Fifteen years ago, LeBron James – then fresh out of high school and yet to play a single NBA minute – signed an unprecedented seven-year, $ 90 million contract with Nike, which included a clause that would pay him off. even more so if the presumed No. 1 overall pick landed in a major market like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles.
Now, 15 years later, the quadruple MVP is finally joining one of these major markets, as he prepares to play his 16th NBA season with the Los Angeles Lakers. While the “lifetime” Nike deal he signed in 2015 no longer includes this market bonus, James’ ongoing signing streak is expected to be significantly bolstered by his latest move.
âWith LeBron, we’re always on the lookout for ‘What’s new?’,â Said Nike designer Jason Petrie. “He leads in style on and off the pitch so we try to do something new whenever we can.”
The combination of James’ move to Los Angeles and the resurgence of his signature line after an incredibly successful year with the LeBron 15 led to significant internal excitement at Nike ahead of the launch of its 16th signature model. The LeBron 15, James’ main shoe for the 2017-18 season, served as a rebound model after two years of decline created by the LeBron 13’s polarizing design and the LeBron 14’s shortened design timeline, which was made necessary by a series of last minute changes.
âFor LeBron in particular, we felt like we could be better. It’s just the emphatic truth,â said Kevin Dodson, vice president of footwear for Nike Basketball. “We felt like we could do a better job – more innovative, newer and more iconic designs, simple that people wanted to wear, more than on the court.”
James ended up wearing 51 different editions of the LeBron 15 during the 2017-18 season, some of which were released as part of the #LeBronWatch concept, a colorway series directly inspired by some of history’s most iconic designs. of the company. like James’ favorite signature shoes from his childhood and the memorable looks of his early models.
This design flexibility has helped Nike cope with the uncertainty of LeBron’s next team heading into this summer.
In 2010, Nike made samples of LeBron 8 to match potential palettes in Dallas, New Jersey, New York, Miami, Chicago and Cleveland. The possible “South Beach” version of 8 remains one of the most iconic colourways of the entire LeBron series.
âWe had samples prepared for the teams we thought he might go to,â said Petrie.
Outsiders have often mistakenly assumed that Nike is deeply involved in team conversations with its players. The Swoosh just aren’t directing Kevin Durant to Golden State to quell Steph Curry’s growing Under Armor presence or push James to Los Angeles this time around to build on the legacy Kobe Bryant recently reserved and exploit a market in which it has long been successful.
âIt’s not our job to figure that out,â Petrie said in 2010. âIt’s our job to provide him wherever he decides to go.â
Heading into this summer, when planning the LeBron 16, Nike decided not to develop a LeBron 16 sample pack in colors inspired by hues from contenders such as the Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets, Lakers. and the Cavs. Instead, the brand took a more team-independent approach when planning the upcoming season, focusing on expanding the #LeBronWatch concept, which has been a smash hit on social media as well. than in the commercial department.
Basketball and sneaker fans buzzed every night with what was at James’ feet, whether it was the sneakers-inspired pairs of classic Nike athletes like Ken Griffey Jr., Deion Sanders. and Vince Carter or colors paying homage to Nike. Air Max 95 running shoe or bright orange color from original shoebox. It added new energy and interest throughout the season that the line lacked.
That energy will only be amplified when James plays in Los Angeles, as that move has already proven to have a tangible impact on the sales of his merchandise. Fanatics, the league’s official jersey retailer, put James’ Lakers jersey up for pre-order within 40 minutes of its press release announcing his move. The July 1 sudden rush became one of the company’s top 10 NBA product selling days. James’ jersey, which originally featured a No.00 placeholder before his eventual No.23 was decided, drew more than 600% higher sales in the first three hours than his Cavaliers on his return in 2014, according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell. . As the official supplier of authentic league jerseys as well as the lower cost “Swingman” line, Nike will eventually be able to enjoy the LeBron jersey frenzy as well.
– Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) July 6, 2018
Beyond jersey sales, the move to Los Angeles should help James-branded Nike’s business. The LeBron lineup now totals north of $ 350 million per year and has grown into far more than the one annual signature model it started out as. In addition to the namesake LeBron 15 for $ 185, there’s the $ 140 Soldier 12 slip-on team shoe, the $ 115 China-exclusive Ambassador series, and a $ 90 Air Witness shoe for a larger audience. value driven. The collection’s clothing and accessories capsule includes everything you can imagine from a sportswear brand: sandals, sneakers, backpacks, shorts, t-shirts and hoodies, all featuring the crown logo. “LJ”.
Among fans, there’s also a growing appetite for retro LeBron sneakers, something that’s only expected to grow now that he’s no longer in Cleveland, where he played 11 of his first 15 seasons.
When James abruptly took his talents to South Beach in 2010, Nike was largely unable to look back on moments or memories of the Cleveland days – the injury was still too fresh – and focused more on the launch. new innovations and graphic executions on its sneakers. during his four seasons with the Heat.
It wasn’t until James returned to the Cavs in 2014 that the retro conversation intensified, leading to the first generation Air Zoom reissue in a handful of colorways in the past year or so. Because James left Cleveland on more friendly terms this time around, Nike is moving forward with its winter plans to re-release the Zoom LeBron 3, the model he wore when he first led the Cavaliers to the playoffs. playoffs in 2006. From there, Nike will be looking at turning selectively through some of the most popular early models in the LeBron series while adding a new twist to its approach.
Jordan Brand has long been known for its almost exact retro launches, reissuing an endless array of Michael Jordan’s most iconic silhouettes as they were originally designed. When the time came for Kobe Bryant’s line to receive the retro treatment, the Lakers legend worked with Nike to reinvent retro sneakers, creating a ‘Protro’, a vintage sneaker with its original classic look, updated with modern technology.
James will take a different path, instead using a network of revered designers from the streetwear scene to reinvent some of his greatest models in the brand’s NikeLab category. Scheduled for release later this summer is a collaboration with Los Angeles-based designer John Elliott, who created a new upper design over the bottom Air Max running the length of the LeBron 8. The materials incorporate a series of panels. layered and translucent, aimed at celebrating LeBron’s “multidimensional” play. It is simply called “The Icon”.
While the LeBron Retro launches have all been sold so far, the success has been tempered somewhat by Nike limiting releases to a fraction of the 400,000 plus pairs Jordan Brand sells on most launches. Part of that comes in an attempt to “responsibly manage” the rollout of the first retro pairs, according to a source for the brand. At first, overproducing amounts could derail the long-term energy around retro LeBrons.
There is also the uncomfortable truth that while many of James’ shoes were popular with collectors – namely the Air Zoom Generation, his first signature sneaker, as well as the LeBron 2s, 7s, 8s and 9s – his sneakers were designed to support its 6-foot-8, 250-pound frame, leaving them “oversized” for the average consumer. Hardware innovations like Flywire and Flyknit that made modern basketball sneakers lighter were often thrown first for other players like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant before making their way to LeBron’s line.
âIt’s a very unique problem to have out there. It’s very fast and very powerful,â said Petrie. “When we build a LeBron, we know everything that’s going on.”
There is some concern inside and outside of Nike that the LeBron line, while successful at the time, might not prove to be as durable as the Air Jordans set as Michael did. Jordan wore it during his years with the Chicago Bulls.
âHe doesn’t necessarily have that timeless Jordan 1 model,â a source for the brand said.
In order to tap into the much-discussed “billion dollar” potential of his lifetime contract, James is expected to achieve a sales trajectory comparable to the consistent rise of the Jordan brand over the past two decades, with LeBron sneakers consistently selling well. after his retirement and early 50s, which means not only re-issuing classic sneakers, but also continuing to make the new LeBron Annual Edition something that will sell well now and into the future.
Nike will also look to expand the lineup of LeBron’s iconic merchandise into three categories: updated lifestyle-focused looks, retro-fit silhouettes, and new annual mainline designs that are expected to someday reach. The LeBron 20. Although as the company sees that future, it is aware that James, who signed a four-year contract with the Lakers, could possibly wear a LeBron 20 while playing in a hometown other than Los Angeles.
“He could play on the moon,” joked a Nike Basketball employee. “People would still want to watch, and he would still sell shoes.”