This was a great year in the sneaker industry. We witnessed the return of Puma and New Balance into the basketball market. NBA stars like Joel Embiid and Kawhi Leonard found new homes at Under Armour and New Balance. LeBron James remained the best sneaker seller in the NBA after the successful launch of the LeBron 15 and the LeBron Watch program. Adidas unveiled its laceless basketball shoe, the N3XT L3V3L and signed perhaps the best sneaker prospect from the 2018 NBA Draft, Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young. Jordan Brand continued to have success with its retro program with the release of two of its most iconic sneakers—the Air Jordan “Black Cement” and the Air Jordan 11 "Concord”.
We also saw a great deal of collaborations as the NBA relaxed its sneaker colorway rules. Virgil Abloh’s Nike “The Ten” project was one of the most popular go-tos last season with the OFF-WHITE X Air Jordan 1 and the Nike React Hyperdunk 2017. Nike also unveiled its collaboration with Jerry Lorzeno Fear of God to create a basketball inspired shoe, the Nike Air Fear of God 1, which retailed at $350.
If you think 2018 was wild, just wait until you see what happens in 2019. The Crossover offers sneaker predictions for the new year.
More brands will join the basketball sneaker market
No one expected Puma to make a run like they did this year. The brand was already doing pretty well in stockpiling A-list celebs with endorsement deals from Rihanna, Kylie Jenner, Big Sean, The Weeknd, Selena Gomez and a few others. The jury is still out on its re-emergence into the basketball market but it was refreshing to see a different brand spice things up.
Puma came back into the basketball market brash and loud with the announcement of Jay-Z as its creative director. The brand also nabbed a bunch of prospects from the 2018 NBA Draft such as No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Kevin Knox and Michael Porter Jr. They also signed DeMarcus Cousins and Terry Rozer. Even the sneaker, the Clyde Court “Disrupt” made people pay attention more due to its unique and flashy colorway. I think the Puma explosion is just the beginning.
New Balance returned from obscurity and signed NBA draft prospect Darius Bazley to a $1 million internship. They also made a big splash in signing Kawhi Leonard to become the face of the brand.
There are hardships that come with returning to the basketball category. Leonard and Cousins are not necessarily guys people check on to see what sneakers they wear, plus Leonard is still awkwardly wearing Jordans as New Balance has yet to introduce a basketball model.
The next brand to watch is Converse. One of the most iconic sneaker brands in history recently signed Kelly Oubre to an endorsement deal. Nike owns Converse but I wouldn’t be surprised if the brand introduced a basketball model that pays homage to the Chuck Taylor like Puma did with the Clyde. They could also elect to update Magic Johnson's Converse “Weapon” with Nike tech. Even K Swiss recently announced they are selling performance sneakers…
Zion Williamson will ignite a sneaker war
Back in February, I wrote about why Zion Williamson has the makings of a future signature sneaker star. He has all the tools and the personality to be a great pitchman. Because we have not seen someone of his size with his vertical leap, the marketing opportunities are limitless. He is almost Bo Jackson-esque from a marketing sense. Here is how he could be useful to different brands:
Nike – He would join as an up and coming star under LeBron, Kevin Durant, Kyrie, Giannis and Paul George. While a signature sneaker won’t be instant, Nike would do wonders in the advertising department.
Adidas – The three-striped brand is in need of a new star after Andrew Wiggins didn’t pan out to be the guy. Zion would easily fit next to James Harden and Dame Lillard to create a dream trio.
Under Armour – Imagine the possibilities! UA would arguably have the best shooter (Stephen Curry) and dunker in the NBA on its roster.
Puma – Puma is not afraid to spend money on top prospects and will deftienly be in the hunt of a player of Zion’s magnitude. This could be the move that makes Puma a serious competitor.
Wild-card – Maybe a brand like New Balance who is not known for performance can alter its history by adding perhaps the most athletic NBA draft prospect in decades.
Whatever happens, some brand is getting a player that can transform an entire culture.
The Yeezy Basketball sneaker will flop
Kanye West has been teasing his Yeezy basketball sneaker for months now, and while he does have the power to influence, I am not sure his sneakers would fare well on an NBA court. First: The sneakers will reportedly be banned in the league due to its reflective heel. Second: The sneakers shared in separate social media posts look bulky and don't appear to be an ideal sneaker to wear in today's NBA.
It is reported that the sneakers will drop in spring of 2019 just in time for the Nuggets hit the NBA playoffs, and Swaggy P would be a perfect pick to be the first one to don them on court. But after that initial splash, I don’t see a bright light for these in the NBA.
Kyrie will put pressure on LeBron in sneaker sales
The past three years, the sneaker sales race has ended with LeBron at No. 1 and Kyrie at No. 2. Irving is having an impressive run as a signature athlete and his sneakers rank amongst the best with kids. According to Forbes, the performance basketball market fell 13.6% last year with Irving as the only one of the top five players to see a surge in his sales. LeBron, KD, Steph and MJ all saw a decline. Nike has boosted its marketing strategy around Kyrie and they plan to go all out for the Kyrie 5, which has fared well on the court and on social media. Leaving Cleveland was the right move for Kyrie’s personal brand.
The Air Jordan IV will return to glory
The Air Jordan IV was the first global release in the Air Jordan franchise. It was also featured in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing film, which solidified Jordan’s status in pop culture. In 2019, the brand will celebrate the 30th anniversary of one of MJ’s most iconic silhouettes. The Air Jordan IV had a bit of a run in 2019 with the release of Travis Scott’s “Cactus Jack” IV’s and a collaboration with Levi that introduced three colorways—black, white and denim. Expect the “Bred” colorway Jordan donned during “The Shot” to eliminate the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the NBA playoffs, and there are likely to be a bunch of other unique colorways celebrating the IV.