LeBron’s career arc is beginning to take form, but his sneaker line has long been a foundation for Nike Basketball. A player back in the 80’s shared a similar footwear fate and he ended up having a pretty solid basketball career as well. There are many differences and similarities between MJ and LBJ, both on and off the court, but we’re here to focus on the things that really matter — the shoes! As we near the end of the run for the 10th installment in the Nike LeBron line, we take a look back at how James has become a fashion icon and how his brand stacks up against the Jumpman. Continue Reading After The Jump
Its 2013, and Jordan Brand is still going strong in the 28th year since Nike dropped MJ’s first signature sneaker. It’s year 10 in what is now the “LeBron Era” and while Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant are enjoying great successes in the sneaker department, it’s safe to say that LeBron has a stranglehold on the shoe game. Select KD’s and Kobe’s generate buzz, but it seems like the LeBron line continually dominates the headlines.
The Air Jordan 1 was considered a black sheep, something the NBA would not tolerate and was intent on restricting from hitting the hardwood. The initial backlash that came with the shoes introduction actually helped as it caused such a stir that interested consumers began to take notice. In contrast the LeBron line was welcomed with open arms as the Air Zoom Generation rolled out, and the league as well as the general public warmed to the shoe quickly as it was an extension of the “Chosen One”, the kid ready to push the league and footwear into the next generation. Another difference was pricing. The AZG debuted at a very reasonable $110, whereas the Air Jordan 1 was priced at $65 which after inflation calculates out to about $136. Sneakers generally retailed for less than $20 at the time and were seen as a tool for athletic performance, not a fashion statement. As we all know, the AJ1 changed all of that and people began to purchase the shoe as it began to hit sales racks at a more reasonable pricepoint.
So did any of the early iterations in the LBJ lineup change perceptions? Not really, but we’ll get back to that in a bit. While every Air Jordan released during Michaels playing days can be considered revolutionary, the first 5 examples in the line were truly ground-breaking and propelled Nike and basketball sneakers into a totally different stratosphere. After the Air Jordan 5 released we were on our way into the 90’s and what is considered the golden era for B-Ball sneakers. The AJ 1-5 ( although not the 2 quite as much) each set new standards for what was expected in a basketball sneaker design. After the AJ5, Air Jordans were firmly entrenched into pop culture and became a staple of the urban wardrobe. If you owned sneakers at any point, chances are you’ve owned a pair of Jordan’s.
As Michaels career began to close, the retro phase of the Air Jordan line has pushed sales and dominated closet space for many of Americas youth, but not too many kids have been going out of their way for the signature Jordan models releasing post-retirement.
As the LeBron line gets into double-digits, it has hit a turning point. The first six models were solid silhouettes, all flashing distinct features as well as notable colorways, but none of them were able to garner the type of attention an retro Air Jordan release would. The Nike LeBron 7 was his final shoe worn during his Cleveland Cavalier era, and with stellar design along with some pretty dope colorways, the line was looking like it was picking up steam. Then came “The Decision”, something that changed the course of NBA and Nike Basketball history. LeBron now found himself on South Beach, sans 23, and with his new team and number came a new persona, and Nike was intent on capitalizing.
The LeBron 8 featured the first MUST-HAVE colorway for an LBJ shoe with the release of the “South Beach” version, something that has taken on its own life in sneakerhead lore. The 8 continued to have some great releases, was an excellent seller, and was the first example of a shoe to go into 3 phases (V1, V2, P.S.) This new strategy changed the way Nike looked at sneakers and allowed them to essentially create multiple versions of 1 shoe, a strategy that has continued ever since. The LeBron 9 and 10 have since taken off, with limited releases becoming a spectacle and re-sell prices become fodder on big time broadcasts like CNN. It seems as if James wears a different PE every night, and with his line being curated by Nikes Sportswear division, it has added a luxury aspect that was touched on by the Premio series in the Air Jordan family.
The sneaker game is officially in a new era, an era that is all about promotion through social media and making profit on limited goods. An era that is dominated by the past (Air Jordan) and the present (LeBron). We can enjoy the healthy flow of retros that come from the Jumpman while we wait and see what LBJ is gonna wear next. While many will argue LeBron’s case versus MJ on the court, it is difficult to argue his hold on the shoe sector against Jordan. The Jordan Brand is too strong to go anywhere anytime soon, but the LBJ line might have more in store, and eventually may equal or even go beyond what Air Jordan has done for sneakers. Only time will tell…