King’s Craftsman: 1 on 1 with Nike LeBron 8 Designer Jason Petrie

Three shoes. One player. One season. Initially, the thought sounds excessive; however, if there’s anybody capable of making this concept work, it would be Nike. King James’ eighth signature shoe, the Nike LeBron 8, is undoubtedly an innovative, one-of-a-kind basketball performance design. Beginning with the LeBron 8 V1, Nike followed that with the ever-so-popular Nike LeBron 8 V2 and finished the series off with the Nike LeBron 8 PS, a sneaker that showcases Nike’s new Fuse technology.

We recently caught up with Nike LeBron 8 Designer Jason Petrie, the man behind this strategic, highly-detailed concept. Petrie discussed a number of topics pertaining to the Nike LeBron 8 design format, LeBron James’ involvement in the process, the specific differences between each model and what we can expect from the LeBron line in the future.

He also revealed information on a never-before-seen, fourth version in the Nike LeBron 8 series and supplied us with unseen sample versions of all three models! View our in-depth, 1-on-1 interview with Nike LeBron 8 Designer Jason Petrie below.

Nike LeBron 8 V1 first and last samples

Nice Kicks: Let’s start off with the response of the main person involved in this three-sneaker concept. What was LeBron James’ initial reaction when you first expressed to him the thought of creating three different shoes for one season?

Jason Petrie: I think he was like, “Three shoes?” He was definitely wondering about it and wanted to know more about why we were considering it. But really, the way we laid it out to him was, we kind of preached to him our ‘transformation’ concept. Then, he could kind of see how we visioned the design and how we wanted it to progress. We also showed him some early samples, and he immediately got it especially after we displayed it through a business standpoint and showed him how it would come to life on the court. Then, he started to get excited about it, so that was definitely encouraging.

Nice Kicks: When images of the LeBron 8 first surfaced on the web, a lot of sneaker enthusiasts were critical and thought it resembled the Nike Air Max LeBron VII a little too much. Yet, when consumers got a chance to place their feet inside of the LeBron 8, they were blown away by the superior cushioning level it possesses. What makes the LeBron 8’s cushioning level so above and beyond the VII, let alone most of the shoes in his line?

Jason Petrie: Well, when we were doing the VII, the air bag and the whole construction was super new, and we were doing that all for the first time. It required so much testing and trial and error, therefore, we discovered things along the way that we didn’t anticipate. We learned how to work with the materials, our processes improved and the people that built the shoes in the factories learned about bigger and better things in regards to constructing the shoe. So, we learned a lot of things in building the VII. We were kind of in a tie-up with the VII to get it out quickly, but we knew there was a lot in the VII that we could use on the next shoe to make it better. It is the same, exact air bag and features a very similar midsole, but this time, we added a softer foam bed which is basically the median between the midsole and the upper, and for a lot of shoes, this is a harder, more firm surface. The softer foam gives it a little more feel, and it enhances the cushioning. We also matched that with a new sockliner foam that made the sockliner a little thicker which provides a real, upgraded feel. And this is all Ben Smith (developer of the shoe), Peter Savage, and the team in Asia. We really worked hard on all of those internal elements of the shoe. We just really focused on the foam package in the collar. We really locked the heel in and wanted to focus on the areas surrounding the entire foot and wanted protection in those areas.

Nice Kicks: In addition to the cushioning level, the Nike LeBron 8 press release also stated that you and the design team made vast improvements on the lockdown support and flexibility level by increasing the height between the collar and heel. Specifically, how does that alteration directly increase the lockdown and flexibility levels?

Jason Petrie: Well, that was more of making sure LeBron James had as much range of motion as possible while still providing him with enough support. The VII had an internal sleeve-like component which was kind of a comfortable, luxurious type of element. LeBron really likes to feel locked in and super secure; he really pulls tight on those laces. So, we really altered the height of the shoe to where he laces the actual shoe up higher and pulled the heel down to where it kind of eliminates some layers that were incorporated in the VII. So now, it kind of fits like a low-top in the heel. When he’s shooting a jumper, running or cutting, his ankle/Achilles is free to move and flex. But he likes to feel that support at the top of the foot and pulling from his heel, he gets a better angle and increases the lockdown feel without putting his foot in a cast. So, we wanted to do that and enhance the foam and clean up some of the layers.

Nike LeBron 8 V1 + V2 Comparison

Nice Kicks: So, now let’s visit the LeBron 8 V2. Consumers really embraced the LeBron 8 V2 more than any shoe in this three-sneaker concept. It seems as if you and the Nike design team put more into the V2 in terms of color schemes. What is it about the V2 that stands out to consumers, and did you expect it to resonate as well as it did?

Jason Petrie: I think the upper really takes color well. The composite material with the flywire cables really pops especially on something like the “Entourage” LeBron 8 V2. The materials can sometimes get a little cheap looking when trying to make it too bright if using leather. But with that composite material, it really makes it pop if you’re using bright colors. The color team worked for awhile on making sure it was the right color red (on the “Stoplight” Nike LeBron 8 V2), so it didn’t look desaturated. We wanted to make it bright and poppy. I also think the V2 is a little more sleeker because the layers have been reduced on the shoe all over. So, it’s an all around more sleek shoe which is in-line with what people want to wear now. I don’t think it was a matter of us spending more time on any of these. When it came to the V1, we had to launch it and get it on the court in certain colorways. With the V2, we had already taken care of some of that, so we were able to open the floodgates a little more. But you know, we still had the “South Beach” color scheme on the V1, and that’s a pretty crazy color, so this was a pretty long plan. It’s not like we just did the V1 and instantly thought about what we were going to do for the V2. It wall all a scheduled plan. We all thought together to make sure there was a rhythm and harmony in regards to the color schemes, graphics and materials, not only with LeBron but with the rest of the line. So, that is kind of how that color story came to life.

“It’s not like we just did the V1 and instantly thought about what we were going to do for the V2. It was all a scheduled plan. We all thought together to make sure there was a rhythm and harmony in regards to the color schemes, graphics and materials…”

– Jason Petrie

Nike LeBron 8 V1 & V2 first samples

Nice Kicks: So, was the V2 created and/or designed before the other two models or were they all created in the same order they released?

Jason Petrie: Originally when we started, it was all built with the Nike LeBron 8 PS in mind. So, we wanted to start there and work our way back. We wanted to see where we could go with the PS. At the time, we couldn’t build the PS during the holiday season or around the time the V1 released. The technology just wasn’t ready at the time. So, with the way the VII ended, we just wanted to kind of start there and tell a story of old world-to-new world with LeBron changing from his old team to new team. At the same time, we wanted to tell the story of old-to-new in terms of technology. Since he is an innovation leader for Nike Basketball, we wanted to transition from style to innovation and development. It’s been a style type of thing especially with the debut of the Nike Zoom LeBron VI, and style is important to LeBron and his shoes, but he wanted us to push him and push the line. So, we wanted to use him to spearhead our innovation, our research and our development. Now, we have an opportunity to take the consumers and LeBron on this ride from the past to the future in his shoes. Even with the Milan, the fourth version I mentioned; it’s an even more of an old world version. It takes place before the V1. It’s like a prequel, and then it moves on through going from leather with a little bit of tech emphasis and a big Air bag. Basically, where LeBron has been. Now, it’s the PS which is now the totally new Air bag, carbon fiber, Hyperfuse, lightweight and really just trying to reach for the sky in terms of performance and pushing him where he’s never been before. As we go forward with the Nike LeBron 9 and 10, we’re going to try to hit the gas, appropriately, where it works for LeBron and using technologies that are applicable to LeBron. In other words, we’re not going to make a shoe that’s super light because it’s the trendy thing to do, but we’re going to do something that LeBron needs and will benefit from. We’re going to continue to use the Innovation Kitchen and our tools at Nike Innovation to fuel that. So, it’s really exciting and I think LeBron is really excited too.

To read page 2 of the interview, click here.