With the 2019-29 NBA season officially tipping off, it's also time to preview what the players are going to be wearing on the floor. Here's a look at the biggest sneaker storylines entering the new year.
Kawhi Leonard is not your typical sneaker star but his desire to avoid the spotlight is a reason why New Balance fell in love with the two-time NBA champion. The brand made its return to the basketball market earlier this year—catching lightning in a bottle as Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to their first championship. The global launch of the Leonard’s first signature sneaker, the OMN1S which is derived from the Latin omnis, a word meaning “of everything”, will be releasing in seven new colorways.
The Crossover spoke to Jonathan Grondin Creative Design Manager at New Balance about designing the OMN1S three years ago, how New Balance refocused its athletic brand and how they re-entered the basketball space.
SI: I read that it took you guys three years to create the OMN1S. Take me behind the process? What was the inspiration behind it?
Grondin: This three-year run was about New Balance wanting to get back into basketball. It is a pretty tough sport to crack into. We haven’t made a performance basketball shoe in quite a few years, so all of the pieces lined up to make that happen. We made high performance shoes for a long time and I have been working on our baseball product for about eight years now—so we work with athletes at a high level. But for basketball it was about understanding the floor aspect, the business aspect and the changes within the region of China and the USA. We started working on all of the pieces for basketball a while ago. It was interesting that as we were researching basketball and picking out the way New Balance wanted to enter, the whole landscape was changing around the sport especially with all the brands entering at the same time. It is really exciting.
SI: How involved was Kawhi on this project? How was it like working with him?
Grondin: It was quite awesome. I first met Kawhi last November. It was the first snowstorm in November and he came into the office the night before the Raptors played the Celtics. So we’ve redesigned, built and tested five separate shoes leading up to the OMN1S. The sneaker was still rough enough where we could get his input and figure out his thoughts on the project and where we were going. From then on, he was very involved.
SI: What makes Kawhi a great pick to be a signature sneaker star? What did the brand see in him?
Grondin: For us, he embodies all things that New Balance wants to represent which is high performance and no nonsense. I mean, the coolest part about being us is just making products for him for just being an incredible basketball player. He’s not about flash or social media or unnecessary attention. His attention is all earned from being an incredible basketball player. We just want to make incredible sneakers and people will notice. Now we are getting to where we have some really high-level athletes who want to be a part of the brand. Our exposure in the world of sports is either people love New Balance or don’t necessarily know much about it, but it’s not a love-hate relationship and I see the same thing with Kawhi. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t like Kawhi.
SI: What is the future like for New Balance basketball? Have you guys started working on the second sneaker for Kawhi yet?
Grondin: Funny you said that. As things have been ramping up, a shoe I started drawing 18 months ago, and seeing all of the assets and sketches on social media, is really surreal. We are as of right now slated around the 2020-21 NBA season start for a new product that is in the pipeline right now. This is truly the beginning of where we want to go for us as a brand and beyond Kawhi’s next year.
Stephen Curry and Under Armour unveil Curry 7
Stephen Curry and Under Armour have officially unveiled the Curry 7 for his 11th NBA season. The sneaker was designed by Leon Gu. Curry will wear the UNDRTD colorway Thursday night as the Warriors officially open up the Chase Center against the Clippers. The sneaker features two of Under Armour’s foam technologies—UA HOVR and Mirco G.
“We designed the Curry 7 with layers and really obsessed over the details to address the fit and showcase the technology. The result is a sleek, minimal design that features lightweight materials,” Gu said in a press release. “The Curry 7 is giving Stephen all he needs on-court. Athletes can expect to benefit from zonal reinforcement for stability and mobility, a flex plate that offers a quicker reaction time off the ground and a return on the power from the distance and minutes they clock on-court.”
The Curry 7 UNDRTD colorway releases on November 1 for $140.
Marcus Smart signs with Puma
Puma announced that they signed Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart to an endorsement deal.
“Marcus has already established himself as a leader on the basketball court, and we’re thrilled to add someone to the family in our backyard in Boston,” said Adam Petrick, Global Director of Brand and Marketing at PUMA. “His versatility in style and bold personality is a great addition to our growing PUMA Hoops family. We’re looking forward to collaborating with him on upcoming basketball launches and activations.”
Smart joins PUMA Hoops’ other ambassadors including Kyle Kuzma, RJ Barrett, Terry Rozier, Kevin Knox, DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Danny Green and many others.
What is going on with PJ Tucker’s sneaker free agency?
The current sneaker king in the NBA has been enjoying his time as a shoe free agent. While every brand should be bidding for his services, I just can’t see him walking away from Nike unless a brand offers a lucrative contract he can’t turn down. The beauty in Tucker’s rise has been his true fandom of sneaker culture. He seeks out rare pairs and geeks about certain models that he can’t wait to hold. He is not a signature athlete like LeBron James or Kevin Durant but Nike should do everything it can to keep him in the fold given how much he's an ambassador for their kicks. He is a valuable asset in the social media age. They should let him model his own PE’s and let him be a part of the design process. He has knowledge of the business and knows what works and what doesn't as a sneakerhead. Seeing him in a pair of PUMA’s at the Rockets practice was a bit of a shocker. I doubt his sneaker free agency lasts long but he has chance to rank among some of the best shoe free agents in history alongside Kobe Bryant and Gilbert Arenas.
What about D’Angelo Russell? Where will he sign?
All signs point to D’Angelo Russell signing a deal with Chinese apparel brand Li-Ning. Marc Stein of the New York Times reported that Way of Wade, which is under Li-Ning has been pushing to close a lucrative deal with the new Warriors guard. Russell wore Li-Ning throughout the preseason (minus one game where he wore a pair of adidas). Russell would take the keys from Dwyane Wade as an active representative for the brand on an NBA court.
Did Zion Williamson make the right decision to sign with Jordan Brand?
Time will tell. Williamson’s decision to sign with Jordan was a bit of a surprise. How much room is there to build your own brand there? Williamson is a phenom and could have definitely held his own at whatever company he decided to sign with. The Jordan Brand is full of some of the best athletes in the world but it is also one of the toughest brands to build a personal brand. Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul both have more than 10 signature sneakers within the company and none of them are really considered iconic models. Former Jordan athlete Kawhi Leonard jumped ship to New Balance. Russell Westbrook’s first signature sneaker ranked as one of the best performance-wise last season but there’s not a lot of people running to stores to get them. Blake Griffin has just been around wearing whatever the brand gives him. Jordan Brand had a great summer by locking in Williamson, Jayson Tatum and Rui Haichumura. You can’t blame Jordan for signing Williamson and making him the face of the brand but it will be interesting to see how he could step out of the shadow of the brand’s namesake.
Who is the next player to receive a signature shoe?
I honestly believe we have reached a point where we don’t need another signature sneaker athlete. Giannis Antetkounmpo and Donovan Mitchell are the latest players to hold the honor but I think we are at a good spot at the moment. Zion will be the closest but he is going to be the face of the Air Jordan 34 this season.
We know about PJ Tucker and Kyrie Irving as sneaker kings but who are some young sneaker prospects that we should keep an eye on?
De'Aaron Fox, Ja Morant, Jaxson Hayes and cousins Nikeil Walker-Alexander and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander all deserve your attention this season.
Weighing in on some new sneakers that are debuting this season.
LeBron 17: The LeBron 17 doesn’t drift two far from its predecessors: the LeBron 15 and 16 but the Air Max unit takes the performance up a notch. Expect another exciting year of the LeBron Watch program.
Nike Kyrie 6: There’s not much info on the Kyrie 6 yet but there have been several leaks and photos floating online. The sneaker looks like every previous Kyrie put together and it doesn’t look bad. I expect Kyrie to go all out again in the colorway department for these.
Adidas Harden IV: The Harden IV has a unique design. I am really interested to see how these test out on the court. Harden spent a lot of time in the design process working on specific colorways that inspired him growing up such as the Barbershop, Pink Lemonade, and Cotton Candy.
Adidas Dame 6 Hard to believe Dame is now on his 6th signature sneaker. These are without a doubt his best ones yet.
Under Armour Curry 7: As showcased earlier, Stephen Curry has one of the most complicated signature lines in the business. His sneakers have always been hit-or-miss. The brand has been struggling and UA CEO Kevin Plank just announced he will be stepping down from the company at the beginning of 2020. I don’t remember the last time a superstar had to carry an entire billion dollar company on his back. The Curry 7 has promise to be a solid on-court shoe.
Puma Clyde Hardwood: These are the best Puma hoop kicks to release since the brand returned to the basketball market.