Reebok Shaq Attaq Designer Reflects on Its Design Process 25 Years Later

Reebok’s classic Shaq Attaq sneaker, the first signature style for NBA icon Shaquille O’Neal, was released 25 years ago and is back in stores. The timeless look — dressed in the white, black and blue tones he sported during his tenure with the Orlando Magic — can be bought once again by his fans and sneakerheads alike.

With the shoe’s latest release, its designer, Judy Close, spoke with Footwear News about collaborating with the legendary baller, pressures to produce a stellar shoe in a short window of time and where it places among her favorite designs of all time.

What was the collaboration process like with Shaquille O’Neal on the Shaq Attaq?
JC
: Amazing. When we knew he was signing with us, and we were going to be developing a product for him, the product team here and the company came up with a list of criteria that we wanted to establish for the product and what we felt was important for the Reebok brand. We came up with some design elements and brought design drawings to him at his home so we could get his feedback. It was amazing to not only go into his parents’ home and sit on the couch with him and talk about basketball and the things he loves like music, but then [listen] to his input. One of the designs we had for him had a strap, and he said, ‘I tape my ankles, so I don’t know if I need a strap.’ He liked the simplicity and the lightweight carbon fiber [shank] added [and] he liked the idea of using the Pump and the cool technology that supported his foot. He was very free-flowing with his information and ideas. And he’s a real fun, spirited guy — he was not shy in his home, so we tried to take that energy and put it into the shoe and the launch.

Can you take us into Shaq’s home for that first meeting about the shoe?
JC:
His family lived on a military base at the time; we sat in the family living room and I sat next on the couch next to him. He’s such a big guy; I was tiny compared to him. It was an unreal experience to have my boards on my lap and him right next to me going, “How about this and that.”

After giving the business part of it, I was there with a team of people [and] we had lunch in the dining area with his parents. We really got brought into their life for a day — he brought us outside, he brought us to his car, which was made specifically for him with a stereo system because he was really into music. But he wasn’t an over-the-top guy; he seemed very humbled by his position. I don’t think he realized where his life was heading, to be honest with you.

Sketches Reebok Shaq Attaq
Sketches of the Reebok Shaq Attaq.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Reebok.

Did Shaquille O’Neal’s overwhelming size come into consideration when coming up with a design for the shoe?
JC:
We developed a size 9, which is a traditional sample size, and his size at the time was a 20. At the time we developed the shoe, he was 7-foot-1 and 303 pounds. So yes, of course we had to consider his weight. We did make prototypes that we could get on him to test to make sure they were going to be supportive for him. We had a lot of testing done before he got in it and once he was wearing them.

How many different versions of the shoe were made before finally deciding on the silhouette that went to retail?
JC:
We had designs sketched, but we only sampled one. We signed him in June, and he launched in the NBA in October, so we didn’t have a lot of time. There was a very focused team of people working in the office to say this is what we’re going to develop for him and went right after it.

What pressures were associated with designing the Shaq Attaq?
JC:
He was a big star, so we had to make sure it was right. Once we decided on the design in two dimensions on paper — a drawing is only worth so much — I then traveled to met up with the team in Korea, where the shoe was developed and manufactured. I was on the phone nightly with the team back in the United States saying, “This is what I’ve done today, are we still on board?” The components like the Pump bladder and the graphite shank also were being worked on simultaneously to pull the whole thing together. There were a lot of moldings, details on the midsole that were a little different and they line up with the upper, so that was a little tricky. There was a lot of pressure because we only had one shot at this to get it right. People really relied on each other to do their jobs, but we definitely worked as a team to stay on track.

NBA Shaquille O'Neal Reebok Shaq Attaq
NBA great Shaquille O’Neal in the Reebok Shaq Attaq.
CREDIT: AP Images.

Is the original Shaq Attaq your favorite shoe release you were a part of?
JC:
There are two, and that definitely is one because of the amount of things I learned and the ability to work with Shaq, such a big athlete. My other favorite would be the Blacktop series. That was another interesting endeavor that changed the look of — and also created — the outdoor basketball market.

How did the Shaq Attaq compare technologically to other basketball shoes of the time, from Reebok and other brands?
JC:
It was the first shoe at Reebok that we were combining technologies. We had the graphite plate; traditionally, it had been in running shoes, and we brought it into basketball and extended it — it was the largest graphite plate we had used. By extending it, it allowed us to take more foam out of the midsole and more rubber, which was not traditional in basketball as well. It made for a lightweight but supportive shoe that allowed still for some cushioning, [and] having the Pump technology allowed for the upper support that was needed.

Reebok Shaq Attaq
Another look at the Reebok Shaq Attaq.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Reebok.
Reebok Shaq Attaq
The heels of the Reebok Shaq Attaq.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Reebok.

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