A Nike Insider Reveals LeBron James’ Special Demands for His New Shoe

Fans of NBA star LeBron James and his beloved Nike signature sneaker franchise will have a new model to pick up starting tomorrow.

The first colorway of the Nike LeBron 15, a beige iteration dubbed “Ghost,” will arrive on Tuesday via nike.com, SNKRS and at select Nike retailers with a $185 price tag. Following the “Ghost” drop is the “Ashes” colorway on Oct. 29.

The LeBron 15 is a far different than past models in the franchise. It boasts a Flyknit Battle construction on its upper (referred to as BattleKnit), and is executed with a fully articulated cushioning system that pairs Max Air and Zoom Air units.

Ahead of the launch, Nike global footwear product line manager Kevin Dodson spoke with Footwear News about working with James to create a must-have style, discoveries the design team encountered during the process and the role consumers’ shift away from basketball shoes played in creating the LeBron 15.

What requests did LeBron James have for the shoe?
“From LeBron on through our entire footwear team, we believed it was time to make a big leap both in terms of bringing something new, amazing innovation to the product, but also in terms of changing the form of the shoe. We wanted to make something that was modern, distinct, bold but [also] really simple and sleek. With us, we wanted to start with the innovation. We’ve been working really hard to get Flyknit into a new space, so we developed this Flyknit Battle and engineered some structure into it, gave it support. And second, we wanted to really reinvigorate the cushioning system. LeBron’s best shoes for playing, in his mind, have always been [Air] Max shoes. How do we give him [Air] Max with modern performance benefits? All that snap, bounce and protection but in a more flexible package. Ultimately, it was time for a big jump, a big shift, and we all — from LeBron all the way through the team — believe that we landed there with this shoe.”

Nike LeBron 15 Ghost
Another look at the Nike LeBron 15 “Ghost.”

Can you describe the design process? How involved was James?
“He’s always heavily involved. [Nike senior basketball designer] Jason Petrie has always worked on every LeBron design since the LeBron 7, and he and LeBron have a great working relationship. Our product line manager Tim Day, Jason Petrie and a bunch of other people on the team intersect with him many times in the year. And it’s an iterative process; we start with an intent, we show some design concepts based on his insights and insights from the consumer, we get feedback, refine and keep pushing until we feel like we’re in a great spot.”

Did you make any discoveries during the LeBron 15 design process?
“There were a couple things. One, how do we give athletes enough support on the court with a really simple and minimal Flyknit package? We tuned the Flyknit Battle on this product. The second thing was trying to make sure we gave that right combination of bounce and a snappy feel but with great transition and flexibility. We learned that LeBron doesn’t mind getting a little lower in terms of height and scooping that top line down a bit for better range of motion and agility, which works great for most basketball players. [And] there’s a few things we discovered that I won’t burn now because we’re going to save them for some future shoes.”

Nike LeBron 15 Ashes
Nike LeBron 15 “Ashes”

The trend in sneakers is shifting away from basketball and more toward a lower-profile, running-inspired silhouette. Did the design team keep aesthetics and appeasing the customer in mind when designing the LeBron 15?
“Always. We have to do that. Basketball players don’t just want a shoe that lives on court. That’s what makes basketball amazing; basketball goes way beyond the court. The greatest basketball shoes ever, people are wearing them off the court today. And that’s our goal going forward — it starts on the court with incredible innovation and performance, but it has to be put through that style filter, that’s simple, distinct and bold so people want to wear them off-court with denim or a pair of joggers or whatever it is, sweats. That’s critical. There’s no performance without style, and that’s has to be in the forefront going forward with our product.”

Did James mention things from past shoes that he didn’t like or didn’t want included in the Nike LeBron 15?
“It’s not like, ‘For this shoe, do this,’ with him. LeBron always says they are his babies, but there’s definitely some favorite parts of each one that he calls out. As we started thinking about this product, we knew some of the best rides and favorites from not only LeBron but athletes and consumers, people who have bought the shoes, have loved the Max Air shoes. So how do we give them that benefit, give him that ride, that amazing thing and do it in a new, modern way that actually helps him play better on the court? That was really the intent, and when we started presenting him with ideas of this, you could see it in his eyes like, ‘You’re heading in the right direction, keep pushing.’”

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