2024-03-01
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The signature shoes of NBA players

How having a customised shoe line can make a difference on and off the field

Photo credit: Gene Gallin from Unsplash
Photo credit: Gene Gallin from Unsplash

Perhaps the billion-dollar business around signature shoes worn by NBA superstars should be credited to the breakthrough of Michael Jordan and his Air Jordans.

Paolo Banchero

These are the words of Paolo Banchero, a 2002 NBA player, at a press conference to announce his entrance into the ‘Jordan Brand’ team.

If we stop for a moment to reflect on his words, we realise that this is indeed the case. Michael Jordan is the man who managed to revolutionise the footwear business in the world of basketball, adding a new concept of the shoe and the person wearing it.

It all starts with MJ and his NBA debut

It was 1984 and Michael Jordan set foot on an NBA court for the first time. The young boy’s potential was already clear, but nobody expected him to climb so high.

A year later came an important turning point in his career and personal life. Nike offered MJ a partnership, securing his first signature shoe. Although the young Chicago Bulls player was strongly interested in signing a deal with Adidas, which was not interested in basketball at that time, he accepted Nike’s proposal.

michael jordan | signature shoes ! air jordan 1
Michael Jordan model for Air Jordan 1 at Beaverton
Photo credit: Nike

The first Air Jordan, so far, remains one of the most iconic and influential shoes ever created. The design and concept of the sneaker is a combination of features between the Air force 1, the Dunks and other Nike models, but the real revolutionary detail is not found in an innovative technology, colour scheme or a never before seen sole, but in the iconic Wings logo, featuring a basketball in the centre with wings surrounding it.

The originality of the Air Jordan 1, the new logo, the player’s wear of the Air Jordan 1 outside of the court, and Michael’s incredible talent made it possible for Nike and MJ to create a movement and a new idea behind a basketball shoe… the sneaker became a true representation of a way of being.

Nike signature shoes and the players’ revolution

If throughout the 1980s and early 1990s it was Converse that was considered the main brand for basketball shoes, with Jordan’s signature, Nike made its way into a world that needed originality and revolution by bringing a new concept of sports footwear.

From that day on, anyone who was passionate about basketball and beyond would have wanted to have at least one pair of Air Jordans in their wardrobe. Nike, therefore, succeeded in carrying forward this idea that a trainer should not only be functional for a sport, but should make one feel part of a group.

In 2003, the brand founded by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman signed three-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant. During his career and in the post-retirement period, the Philadelphia native has produced 22 signature shoes, managing to create sneakers that were able to represent his interest in innovation and improved performance on a basketball court.

As an example of Bryant’s many creations with Nike, it is worth mentioning the Kobe XI. This sneaker is made with Flywire technology, typical of the brand, which guarantees the shoe a great deal of lightness thanks also to all the fabric covering it.

The Lunarlon sole provides comfort, elasticity, excellent cushioning to avoid injuries as much as possible and, above all, on the outside, ensures a very strong grip on the parquet to give security and stability during game actions.

The technology and type of sole used for the Kobe XI had also been employed in other models in his line, one in particular that we could define as a watershed in the world of basketball shoes, the Kobe IV. A shoe made in 2009, the Los Angeles Lakers player expressly asked the Nike team to design the lightest possible shoe in order to go against the common belief that in order to play basketball in an optimal and safe manner one needs a shoe that covers the entire ankle and is heavy to cushion bumps and injuries.

Not only Nike. Who else has invested in basketball?

In the NBA panorama, it is not only Nike or Jordan that dominate the sports footwear market. As we mentioned at the beginning back in MJ’s first stint in the league, Adidas was, and still is, a brand that has managed to create shoe lines in collaboration with players that have changed the game exponentially.

One of these is Derrick Rose, a player born in Chicago in 1988, who thanks to his explosiveness, elevation and quickness, in his early years in the NBA was considered one of the strongest players in the world has shown how you can make a difference on the court despite adversity and setbacks.

Rose, who despite numerous injuries still plays in the NBA, is proof that with perseverance and hard work it is possible to continue to pursue one’s dreams. This concept is masterfully conveyed by Adidas, which continues to produce shoes together with the player, emphasising the importance of having precise technical characteristics in the coach for an explosive and fast-paced game like Rose’s.

derrick rose | signature shoes
Derrick Rose holding his signature shoe

Overall, in all the footwear that bears its name, Adidas wanted to create a product that would allow all the basketballers in the world with a game and physique similar to its own, to perform safely. The structure of these shoes offers lightness and support, the Bounce midsole is specially designed to provide flexibility and revolutionary cushioning, but the real special feature of his shoes is found in the sole. Still inspired by Rose’s game, this sole is designed in a herringbone pattern to encourage quick movements in tight spaces.

Today in 2023, the world of basketball footwear can be defined as an empire, both from an economic point of view but above all as a matter of notoriety. Having a signature shoe for a player with a popular or even lesser known brand is the same as being represented as a sportsman who can and wants to make a difference by conveying his work ethic and knowledge of the game in an accessory of extreme importance to the sport.

We have seen how Nike and Adidas have been pillars in pushing this concept forward, collaborating with highly influential players, not just selling a product but telling amazing stories and inspiring people. In this last period not only these two giants of the footwear market are going down this road, other brands are trying to make their place in the world of the NBA by finding agreements with young talents to offer shoes that are technically suited to the game and at the same time create a product that knows how to cross its boundaries.

Puma and New Balance, for example, have been much more involved in the American basketball league for a few years now.

A German brand founded in 1948, Puma was very successful in making sports shoes right from the start, so much so that the West German national football team wore their shoes in the 1950s. With its expansion into many other sports, the brand has recently decided to collaborate with NBA players in order to enter this sport as well, proving itself equal to the pillars that already dominate this world.

But how does Puma decide to do it?

Not being able to target NBA stars such as Lebron James, Kevin Durant or Giannis Antetokounmpo (all signed by Nike), Puma decided to focus on young talents who are not bound to any brand, thus choosing to grow together. In this case, in fact, the collaboration with Deandre Ayton, a 25-year-old Bahamian basketball player, was born for the Rise Nitro sneaker. These shoes, designed for both on and off the court, are conceived to provide support, responsiveness and freedom of movement.

The Nitro technology applied to the midsole allows for greater comfort despite the shoe’s light weight, while a reinforcement has been added to the upper to ensure greater stability and safety during jumps and changes of direction.

The NBA is a highly popular and avant-garde league. Its extraordinary characteristic is that it does not only focus on the game, it wants to give space to the players, their ideas, needs and ambitions. The good fortune of these professionals is to be able to collaborate with brands that know how to make their dreams come true in the form of shoes, and to inspire millions and millions of people who are all united by their passion for the sport.

Only the future will tell how far a man will be able to go to create playing shoes that combine creativity, originality and cutting-edge technology.

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