Sneaker tours have become a priority for NBA players who seek to expand their brands in the international market. The promotional trips have been a way to connect with fans that typically don’t access to their favorite players during the regular season. This process includes clinics with local kids, surprise store visits and fun exhibition games.
The tour strategy was one of the biggest factors in Michael Jordan's ascension to global icon status. For instance, Nike sent Jordan over to Italy for an exhibition game prior to his sophomore season in 1985, where he famously shattered the backboard and laid the groundwork for a future sneake campaign.
Kevin Durant was one of the kids who idolized MJ growing up and mentioned in a Nike release that Jordan’s promotional tours overseas inspired him to set out on his own and visit places like Asia and Europe annually in an effort to evolve the game.
Since the Warriors won their second consecutive NBA title in June, Durant has embarked on a global marketing tour to promote his latest signature sneaker, the Nike KD 11.
Durant took a non-traditional route with his tour this year. While stars usually head abroad for much of their sneaker promotion, Durant made the effort to visit the next generation of basketball players during the AAU season at different Nike EYBL events before taking off for Asia. It’s a strategy that connected KD with top prospects on the grassroots level and gave them an opportunity to pick the brain of one of their idols. For Nike and Durant, it’s an opportunity to get the kids in his latest shoes. Overall, it’s a win-win situation.
The KD 11 American tour
An appearance at the Nike Nationals—one of the world’s most competitive girls’ basketball events—in Chicago, Nike Peach Jam in Georgia, historic Dyckman and Milbank courts in New York and, finally, Las Vegas, where he picked up and greeted Bay Area AAU teams on “Flight 35”, a private "Alaska Airline X Nike" plane that boasts a huge image of Durant’s face.
While he remains one of the most successful sneaker salesmen in the NBA, his shoes have often flown under the radar compared to other signature stars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kyrie Irving. Durant's hits have gained cult status through different themes created by Nike, such as Galaxy, Nerf and Aunt Pearl, a sneaker that pays homage to his late aunt who passed away from cancer.
With the KD 11, Durant and Nike offer their boldest silhouette yet, meshing two of the Swoosh’s biggest innovations: Zoom Air and React.
“One of the things [Durant] has been wanting is a shoe that feels kind of broken in already before he even puts it on—just that fresh out of the box type of feel,” Leo Chang, Lead Designer at Nike Basketball, told The Crossover. “That is something I observed of him over the years. He is like, 'Damn, these are already good to go and I don’t need to break it in,' and that is something he really desires.”
Chang has been the braindchild of Durant’s signature line since the beginning, and the two have developed a unique partnership over time. Jordan has Tinker Hatfield. Kobe has Eric Avar. LeBron has Jason Petrie. Durant has Chang.
“That is something over the years that he and I have worked extremely close on," Chang said. "It is like one of those things where he doesn’t get into like super nitty details of design. He has a lot of trust there but we always start the process together.
"So we will have conversations before the designs are done and I will check in with him throughout the process, throughout rough sketches and that's what we do until the final shoe—and he usually checks in a year in advance to get performance feedback into the shoe and makes sure it works for him. Every step of the way he is in it and we try to evolve them. He is one of those guys that won’t be like micromanaging—which is great—and we a have great partnership.”
The KD 11 Asia Tour
KD has been a frequent visitor overseas since 2009 and has taken seven promotional trips to Asia with Nike. This year he visited Guangzhou, Manila, and Taipei.
The Asian sneaker market has become a big NBA marketing hotbed where fans look at players like superheroes. Kobe Bryant had a temple named after him. Klay Thompson became a marketing superstar. Stephon Marbury resurrected his career in China and became one of the most celebrated American athletes in the country. Dwyane Wade signed a lifetime contract with Li-Ning and there are rumors that he might possibly play in China once he retires from the NBA. Even Derrick Rose remains relevant as ever.
When Durant travels, Chang is usually right by his side going through the ins and out of the each sneaker with local fans. In a Nike video, Durant explained how much it means to have Chang by his side on his trips.
“When we are doing an Asian tour or Europe tour it’s been nothing but love," Chang said. "When it comes to basketball there is so much respect for his game and it’s different when you go to Europe or Asia, they don’t see him day-to-day like it is here in North America, they don’t get caught up in the drama. They are just really excited to see an amazing player and get a handshake or a high five, that acknowledgment or a signature on a jersey—there is so much love for KD out there and around the globe. That is awesome to see and with the second championship and Finals MVP it kind of solidifies his legacy."
Durant has become one of Nike's most influential ambassadors since joining the brand in 2007. The two reached a reported 10-year deal in 2014 that could be worth as much as $300 million and there doesn't appear to be no slowing KD's sneaker line anytime soon.
“The future of KD’s line, we are always looking to make sure it evolves with his game," Chang said. "To me it is like a snapshot of where he is currently, which is kind of cool, it’s like taking a photograph. I always want to make sure I am up to date with him and what he needs. Over the years we have to come to a point where there is some principle we hold to keep evolving.
"The principles may stay the same but the technology, innovation and style we put into may be drastically different to meet those needs. We are already working on the 12’s and we are starting the 13 right now and we are excited about some of the innovation we are putting into that. Most of the stuff, like how it is broken in and comfortable, will remain but most of the stuff will be new. I am not trying to give you too much."