whole. That channel allows you to lace into the back row of the eyelet hole, and you could potentially get a little better arch pull if you wanted to have a more snug fit through the arch. That’s something that other categories and products at Nike have done to get more lockdown in the arch, and I thought that was something that could be good for him to have. If each player has a different arch shape, that could help them get a better fit. Everyone’s arches are a bit different, and that’s probably one of the areas of the foot that varies the most, so why not make it more adaptable.
NDP: At what point was it decided that Flywire was going to be incorporated into the 3?
Chang: We wanted to definitely include Flywire from the get go. In the 1 and the 2, we were in a leather zone, and we wanted to really step it up and give him something with technology and innovation.
Thompson: And the timing was right. Flywire and Skinwire had already been in products for a few seasons, and naturally when you’re dealing with innovations at the factory, there’s efficiencies that are realized and the costs and labor that are associated with those technologies tend to come down over time. It became an affordable technology that we could put into the shoe.
NDP: How did the alignments change throughout the process?
Chang: Originally, we started with lines that were a little more angled all in one direction, and with Skinwire, we were finding that it was actually stretching up. So, we had to go back in and add more in a different direction, so that the interlocking of the two could really help to shore that material up.
NDP: Was it something that he had mentioned wanting, or was it something that you guys offered up to him?
Chnag: We had offered it up to him because we just wanted to give him more of a statement to work with. We had been in a leather and synthetic leather zone before, and that just wasn’t good enough for us, and we felt like we could give him the best of our current technologies that we have, again, using it purposefully where you need it for him and players like him. That brought us to focusing on the forefoot area, where you need it for lateral cutting, versus using it all over, which would put us in more of a Hyperdunk price point.