words & interview // Nick DePaula:
Each year, the NBA’s annual All-Star Game showcase is a platform to highlight the game’s biggest stars to a global audience. For every single sneaker company, it’s also become a platform to celebrate their newest innovations and latest signature lineup.
For this season’s East versus West showdown, Nike Basketball created detailed themed iterations of each of its signature sneakers, offering up the newest Kobe, LeBron and KD models in contrasting base colors, with commemorative badging found on each to highlight the player’s many accomplishments.
Read ahead for our exclusive interview with Nike Basketball’s lead Graphic Designer Erick Goto, for details behind each shoe, what it’s been like watching Kobe’s final season and his favorite past All-Star collections.
Nick DePaula: How far back did the team set out to create the brief for the 2016 All-Star collection, and what were some of the initial ideas that were discussed?
Erick Goto: The team went out to Toronto several times. We did an initial visit to Toronto back in November of 2014 just to understand the vibe and culture of the city. We dug into the city, and were really stoked with what we found. Toronto’s got a rich history in sports, royal lineage and diversity. So we decided to play on that.
NDP: What was the broad overview of this year’s theme, and what were the early concepts for how that could be applied to each player’s model?
EG: This year focused on the idea of Sport Royalty. Our initial muse was basketball and it’s history. Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of the game, was born just outside of Toronto. The first NBA game was actually played in Toronto – the Toronto Huskies versus the New York Knickerbockers.
Toronto is such a huge sports city, so we wanted to bring the focus back to that. But it also has ties to the royal crown, you see that influence all over the city. King Street, Queen Street, we even visited a local castle that showcased that lineage.
We started to look at each athlete’s style of play. We met with local hoop legends and aficionados, and they told us about the different styles of play that dominate each part of Canada. So the focus became about our athletes each representing a different “House” of basketball.
NDP: Each shoe is a different base color. How important is it to have each player’s shoe show up & read differently on court? That seems to have been a shift in strategy starting with Orlando All-Star, after a few years of similar looks for each signature.
EG: We found that it’s important to embody a different vibe for each shoe. Each player is very different, and the people who buy their shoes are very different. So we wanted to provide that diversity in the collection. We relied on detailing and packaging to hold the collection together.
NDP: What are some of the key details highlighting Kobe’s 18-year run of All-Star appearances? By the way, I really love the heel and tongue molding on these.
EG: There is a lot of badging consistent across the collection, but with Kobe’s shoe, we had to take it over the top since it was his last All Star. Some things you’ll find similar to other athletes is the “royalty” ribbon on the heel with 20 stars for the number of years he’s been in the league. On the tongue top we had medallions for the number of All Star game appearances and All Star MVPs.
The tongue and heel molding were the elements we wanted to be more expressive with in terms of craft. The heel has this almost serpent-like quality, of course as a nod to the Black Mamba. The molding on the tongue has some secret detailing as well. The molded frame surrounds the badging and if you pull the tongue out further, you’ll discover that it’s actually a snake.
We created that piece as an overlay that you can add badging to for customization. You can potentially add your own pins in the holes we added to the tongue top.
NDP: You’re an LA native and grew up a Laker fan, and obviously are a Nike Basketball employee too, so what’s it been like to watch & celebrate Kobe’s final season?
EG: It’s been surreal. Kobe has always been the guy who never stopped striving for perfection, whether it was basketball or perfecting a design. As a Laker and Kobe fan, I can’t help but feel sad that this is the last season we’ll see him on court.
He’s THE Laker for this generation. I can’t think of anyone I’ve worked with who’s been more of an inspiration, creative thinker and collaborator. He’s a legend, and I can’t help but feel anything but sentimental.
NDP: Each pair features several pins and patches — what do they represent?
EG: The badging in general is around the idea of the “decorated athlete.” All of these guys have a ton of accolades, and we wanted to celebrate that. Like I mentioned earlier, we have badging representing the number of All Star appearances, All Star MVPs, and a unifying ribbon with the number of seasons they’ve been in the league. The gold crest on the tongue top of the 13s represents LeBron’s style of play — explosive power.
NDP: How did the lace flap cover come about on the LeBron?
EG: The lace flap was a way for us to offer a place for people to customize their shoe and add more pins that spoke to their style. In designing that part with Jason, we thought it added a cool boot-like element to the shoe. What’s more appropriate than a winter boot in Toronto in February?
NDP: What inspired the bold blocking inspiration for the KD?
EG: We wanted to take advantage of the woven upper as a canvas and do something we hadn’t done with the upper. The bold blocking was an ode to the diversity and lineage of Toronto. You’ll find old school royal flags and international flags all around the city. The sport heritage of color blocking was also influential.
NDP: What does each patch graphic represent for his shoe?
EG: The tongue top features KD’s crest. It’s split into 4 quadrants, a nod to his dynamic style of play. The other patches are consistent with the rest of the collection – All Star appearances and All Star MVP.
NDP: What are some of the details on the HyperLive that represent the first NBA game being played in Toronto?
EG: The main details are the 1946 printed on the heel and the maple leaf basketball patch on the tongue top. Overall, the HyperLive has the most simple expression of Canadian pride with the red and gum sole. We also did a split Swoosh detailing as a color blocking device we used across the collection. You’ll see midsole blocking in KD and Lebron, and the HyperLive is the same. We took that blocking up through the Swoosh.
NDP: Did any players have any specific feedback or input into what they’d like to see on their shoe?
EG: Nothing too specific. Kobe always asks us to be different and push the boundaries. KD liked that we were exploring print in the upper. LeBron liked the color play and how it was unexpected.
NDP: What are some your favorite All-Star sneakers of the past, before you worked at Nike?
EG: I’m actually a big fan of the LeBron 3s! At the time, it was unique to use lasering on shoes, but I was always into the color blocking on that shoe. Those, and the Jordan XIs from the ’96 All Star Game. That was also my favorite All Star uniform.
NDP: Since joining the brand, what are some of your favorite All-Star models or collections that the team has executed?
EG: The 2010 Dallas collection was awesome because it was the first year we did something different for All Star. I don’t know if people were ready for the bright colors, but it was the first time we brought something unexpected to the floor. I remember watching the game, and being stoked on how bright the colors were popping. Of course, the first galaxy collection in Orlando is a milestone as well. It was fun, and creative, and risky.