Damian Lillard fully immerses himself in the process of designing his signature sneaker for Adidas.
“Having Damian here and watching his development as an individual and a player and having that constant access to him is great,” Brian Foresta, Adidas’ head of basketball design, tells SI.com. “When he is on the road and has a quiet minute, he is texting us stuff he is thinking about in relationship to his shoe. Getting to that family, familiar relationship is what really changes the (design) process.”
That process has culminated in the unveiling of the D Lillard 2, the second signature for the star in Portland, where Adidas has its North American and basketball headquarters.
“Being in Portland makes it easy to get my ideas across,” Lillard says, “[to] meet with designers and create something special for fans.”
And while Adidas designers wanted to take cues from the shoe’s first model, released in January 2015, they also embraced the evolution of the sneaker. “I think that is true about absolutely everything we do, chasing the creative white rabbit on what exact thing can bring to life and honor the brand and athlete,” Foresta says. “The market is so competitive.”
The first step in the D Lillard 2 design came from Lillard and his desire for out-of-the-box comfort. “He says ‘When it goes down, I want to be ready for it,’” Foresta says. So Adidas created a toe box void of distractions, no overlays to apply pressure on the top of his foot. And they brought up the sidewall of the shoe so his foot “sits in there almost like a car chassis.”
Using Bounce cushioning, a dual-density foam softer in the middle with a sharp rebound and firmer on the sides to help keep the foot over the middle of the sole, Foresta says they also enhanced the lockdown across the midfoot from the first version, changing materials and angling of technology to “fine tune” the fit to Lillard’s playing style. The interior also enjoys a bit more padding for added comfort.
The personal detailing all across the D Lillard 2 screams Oakland. “Oakland means a lot to Damian,” Foresta says. “It is where he drives a lot of his inspiration and roots from. Oakland represents his drive and determination to silence all his doubters. For him, it is the core of who he is and we wanted to make sure it came through.”
“Oak” is written on the right outsole with “land” on the left, his childhood neighborhood of “Brookfield” is in the middle of the outsole and Suga Gee, the nickname of Damian’s mother, Gina Johnson, is on the heel. Damian’s nickname, “Dame,” is on the base of the toe cap, but where Oakland comes alive on the upper is in the Oak Prints pattern, inspired by the tree logo featured on the “Welcome to Oakland” sign and the point guard’s personal tattoos. Expect to see this pattern at the heel counter, midsole and eyelets. Foresta says that designers wanted Damian to be able to look down at his shoes mid-game and have that Oakland inspiration looking back at him.
“Signature details—I wanted it to have more hints of my background,” Lillard says. “I still wanted it to be a stylish shoe, to be worn off the court again.”
Foresta says to expect differing materials throughout the bevy of colorways expected over the next year—“we are literally in the arms race of the century right now with our competition and we are going to invest with Damian and more colorways, a tiered approach and some exclusive stuff you’ll see shortly”—as Foresta says they design for color first and then choose the materials that best display that color.
For example, the Rip City white shoe that launches Jan. 22 with a limited release on Dec. 26 has off-white suede detailing with red and black accents and a gum outsole for a “court to street silhouette,” while the all-black Road upper releasing Feb. 5 uses a no-sew, heat-sealed textile for a better ability at displaying the color and graphic look desired. “Opposed to a single material in 50 colorways, we look at colors and best tune that product (with materials),” Foresta says.
Still, though, Lillard remains conscious of price point on his shoe, keeping the initial release at $105. “Damian is very very focused on the fact that he wants his shoes to be obtainable to all kids,” Foresta says. “It is the same reason why he doesn’t use any profanity in his lyrics. He talks about wanting them to be able to wear the shoe to school and play in it.”
Full immersion. That’s Lillard’s goal for the D Lillard 2.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, sneakers and technology for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.