Kevin Durant has a mission that extends to every season: to “figure out how to make the game the most simple and the most efficient.” He wants his sneakers to follow form.
As Nike officially released the KD9 today, the sneaker Durant will wear during the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this August, Durant and shoe designer Leo Chang shared insight on the design of the sneaker he broke out during the recent NBA playoffs.
“My interests have changed, my game has changed and this is a perfect shoe for who I am now,” Durant says. “The upper allows me to shift to the right and come back to my left really quick and pull up on a dime.”
Chang used Flyknit—an engineered yarn—on the upper in a fresh construction and a new tapered, full-length Zoom Air bag unit—filled with fibers that compress upon each step before springing back into position—to allow KD the movement he wants without cumbersome materials.
“I am looking for something that is lock-down tight and I can move around a lot,” Durant says. The Zoom bag “feels like different compartments from the toe bag, and it just kind of shifts to the mid-foot.” Chang did this by progressively tapering the unit from 16 millimeters thick at the heel to 10 millimeters at the forefoot.
Underfoot, the KD9 includes an anatomical flex groove in the forefoot designed to allow for natural foot movements and heel notches to add stability for lateral movements.
The low-cut upper uses Flyknit, but in a honeycomb pattern for structure to provide stability during the multidimensional movement of basketball. “With the knit, just the way we constructed it moves with you but gives you that containment you need with basketball,” Chang tells SI.com. “Flyknit is so comfortable, like a sock, but it is also hard to make right for basketball, and I think we found a good formula with the way we constructed it.”
While Durant champions the KD9s, he wasn’t against the KD8s at all. “The 8s felt like I could fly and when I put (the 9s) on I was just like, ‘Man, these are just so perfectly catered to my foot its like I molded these and got a special pair made,’” Durant says. “It will feel personal.”
Moving from the 8s—and how much KD enjoyed them—to the 9s was a matter of taking the elements that Durant appreciated and improving them, Chang says.
“That Zoom bag, that ride and responsiveness, we give even more,” Chang says. “With the Flyweave (on the 8), we started something with this engineered textile type of construction and we brought a little more comfort to it. We made some pretty big changes on the 9 and all the technologies got better.”
With the technology in hand, Chang could then focus on the aesthetics. When Nike first announced the KD9, it did so alongside other USA Basketball colors and now a red, white and blue KD9 is called the Premiere. Then KD donned the gray KD9 Zero in the playoffs, scoring 33 points in the model. The June 20 release includes the KD9 Zero for $150, with the Premiere and the just-announced black and white KD 9 Mic Drop releasing in the coming weeks.
Chang says using colors on yarn requires plenty of experimentation for the proper mix. “It is not just a simple one-color block execution,” he says. “It is not a simple plug and play. It has been really fun, actually, and opens the doors up.”
We’ve now seen three doors opened, but expect plenty more over the life of the KD9.
Tim Newcomb covers sports aesthetics—stadiums to sneakers—and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.