December 1, 2009 BY Aaron Kr.
Wherever people discuss sneakers, there always seem to be two different schools of thought. Some sneakerheads love the advancing technologies and futuristic aesthetics that grace many contemporary Nike Basketball styles, while others pine for the simplicity and flowing lines of the classic models from the 80’s and 90’s. No matter which side of the form/function fence you’re on, it’s hard to argue that there isn’t room for both, but blending the two is not always an easy task. Lucky for us, Nike designer Jason Petrie just might be the bridge between that gap. Equipped with a fascination and understanding of the latest in cutting edge performance technology, Petrie also carries with him an unapologetic reverence for the classics. That combination lends itself to some thoughtful designs that seem to capture the flavor of the good old days, while still incorporating the latest innovations and technologies.
A perfect example of this union is the new Air Max LeBron VII, a shoe that has been crafted with the best of both worlds in mind. Not only does the LeBron VII boast features like a full Air Max sole unit and extra large Flywire window panels, but it also sports a slick look not usually seen on the type of sneaker made to support 6’8″ NBA power ballers like LeBron James. Sneaker News’s Aaron Kr. recently had a chance to sit down with Jason inside the Nike Basketball inner sanctum to discuss the Air Max LeBron VII and some other projects that are currently in the works. Keep reading to check out our interview with Jason Petrie, as well as a look at some unreleased sample versions of the LeBron VII like alternate Red Carpet, SVSM and Dunkman prototypes.
Sneaker News: As far as Nike goes, the LeBron VII and the LeBron line in general have to be one of the bigger projects around. What was your reaction to being given such an important job?
Jason Petrie: Yeah, I mean it’s the biggest basketball project we have. We always say ‘LeBron leads Nike Basketball,’ so with that comes a lot of eyes and ears and attention and focus, so I was a little bit nervous at first, but I’m confident in my abilities and confident in the fact that I know the game and I know shoes pretty well, at least to me. So I fell back on that and I had Kenzo (Ken Link) who did all of the other LeBrons and he was an amazing teacher and helped me transition. He set me up with LeBron and made it really comfortable. The thing I was most worried about was the relationship with LeBron. I feel I can design sneakers, but it was more about how Kenzo and LeBron had a really special relationship and it’s almost like a family the way LeBron runs his business and who he works with.
SN: So you cracked that inner circle?
JP: Yeah, and I just wanted it to be where I was trusted and it could be seamless. They trusted me. I trusted them. It was a good relationship. I’ve had some relationships with other athletes where it was kind of like pulling teeth and maybe you were in the same room, but they’re not there to be paying attention to the design. If you really want a signature shoe and get those insights, you have to have an athlete who you have that relationship and rapport with and you can just chat and talk about stuff and that’s when the real insight comes. But he took care of that and that was really the only thing I was really nervous about. Other than that, pure excitement, pure ‘Let’s get it on!’ I have so many ideas and stuff I want to try. It’s like the ultimate challenge and what I’ve lived my whole life to get to, so it’s all great. Sometimes it’s really challenging and really frustrating, but other times it’s just… Like seeing him start the season in the VII’s made that whole year and half of the battles and trips, wins and losses and now it’s just like ‘Ahhh.’ We did it and he loves it, so it’s great!
SN: As far as the design of the shoe, was it your idea to abandon the Zoom technology and add the Flywire and the Air Max? And if so, was there any resistance or opposition to it?
JP: The whole Air Max thing… It’s funny. I see online like it was my call or LeBron’s call. That’s such a big deal and we knew we had it coming because we had seen it in the works for a long time. And initially, in all honesty, I didn’t want to do it. LeBron is Zoom. He’s established Zoom, and I love Zoom. Until they started getting the Air bag kind of finished and they started explaining the benefits of the bag, and we started looking at LeBron’s foot and hearing some things LeBron was telling us like, ‘Hey man, I can’t feel the Zoom’ in a couple shoes he’d been playing in. We started cutting up into some shoes and what we didn’t want to do was say ‘Oh we have an airbag’ and just put it out there because we can. We wanted to make sure it was better. So we went through a whole lot of arguments. Some people were fighting for it. Some people were fighting against it. But then we started seeing those benefits and we were like ‘oh man!’. And then we started seeing high speed videos, and hearing back from people wear-testing it. Then we got our own pairs to play in and we were like, ‘Wow, this is really cool!’ Let’s see if LeBron would be into changing his ride, cause we’ve heard him kind of complaining about what’s been going on and this might be pretty cool. And again, this is super early on and he tested an early prototype and was like ‘Yo, the ride is great!’ He knows Zoom and he knows Max, but he’s like, ‘Whatever provides for me the best. Give me what it takes to get me where I’m going.’ So with that we were like alright, ‘Boom! Lets go!’ So that established the Max thing and we were all into it from there.