LAS VEGAS — The Adidas LVL3 space was hidden deep inside the Cosmopolitan hotel on The Strip, up two flights of escalators and behind a security line. At any given moment last week, dozens of high school players and coaches waited to enter the Chelsea Theatre and its adjoining rooms, where the sneaker and apparel company had set up a basketball court, concert stage, t-shirt customization stand and retail space where NBA players like James Harden, Damian Lillard, Andrew Wiggins and Brandon Ingram interacted with the prep athletes and fans.
LVL3 coincided with the Adidas Uprising Summer Championships tournament, where the Ball family once again dominated headlines following Lonzo Ball’s strong play at the Las Vegas Summer League earlier in July. LaMelo Ball, Lonzo’s younger brother, played in a high-profile, sold-out showdown with Zion Williamson’s SC Supreme squad. Meanwhile, LaVar Ball, Lonzo’s father and the patriarch of the Big Baller Brand, had a run-in with a female official that led to her removal from a game and eventually prompted an apology from Adidas organizers.
During Summer League, Lonzo’s choice of footwear was a leading topic, as the 2017 No. 2 pick, who has yet to sign an endorsement deal with a leading sneaker company, wore his own independent Big Baller Brand ZO2 signature sneakers, Nike’s Kobe Bryant signature sneakers, Adidas’s James Harden signature sneakers, and the Jordan XXXIs in various games.
Cavaliers forward LeBron James and Sixers forward Ben Simmons, both Nike athletes, offered soft recruiting pitches to Lonzo on social media after the point guard wore Bryant’s sneakers, and Wiggins wasn’t afraid to offer a counter-pitch on behalf of the Three Stripes.
“Adidas is a family, I think we’re the best family,” Wiggins told The Crossover, when asked for his pitch to Ball. “[Lonzo] should come to the best thing that’s happening. Come to the family. If he has something great going on, then that’s him. Their whole [Ball] family has something good going on. I [chose Adidas] because it felt like a family, the treatment. I built a relationship with a lot of people from Adidas from college and it kept going to the NBA.”
Although Ingram said that he generally doesn’t talk sneakers with Lonzo, the second-year forward added that he would be happy to pitch his new Lakers teammate on Adidas if the company asked him.
“As kids, we dream of playing in different basketball players’ shoes,” Ingram said of Ball’s sneaker-hopping. “He’s just playing the game smart from the business side and the basketball side. As a pro basketball player, he’s doing what he wants. That’s what he does. Nah, [we don’t talk about shoe brands]. We talk about basketball and how we want to kill the next opponent or just stuff away from basketball. We may get into a conversation about [sneakers] every once in a while but nothing like the fans are talking about.”
Like Wiggins, Ingram said that he chose Adidas because of his pre-NBA relationship with the company.
“Loyalty,” he said. “I’ve been with these guys since my freshman or sophomore year in high school. They treated me well and they treated my team well. My AAU coach Jerry Stackhouse helped me out a lot. I think when it came down to decision time, they showed a lot of love. When it came to decision time, I showed them love back and showed my loyalty and the respect that they gave me.”
The centerpiece sneaker at LVL3 was the new Crazy Explosive 17, which will be worn by Wiggins, Ingram and others during the upcoming 2017-18 season.
“This is our pinnacle performance on-court team shoe,” Adidas’s Crazy Explosive 17 product manager Alex Zerzan told The Crossover. “This year’s design is more streamlined and tailored to the ankle, it’s more comfortable. You don’t really notice that the shoe is there. Athletes want their shoe to perform but they also don’t want to be distracted by it. If they’re thinking about the shoe, they’re not thinking about going out and dropping 40.”
Fitted with full-length Boost cushioning, a Forged Primeknit upper, a sock-like ankle wrap and traction grips, the Crazy Explosive 17 was designed to be light, supportive and responsive to cuts.
“I’m an explosive player and this shoe complements my game,” Wiggins said. “It feels amazing, like one big cushion, amazing traction. I can move effortlessly. It looks good too.”
Zerzan said that Adidas sought feedback on last year’s Crazy Explosive sneakers from NBA players and high school athletes alike, and that a key design goal was “harnessing the energy of the wrap-around Boost cushioning to give the athlete the lateral support” they need while moving side-to-side on defense or driving hard to the basket.
“Wiggins and other NBA players are putting a lot of force on their joints and on their feet over an 82-game season,” he said. “Boost never really breaks down, providing tremendous energy throughout the full life of the compound.”
The sneaker, which released in Crystal White and Solar Yellow colorways on July 27, will be worn in Timberwolves’ blue and green versions by Wiggins and in Lakers’ purple and gold versions by Ingram.
“I played in these my first game of Summer League and they felt great,” Ingram said. “My cuts were a lot better. You could feel the confidence coming from the shoes. Having so much grip, having so much traction from the shoes.”
To celebrate last week’s event, Adidas unveiled a limited-edition “Vegas LVL3” edition of the Crazy Explosive 17, which featured a burgundy upper that paid homage to casino carpeting, a sole that featured a playing card design, and metallic gold accents that nodded to the city’s luxurious feel.
“We wanted to make a shoe that’s about Vegas and betting on yourself,” Zerzan said. “This is a chance for them to show out, ball out in front of college coaches, a chance for them to get exposure. It’s one of their last opportunities of the summer.”