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Examining the Current State of NBA Sneaker Culture

With the 2018-19 NBA season approaching, The Crossover paneled sneaker writers to get their opinions on the upcoming season, LeBron James and more.

The NBA season is approaching, which means there is a full slate of sneaker storylines to dissect. The Crossover put together a roundtable featuring prominent sneaker writers to get their thoughts on the current state of the culture. Topics include: Best signature sneaker line, LeBron in Los Angeles, the decline in basketball sneaker sales, Puma’s resurgence and the state of the Jordan Brand in 2018.

The panel was asked to go as long or as short as they wanted with their answers. Some of the following answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.

The panel and their favorite sneakers

Jovan Buha - Reporter, The Athletic, The Air Jordan 1

Nick DePaula – Feature Writer, ESPN, Zoom Flight 95 (Black / Carbon Fiber / White)

• Aaron Dodson – Associate Editor, The Undefeated, Air Jordan XI"Space Jam"

Max Resetar - Associate Editor, SLAM MagazineNike Huarache 2K10

• Stanley Tse - Contributor, WearTesters, Air Jordan XI

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Who has the best signature line right now in the NBA?

Tse: Kobe, Paul George, and Kyrie. Once Nike put out the Kobe Protro series, it was already a wrap. And majority of the players in the NBA and WNBA are wearing PG / Kyrie shoes. Not only do the shoes perform well, the ability for NIKEID and different colorways give players options to comply with team color rules.

Resetar: With much respect to no. 23 and the LeBron 15, Kyrie has the best in the league right now. The way he and his Nike squad play with colorways has never been seen before. They’ve stopped trying to match the sneakers to the jerseys, which has opened up a door to outrageous colorways. Plus his collabs with the cereal companies and the joints he did for the Uncle Drew movie were fire. And then you throw in what his sneakers have done for the WNBA since the Kyrie 2. There’s a huge majority of women in the WNBA that have been wearing Kyries for years and this season, with the “Power is Female” version, they blew that door off the hinges.

DePaula: Man, tough question. Out of the dozen or so guys that have their own shoe, I'd have to go with either Kyrie Irving or Damian Lillard. I like how each guy has been layering in a variety of stories that give different insights into their own background, hobbies or inspirations. The shoes also perform really well, and were worn by a variety of players all around the league.

Last season, I thought PG and Stephen Curry had real strong years with the PG2 and Curry 4 too. I'm always a big fan of lines that can be impactful and tell great stories, while still staying somewhat affordable for their younger fans, and all those guys have been putting out great models at $130 and under.

Report: NBA to Remove Footwear Color Restrictions for Upcoming 2018-19 Season

Dodson: Kyrie Irving, hands down. Last season, the Nike Kyrie 4 was the best sneaker in the NBA when it came to storytelling surrounding releases, and an array of unique designs. There’s no way you can overlook the impact the Nike LeBron 15 had —especially the “EQUALITY” edition of the shoe, which mean much more than basketball. But, if you think about it, Irving missed the majority of the year, including the entire playoffs, so we didn’t get to see him that much on the court wearing the Kyrie 4.

But with players across the league frequently rocking them—most notably his Celtics teammate Jayson Tatum—and all the different colorways and PEs Nike delivered, the conversation around Irving’s signature line kept going. Nike really had the Kyrie 4s in cereal boxes. And the Yellow Lobster PE was super dope. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for the Kyrie 5.

Buha: Kyrie Irving, though it’s splitting hairs between him and LeBron James. Ever since Irving debuted his signature sneaker in 2014, it’s not only consistently been a top-two selling signature shoe, but also one of the most worn shoes by his fellow NBA counterparts. Kyries are sleek, comfortable and come in awesome colorways and collaborations. Heck, he just collabed with cereal brands. The LeBron 15 might have turned the tide in LeBron’s favor longer term—we’ll see.

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What are your expectations for the LeBron 16 with LeBron now in L.A.?

Tse: First –expect Laker colorways, without a doubt. Second, I expect an evolution from its predecessor 15. Meaning—the materials, the fit, and the structural stability improvement of the shoe. I believe also slight innovative tweaks to improve on what was already great to play in, but modified to handle 48 minutes, 94 feet, on one of the centuries greatest athletes of all time. When you have creative minds of Jason Petrie, Tim Day, and the Nike Basketball team, the possibilities are limitless.

Resetar: The LeBron 15 was an absolute monster, both in technology and in colorways. #LeBronWatch was a genius idea and I don’t expect that program to be done yet, especially now that he’s out in Hollywood. That preview he gave us to on IG looks like that Nike Air midsole is back and it looks like they’ve got a new upper on there too. That heel counter, the one with his logo, is gonna be prime real estate for when they bring those special editions out. And don’t sleep on some sort of Kobe x LeBron collab.

DePaula: I think it's going to be a ridiculously awesome season for LeBron and Nike. They're going to run back the #LeBronWatch program, and really channel back to some classic Nike themes and early stories from LeBron's line too, which should be fun for everyone to follow along with all year long. 'Bron wore 51 different versions of the 15 last season, and I know Nike is already planning to have close to a million looks of the 16 ready for him coming up. Every night at Staples is going to be electric and he's got endless potential with the blank slate design of the 16 to have some fun with it. I'm just hoping they actually release all of the best #LeBronWatch colors, since we couldn't get our hands on the “South Beach” or “BB4” versions of the 15 last year.

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Dodson: A lot of purple and gold. Nike and LeBron James put out a lot of quality product when he was in Cleveland—but the Cavs’ primary colors of wine and gold aren’t as appealing as what the Lakers wear in L.A. It’s a little reminiscent of when the King went to Miami in 2010, and we got the “South Beach” LeBron 8s and 9s.

It seems like a no-brainer that Nike will cook something up for the 16 tapping into a “Hollywood” theme, especially given that James has made an aggressive, and successful, push into the entertainment industry. With him in a new city, and with a team team, the drop of the LeBron 16 is going to be huge. But because LeBron is now a Laker, we gotta see him in some Kobes this season—at least for a few games.

Buha: My expectations are a lot of purple and gold colorways and probable collaborations with LA-based brands and/or themes. I’m excited at the possibility of both. There’s something about purple and gold—Lakers’ history aside—that is just so aesthetically pleasing together or individually. I think it’s given Kobe’s models a little extra juice. As for the LeBron 16 silhouette itself, it’s early, but I think it’s a slight downgrade from the LeBron 15.

“Sign

It is no secret that basketball sneaker sales are on the decline. What do you think the industry is missing right now?

Tse: The industry is missing a consistent story and marketability of a proven winner. (3 peat championships, MVP, Defensive player of the year,) Also, the marketability of an athlete. With the heavy influence of social media, and platform for athletes to fire/clap back at haters—everything is under a microscope. So if an athlete comments back at a message he doesn’t like in some type of way—a media conglomerate can misconstrue the reply which can either create a negative and/pr positive reflect the athlete and the brand their signed too.