When the NBA last descended upon Orlando, Florida, the sneaker world saw some of the most iconic themes and launches in All-Star Weekend history. Brands began planning some 16 months in advance for the 2012 event, with Nike’s detailed “Galaxy” collection celebrating the region’s nearby NASA space center at Cape Canaveral, instantly fetching more than their retail price on the resale market.
This time will be much different.
As companies continue to face factory delays in Asia due to closures and restrictions around the coronavirus pandemic, the sliding calendar of the NBA’s remaining regular-season schedule has also made for a variety of shifts in marketing strategies and launch timelines across the industry.
Between Nike Basketball and Jordan Brand, Nike Inc. is expected to have more than 77% representation among the 22 teams playing in the league’s Florida restart. Nike is amid an eight-year, $1 billion deal to design, manufacture and provide all teams in the NBA with uniforms, warm-up and casual apparel.
With the season delayed by five months, the new July through October timeline will allow for a variety of players to debut their upcoming fall signature models. Thirteen of the 18 current NBA players with their own signature shoe are expected to be active in games.
Brooklyn Nets teammates and fellow Nike headliners Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are both sidelined by injury, while Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Derrick Rose and their respective Golden State Warriors and Detroit Pistons franchises failed to qualify for Florida.
As the league prepares to play well into the summer, the late-August window will be another bittersweet and emotional moment for Nike and players and fans alike — Kobe Bryant’s Aug. 23 birthday will likely land toward the end of the league’s quarterfinals playoff series.
There is an expectation throughout the industry that Nike will look to the 8/24 date — a celebration of both of Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers jersey numbers — to launch commemorative signature sneakers for the first time since Bryant’s death in January.
Among the nearly 325 players on board to return to play, look for these 20 to be headlining upcoming models and launches for each of their respective brands as games get underway in Florida.
LeBron James: Nike LeBron 17
As James continued to lead the Lakers to the top of the Western Conference standings during his 17th season, he also carried the distinction of leading the longest consecutive signature series for an active player in NBA history. Wearing a mix of both vibrant and subdued editions of the LeBron 17 throughout the regular season, James is planning to continue wearing his 17th model in both high- and low-top looks during the league’s eight seeding games, saving a surprise for the eventual start of the playoffs.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: Nike Zoom Freak 1 and 2
After wearing 29 different versions of his debut Freak 1 sneaker so far this season, look for reigning league MVP Antetokounmpo to lace up the reversed and elongated Swoosh design no more than eight more times. With a late-summer launch date slated for his anticipated follow-up model, the “Greek Freak” is expected to unveil his similarly sleek, low-cut second sneaker as the playoffs near in Florida.
Paul George: Nike PG 4
For his fourth signature model, George took a noted shift from his early strap-affixed and multipaneled silhouettes, opting instead for a zipper-shrouded and simplified look. The open canvas design has made for loud graphic splashes and collaboration with Gatorade atop the PG 4, while the targeted fit looks to help his game on the floor.
“For Paul, control is his form of quickness,” designer Tony Hardman said. “It’s why he looks so smooth when he moves on the court.”
Ja Morant (and others): Zoom BB NXT
What was initially planned to be a marquee innovation launching at the 2020 Olympic Games, the new Zoom BB NXT can instead be seen on the feet of the sport’s best up-and-coming playmakers in the Florida restarts of both the WNBA and NBA. Expected to be headlined by Morant and additional perimeter creators, the model builds on the success the “NEXT” series has had in Nike’s Running division, where its VaporFly 4% and Next% models have led to measurable gains in the sport.
While basketball brands have long looked to launch technologies that will help make players run faster and jump higher, Nike took a different approach here. Matt Nurse, senior director of the Nike Sport Research Lab, revealed that the “measurable benefit” that drove the insights behind the Zoom BB NXT was geared more toward providing players with the “ability to create more space” and separation from a defender. That led the design team to develop a sneaker focusing on grip, court feel, stability and change of direction, as Nike tries to unlock the shifty first step of the game’s fastest players.
Russell Westbrook: Jordan Why.Not Zer0.3 SE
Styled in a “Primary Colors” theme, the latest addition to Westbrook’s signature series with Jordan takes hue inspiration from each of the professional teams the former MVP has been affiliated with during his 12-year NBA journey. Yes, the green and yellow accents are a nod to his 2008 draft day Seattle SuperSonics hat, though he never suited up for the franchise in a game.
Tones of blue and orange celebrate his Oklahoma City Thunder run, while red and black along the heel counter represents his first season with the Houston Rockets. The “SE” follow-up version of his third signature model includes a more minimal and lighter-weight upper, while also ditching the midfoot strap from the Why.Not Zer0 3.
Zion Williamson, Jayson Tatum, Rui Hachimura: Air Jordan 34 PE
One of Nike’s key corporate initiatives a year ago was to revamp and refresh its Jordan Brand roster of athletes. While the select stable still consists of just around 7% of the league’s players, the addition of Williamson, Tatum and Hachimura was seen as a best-case scenario for the summer, bringing a blend of youthful star power, explosiveness and a global background to the fold.
All season, each player has worn a variety of exclusive colorways of the Air Jordan 34, and they’re now expected to be wearing pairs in Florida that will also be releasing.
Hachimura’s edition highlights his multiracial background, with detailed prints and textiles drafting from his Beninese and Japanese heritage on both the left and right shoe.
Tatum’s colorway features a variety of colorful animal prints and textures alongside red accents, celebrating his St. Louis roots and his boyhood love for the city’s zoo. His son, Jayson Jr., is also highlighted by the “Deuce” embroidery under the tongue.
Williamson already saw his own anticipated Air Jordan 34 release earlier in the year; his second retail pair was designed in part by his younger brother, Noah. With a frenetic crayon graphic throughout the upper in every shade, the shoes will also come packaged with a Jordan coloring book. The insoles include a simple message for the rising star, “to: Zion / Love, Noah.”
Luka Doncic: Jumpman Diamond Low PE
The newest signee to Jordan Brand, Doncic was also expected to help headline the brand’s latest annual Air Jordan model, though he showed an on-court preference for the low-top Jumpman Diamond after signing with the brand in December. The delay in the NBA season has allowed for Jordan to create a variety of custom pairs for Doncic, who recently shared a preview of a royal and gold pair, featuring his new “LD77” logo along the tongue.
Joel Embiid: Embiid 1
While he hasn’t yet officially unveiled his first signature shoe with Under Armour, Embiid is expected to wear his new Embiid 1 model once play resumes in Florida. He’ll be the 18th current NBA player to have his own signature sneaker, but the only center.
When he signed with Under Armour in the fall of 2018, his five-year shoe deal also made him the highest-paid player at his position. Almost immediately, Embiid and the company’s designers began concept work on his eventual signature series, celebrating his journey from Cameroon to the NBA and expected to release this fall.
“It’s been a long and great process,” Embiid said. “It’s not a big-man shoe. It’s a shoe for any basketball player.”
Donovan Mitchell: D.O.N. Issue 2
James Harden: Harden Vol. 4
Damian Lillard: Dame 6
Though both Harden and Lillard are expected to continue wearing their current signature sneakers from the 2019-20 season, Adidas will be prioritizing the launch of Utah Jazz All-Star Mitchell’s second signature sneaker just as he returns to action in Florida. With 10% of the league’s players wearing the Three Stripes, the company has also been working behind the scenes to create custom-painted pairs for its athletes featuring messages of their choosing in support of social justice initiatives.
Dubbed the “D.O.N. Issue #2” — a dual play off of Mitchell’s nickname among friends and short for his “Determination Over Negativity” mantra — the jagged-design sequel signature is expected to be spotted on “Spida” in loud and clashing colors throughout the Jazz’s stay in Florida. The comic-inspired numbering system of Mitchell’s series also alludes to yet another comic-themed collaboration on the way, expected to debut at the start of the playoffs.
Aaron Gordon: 361 Degrees Zen 00
Signing with Chinese brand 361 Degrees just before the 2020 slam dunk contest allowed for high flyer Gordon to not only take on a more featured role with a company but also become more involved in the design process for the first time in his career.
“They’re looking for me to really be hands-on with this,” he said. “They want to know what the style is like in America, and then bring some Eastern style into it as well.”
After wearing 361’s latest team shoe during games in February and March, Gordon will be spotted in the brand’s new, much more detailed “Zen 00” model. With pinstripe and color accents drafting off of the unmistakable Orlando Magic uniform design, the tongue also incorporates his new “AG” yin-and-yang circle logo.
With just a dozen players expected to be playing in Florida, look for the “Puma fam” to continue supporting the brand’s latest modernized basketball silhouette, the high-cut Sky Dreamer. Styled after its ’80s icon of the same name, players will be wearing custom colorways, along with special releases like “The Trevor Project” edition.
Throughout the summer, Puma is donating 100% of sales of the orange-accented pair to the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, supporting The Trevor Project as part of the company’s ongoing efforts to impact mental health and social justice groups.
Kawhi Leonard: New Balance The Kawhi 1
When Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to a surprise NBA championship last spring, he did so while headlining New Balance’s first basketball shoe in nearly a decade. The only problem was the shoe wasn’t released in stores for another five months.
That delayed cadence might have happened yet again were it not for the NBA’s own delay, providing Leonard with a chance to wear his very first signature model, dubbed simply “The Kawhi 1,” much closer to its expected October release.
The design incorporates his signature along the heel and a brain-inspired graphic along the midfoot panel, channeling Leonard’s on-court efficiency and feel for the game. He’ll have dozens of colorway options to choose from in Florida, though he’s known for preferring to stick with more subtle, matching team colors.
Darius Bazley, Dejounte Murray: OMN1S “First Light”
As the two new faces of the New Balance Basketball relaunch, Bazley and Murray have continued to wear the brand’s OMN1S team sneaker as Leonard moves on to his own signature sneaker. Along with their own player-exclusive colorways, they’ll be wearing timely pairs from the “First Light” pack, celebrating the “sunrise to sunset” mentality of summertime hoops in bold pink and neon hues.