After releasing a dozen signature sneakers, LeBron James knew what direction in which he wanted to go with shoe No. 13.
“There is a constant dialogue going on,” says Kevin Dodson, Nike’s senior basketball product line manager. “He gives us a pretty clear point of view with where he would like to see us go.”
When it came time to design the LeBron 13, the King craved more of what he had in the LeBron 12. “He liked making it more flexible, streamlined from where we were on the 11s,” Dodson says. “We transitioned him to a sleeker, a little bit more stripped down silhouette to play with on court. We wanted to take (the 13s) to the next level and strip away the extras.”
With the LeBron 13 releasing on Oct. 10, Dodson breaks down some of the major LeBron-influenced elements.
The LeBron 12 introduced Zoom Air cushioning in hexagonal pods based on a pressure map of LeBron’s foot in motion. The 6'8" power player now has more cushioning with an even thicker airbag under the ball of his foot—similar to what was already under the heel—as it was increased from 8 millimeters to 13. Dodson says the diameter makes the “Zoom bigger and badder to put the foot right on top and get a much more bouncy, responsive sensation.”
A larger air system meant designers could strip away parts of the midsole foam, putting LeBron straight on top of air, part of the sleeker silhouette mantra.
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The LeBron 13 design started with a socklike bootie. A comfy fit works great until you need support, though. “With LeBron, there is a lot of lateral cutting and you always have to manage that because he cuts with so much force and puts so much torque on the shoes,” Dodson says.
To reinforce the bootie, the LeBron 13 has “dense, dense foam” bars inside the bootie across the midfoot and forefoot up to the toe. There’s nothing other than the bootie in the areas that don’t need reinforcement in order to keep the bootie flexible and breathable. As per a LeBron request, expect more structure around the collar.
On the outside of the shoe, Hyperposite foam let designers get precise with geometry for support and design. Whereas Nike has traditionally created entire shoes out of its Hyperposite material, the more tapered silhouette of the LeBron 13 calls for a streamlined approach, Dodson says.
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When you see roman numerals on the LeBron 13, it will have a line through it, a nod to Nike saying there’s nothing unlucky about 13. Beyond that little design cue, everything else on the LeBron 13 has to do with stars and Akron. During the research process, designers saw that Ohio has generated more astronauts than any other state. This distinction led Nike to think of the LeBron 13 in terms of NASA’s moon-chasing days of the ‘50s. They let the bold designs of that era push the direction of the LeBron 13.
The debut colorway—Written in the Stars—was meant to point out that LeBron’s rise from Akron to stardom wasn’t about fate or luck. “It is a narrative of Ohio and having fun with the number 13,” Dodson says.
For a more specific Akron connection, the upcoming Akronite colorway will tell the story of LeBron’s journey from Akron to Miami and back through a graphic pattern on the shoe. Every colorway of the LeBron 13 will have new design nods on the tongue, heel tab, and inside heel to coincide with LeBron-specific details on the outsole—such as his birthday—and the LeBron logo on the toe.
Maybe going sleeker will make this LeBron’s lucky sneaker 13.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, sneakers and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.