How Jason Petrie Rose From Posting Sketches on NikeTalk to Designing for LeBron James

Nike’s Jason Petrie proves that determination and evolution leads to success.

As the head designer of LeBron James’ signature line, Jason has directly influenced the direction of the entire basketball shoe category with his imagination.

What’s so special about Jason’s creations are the way they age. When a given shoe designed by Petrie releases they look and feel futuristic at the time, but 3-4 years later they look ‘normal’ or contemporary.

Jason Petrie

The Charlotte, NC native’s passion for everything sneakers is well documented, so let’s take a look at how Petrie became the captain of the LeBron James sneaker ship.

It’s funny how life can bring people full-circle sometimes – Jason started refining his sneaker design skills as an intern at Converse while attending N.C. State. The polarizing Converse All-Star He:01 was one of the first projects Jason worked on. They attempted (and failed) to rival Nike’s Air cushioning by emulating the tech with helium instead of air.

Converse He:01 (1999).

Converse taught Jason a lot about the ins-and-outs of the shoe industry. Mainly, that it’s about more than the raw drawing skills.

With greater skills in hand he grinded, uploading his designs to the OG of OGs by showcasing his sketch work on NikeTalk under the handle ALPHAPROJECT (an homage to Nike’s line of aggressive basketballs shoes) to get his ideas circulating.

Jason Petrie’s signature shoe concept for Jason Kidd (photo via brannock)
Jason Petrie’s Air Jordan 1 Evolution Concept (photo via brannock)

His online posts worked, Fila noticed his work and brought him on to design basketball shoes internationally in Italy for two years.

But at Fila, Petrie unapologetically rocked with the Swoosh. In the end, his experiences with two different and credible brands couldn’t satisfy his hunger to work at Nike – as if his NikeTalk name wasn’t proof enough.

Around that time, he watched as a young LeBron James entertained sponsorship suiters from every brand under the sun and hoped The Chosen One would sign with Nike in 2003. As fate would have it Jason started his Nike journey in-toe with LBJ – but no one told him that he’d eventually be tied directly to LeBron.

Young LeBron’s famous poster (2005).

The early years of Jason’s tenure with Nike were spent honing his skills under (then) head LeBron designer Ken Link on ‘Team LeBron.’ Jason was all-in on LeBron before he officially took over as “the man” due to the line’s history of high quality releases.

It didn’t take long for Petrie to start working with some of Nike Basketball’s biggest stars at the time on his own originally designed signature shoes.

2007’s Air Force S.T.A.T. for A’mare Stoudemire displayed Jason’s affinity towards strong, bold designs while ’09’s Zoom FlightClub for Tony Parker (“a semi-signature”) showed how Jason could effectively integrate elements of Nike Basketball classics with modern techniques and aesthetics.

Nike Zoom MVP “Trash Talk” (2009)

Other notable Petrie designs before taking over the helm of Team LeBron include the:

  • ’08 Huarache Basketball
  • Power Max from 2008 (most famously worn by prime David West)
  • Zoom MVP from 2009 (worn by Deron Williams and Steve Nash; heavy Air Max 90 vibes)
  • Skyposite from 2009 (worn by A’mare Stoudemire and Chinese standout Yi Jianlian)
Nike Skyposite Amar’e Stoudemire PE (2009)

After multiple years of crushing original designs for Nike Basketball Jason was selected as Ken Link’s successor as head designer of LeBron’s signature line.

Expectations were high after the love/hate reception of the LeBron 6 so Jason was entrusted with creating a modern masterpiece…

Nike LeBron 7 “Hardwood Classics” (2009)

LeBron James demanded that his shoes be the best available – both on and off the court – and he wouldn’t accept anything less. The Air Max LeBron 7 shattered expectations and instantly became one of the best footwear options on the market.

With a blend of familiar elements (ie. patent leather around the mudguard like the AJ 11) and new technology (Flywire), the 7 offered something intriguing for fans young and old.

From a performance standpoint Jason displayed his love for bold ’90s design by substituting Zoom Air (used on the LBJ 1-6) for Full-Length Air Max akin to the Nike Air Max Uptempo ’97, making the 7 plush and well cushioned.

The James/Petrie connection on the 7 proved that Nike’s commitment to innovation and excellence was in safe hands.

LeBron 9 sketch (2011)

So, how do you follow up a beloved sneaker? With another one (*Khalid voice*), and another one, and another

When LeBron took his talents to South Beach, Jason took his talents to the next level and delivered a trifecta of iconic kicks! The LeBron 8 redefined basketball ‘heat,’ the 9s crammed truckloads of tech behind dope colorways and the 10 offered perfectly sleek performance.

Nike LeBron 8 “South Beach” (2010)
Nike Lebron 9 PS “Championship” (2012)
Nike LeBron 10 “What the MVP” (2013)

With each and every LeBron creation, Jason brought to life the shoes and became increasingly more ambitious withe each effort.

Elements like Hyperposite (LBJ 11), Battleknit (LBJ 15) and Hex Zoom (LBJ 12) afford Petrie the opportunity to keep pushing the boundaries for what a basketball shoe could, or should, look like.

This is apparent in the line’s most recent entries like the LeBron 15 and 16. Texture, shape and materials were all cranked up to an eleven on a ten point scale. The design of both shoes not only serve practical purposes, but make onlookers question what they’re seeing.

“Are those basketball shoes? Space shoes? Designer shoes?”

Jason and LeBron with the LBJ 15

Design should be useful and thought provoking, engaging and approachable. It’s safe to that Jason Petrie has honored each of those principles mightily.

His work has helped shape the basketball landscape for the better and we can’t wait to see what he delivers in the future.

Tim Day, LeBron and Jason with the LBJ 16

Stay tuned to Nice Kicks for more designer profiles in the future!

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