Blake Griffin has a knack for driving conversations, even when it comes to sneaker design.
The Clippers’ star serves as the lead athlete on the Jordan Super.Fly line, and while it is not a true signature sneaker for the power player, Griffin has led the design all along, including on the new Super.Fly 4, released on Aug. 5.
“Blake Griffin was giving us all this feedback about wanting the shoe to be free and flexible in the upper and support power on the bottom,” Justin Taylor, senior footwear designer with Jordan, tells SI.com. “It helped fuel what the shoe was going to be about.”
Taylor says that working on a true signature shoe—such as the Chris Paul CP3 line he also designs—starts and stops with the athlete, but creating something like the Super.Fly requires the shoe to work for the athlete and a larger basketball population. Fortunately for Jordan Brand, Griffin’s desires helped craft a versatile sneaker.
“Blake is a unique player in he is big and powerful, but wanted to feel free,” Taylor says. “Traditionally you would think he would want a shoe that is almost overbuilt. The idea was how do we create an upper that is flexible and moves with the athlete’s foot and still be strong enough to support Blake and provide wide versatility for a range of players.”
The solution comes in the form of dense foam in spots and voids in others. The 2.5 millimeter-thick layer of dense foam lies in areas that need support, Taylor says. Then, in areas where players need extra flex, you see voids between the foam areas. The entire construction holds together with a breathable textile and mesh construction. “It is free and flexible and keeps it lightweight,” Taylor says.
The Super.Fly’s signature Flightplate technology took a turn on the fourth iteration. Now dubbed Flightspeed to explain this underfoot system, Taylor says the full-foot plate works in conjunction with the Nike Zoom Air bags for energy return. “What we’re hearing from the athletes is how they feel quicker and their first step is better and they have a quicker second jump,” Taylor says.
For the first time, a Jordan shoe now has a three-chamber Zoom Air unit to handle pressure from both areas under the balls of the feet and lateral side of the foot. The thinner-than-ever bags keep the foot closer to the ground and offer more flex through three chambers in the sole. This all comes with more air coverage than any Jordan shoe before.
“It is not about just cushioning, but also energy return and not losing energy throughout the course of the game,” says Taylor, who also designed the Super.Fly 2. “The Zoom unit provides cushion and response and the plate spreads out pressure and creates a more equal dispersion.”
Across the midfoot Taylor uses webbed straps for “a nice midpoint lockdown, snug fit on the arch.”
Taylor says working with Griffin has helped craft a new style of sneaker. “Blake is trying to create a more versatile game for himself,” Taylor says. “His jump shot is good now. He steps back with confidence. He is one of the only power forwards effective at bringing the ball up the court. I feel that even though this isn’t a signature for him, using him as a muse leads us to create a shoe that is versatile.”
For the aesthetic, Taylor let performance speak. Instead of using a fancy image or butterfly for inspiration—Taylor’s words—he let the technology drive the visual identity. “The foam is in your face,” he says. “You see where it is. With the flex, there is no foam there, you see the flex.”
Having Paul and Griffin on the same team allows Taylor to play with opportunity. While the Super.Fly goes mid-high and the CP3 low, the two shoes still mix and match some of the same technology. “If we try something that works well, we wouldn’t be afraid to carry it between the two,” Taylor says. “We can tone up the similarities if we want to.”
The conversation around the Super.Fly 4 puts a focus on technology. Blake Griffin leads the discussion.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.