The tattoo of a Nike swoosh on Jason Petrie’s arm serves as a reminder of his goal to work at the athletic apparel company. When he got the ink at the age of 18 his mission was clear: design sneakers for the best athletes in the world.
“Throughout my 15 years at Nike, I’ve seen a lot waves come and go. Players come and go and there has been one thing constant my whole time and that is LeBron F---ing James,” Petrie told The Crossover. “I feel like we got drafted at Nike at the same time and he provides the inspiration.
"LeBron is the most amazing muse you can have. If he only played basketball that would be enough but that’s the least of what he does, whether that is helping people through school, raising kids, raising money, building a business, or creating footwear. He does it all at an high-level that it is inspiring.”
Petrie first connected with James to create the LeBron VII, which was met with huge fanfare for its aesthetic and full-length Air Max Unit. Now on the brink of the NBA season, the duo recently released the LeBron 16.
The LeBron 16 was inspired by “The Strongest”, a quote directed to his mom that centered on the strength of black women. With that foundation set, Petrie and LeBron used strength as the focus of the design process.
“As someone who has a platform, because of what I do, I thought it was important to lend that platform to a group of people that I believe are under-recognized,” said James in a release. "Being the son, husband and father of strong African-American women, I felt like this was something I wanted to do for them and for all the strong women out there who are succeeding despite what might be stacked against them.”
From a technical standpoint, the sneaker features Battleknit 2.0, an evolved version of the knit that was present on the LeBron 15. The knit is strong enough to secure LeBron's foot and limit any aspects that could slow him down.
“The knit on the shoe this year is crazy. With Battleknit, it was the first time we ever did that for LeBron and it took years in the making,” said Petrie. “We took all of those learnings and basically re-engineered the whole thing, because what our knit innovation team discovered was a new machine that allowed you to create this new type of knit. And you get all of the strength attributes of a woven with a soft liability construction, and it has allowed us to take the shoe down a little bit lower and strip things away.
“It became a little bit faster and closer to LeBron’s foot without losing any of the containment or any of the strength that he is going to require out of the shoe and aesthetically it takes on an entirely new finish—the shoe really pops—it’s just a brand new expression which is what LeBron really wanted.”
LeBron was heavily involved in the design process and put a lot of pressure on the team to create what he wanted to be his best sneaker yet, according to Petrie.
“He told us you guys are going to have to step it up because we can’t just stay leveled. He said he would wear the 15 again if we didn’t bring it,” said Petrie. “For me as an designer, I want that challenge every time—that is why working with LeBron is great because he’s not going to let you be lazy.”
The next stage of LeBron’s sneaker evolution has been his collaboration with fashion brands. James over the past year has worked on projects with Ronnie Fieg and KITH on the LeBron 15 and John Elliott with the LeBron X John Elliott icon—a silhouette inspired by the LeBron 8.
Now he has partnered with Harlem Fashion Row, a New York City based fashion collective to design a special LeBron 16 to honor the strength of African-American women everywhere. HFR was created in 2007 to showcase the work of multicultural designers, particularly women who do not get the chance to showcase their work on a large stage.
“I think with collaborations, we like to be partners with someone. We don’t want someone to just do a colorway,” said Petrie. “Last year the collaboration with KITH was an organic one—they loved the 15s so much LeBron felt like, 'Man, now it is the time to do something.' With this one, once LeBron had that quote about the women in his life it was like, Oh, man, this is a whole new vein.'"
The lack of black designers and women in the sneaker industry has been abyssal for some time. The HFR X LeBron 16 is the first LeBron signature sneaker that was designed by women. Petrie, Nike global basketball footwear designer Meline Khatachourian, HFR founder Brandice Daniel and designers Kimberly Goldson, Felisha Noel and Undra Celeste Duncan tackled the project, which was unveiled at the Harlem Fashion Row showcase Gala on September 4th.
The HFR X LeBron 16 features regal gold highlights, interchangeable straps, and a 3D-moded lion’s head that grips the laces in its mouth. A detachable leather bracelet placed at the top of the sneaker can be worn on your foot or wrist. The interior of the sneaker includes the designers’ signatures and the words "dignity, loyalty, courage and strength."
This is, without a doubt, LeBron's most personal shoe—and the future of his line is already in the works.
“I am working on the 17 and 18 right now. And the innovation team is working on the 19 and 20,” said Petrie. “LeBron’s are not going anywhere but it is not going to be anything expected. Now that he is on L.A. and the biggest stage he has ever been on, you can expect to highlight his stories on court and off the court—it’s bigger than basketball now.”