A visit to Nike‘s world headquarters in Beaverton is a lush affair: it’s part cobbled Italian village and part technical fortress. The Ronaldo Field hosts a sprawling green at the nucleus of the massive campus, where any number of fit, young employees can be found eschewing sandwiches for soccer or lunchtime Jell-O for jogs. This space plays the drumroll for the Mia Hamm building, home to the secretive Innovation Lab and also the office of one Phil Knight – who likely marvels at these goings-on from his curtained corner suite. I would not be surprised if the campus were informally shaped into a Swoosh. From the lunchtime fare to the tightly manicured foliage, the dedicated workout ‘malls,’ and the brass reliefs of sports greats that line the building columns, there is an air of legacy – of athletic regality – at the Nike campus.
Needless, then, to mention, no presentation at Beaverton can be considered less than a production. Perhaps ‘spectacle’ is a better term for the way Nike introduced LeBron James’s 12th signature shoe. Pundits from each corner of the sports analysis game – amongst them ESPN statisticians and sport scientists – emerged from their respective woodwork to mark the occasion. The theater in the Tiger Woods Center (I can’t make this up) was dramatically darkened, moonlit by a blinding blue screen at the stage. The presentation was done in two halves: one underlining LeBron’s borderline freakish athletic ability and the design objectives, the other sitting James down for an “intimate” question/answer session on his favorite parts of the shoe, Kyrie Irving, coming home, etc. Select media outlets were invited backstage for one-on-one interviews; others were escorted to another building for group designer chats.
Without all this proverbial red carpet though, the stage would still be set. Anticipation was rife in the air and would not subside – I don’t care how many colorways I got to preview. The importance of the LeBron 12 can be best understood by the context in which it was born. A season that begun with a rather public dismissal of the 11th iteration and ended with high school-esque dramatics of homecoming courtship all but outlined Nike’s work moving into the 2014-15 season.
Consistent with the ethos of the company, Nike’s innovators – namely chief designer Jason Petrie – developed a shoe to focus on LeBron’s current game. Reports from Sports Illustrated and the Wall Street Journal have noted the player’s low-carb diet over the summer, resulting in a sleeker, perhaps more streamlined forward player. Reflecting this, the innovators introduced two key technologies to the LeBron 12: Hex Zoom Air and Megafuse, both of which are described in my report here. Media was granted a brief wear test with the shoe, from which I can personally state that the sneaker is in fact lighter and more flexible than its predecessor.
Said wear test thereby concluded the LeBron 12 launch experience in Beaverton. Public response to the shoe has been mixed. Some parties might contest the aesthetics, but I personally think the shoe has a more classic, approachable look; hats off to Petrie. Furthermore, the LeBron 12 represents a kind of a barebones, raw approach to sneaker design, which indeed parallels LeBron’s current status on court. Ultimately, it is a shoe designed for a player undergoing a highly publicized physical and emotional evolution – what better approach than to return to basics? LeBron isn’t Michael Jordan, nor does Petrie play Tinker Hatfield. There are parallels to be drawn though, and as we anticipate the Caveliers’ October 30 home opener on the Knicks’ home court, all that’s left to do is let LeBron’s game speak – for once.