December 7th, 2012 by Aaron Kr.
It’s been a pretty big year for Kevin Durant. In addition to claiming his third consecutive scoring title, taking his first trip to the NBA Finals and winning an Olympic gold medal, KD has also taken huge strides when it comes to not only letting his personality show, but letting it shine. As a result, he has gone from shy and unassuming rising star to full blown superstar, and his marketability is at an all-time high right now. Along for the ride on KD’s dominating 2012 campaign was his fourth signature Nike shoe, the futuristic KD IV, a true gamechanger for the KD line that helped catapult it into the same rarefied air with the annual LeBron and Kobe sigs.
There’s no doubt that the humble and easy to like young star’s growing popularity had a lot to do with the shoe’s status leap, but a large share of the credit goes to Nike Basketball Design Director, Leo Chang, who has overseen the entire lifespan of the KD signature lineage, focusing on mirroring the evolution of Durant’s game with each shoe, each step of the way. There’s no doubt that Leo raised the bar with the KD IV, which turned a monumental corner for the line in the hearts and wallets of consumers, so expectations were understandably high for the fifth shoe and Leo was up for the challenge. The result was an unexpected sharp turn away from the previous models, both functionally and aesthetically – a decision that Leo told us came from KD, himself, and one that he was eager to oblige with. Continue on for our one on one interview with Leo Chang to get the full lowdown on the new KD V, and look out for the first colorway hitting Nike Basketball retailers everywhere this weekend.
Sneaker News: The KD IV definitely upped the ante for the Durant line, both from a design perspective and in its eventual popularity with consumers. Does that success create extra pressure for you to to outdo yourself with the V and keep that momentum rolling?
Leo Chang: I don’t know about outdoing ourselves, but we want every shoe to be better than the next. The IV was good, but there are still a lot of things that could be better about it. I read comments online and stuff like that and it seems that people either love it or hate it. One of the things that I think back on is, people were like – what about the lowtop and what happened to the lowtop with the strap? And its like – if I just came back with another lowtop with the strap, people would be like – oh, that looks just like the IV. So then I’d get killed for that, so I don’t necessarily listen to that. I listen to what KD really wants and this time it was purely driven by what he was thinking. And he wants to keep us on our toes a little bit and do something unexpected every time. That’s why I like this (KD V). He came up to me and was like, “I want a midtop this time, I don’t want a strap, I want a bubble in the back.” And I was like, oh, okay! When it starts with that, then its like grounds up new. It’s a different beast then the KD IV.
SN: KD’s feelings about wanting his shoe to be affordable are well known, and although we’ve gradually seen the pricetags get a little higher, they’re still way below the LeBron and Kobe models. What challenges do you face in trying to create a premium performance shoe without being able to incorporate some of the more premium materials and technologies that can drive the pricepoints out of range?
LC: Yeah, I think you’ll start to see him evolve his thoughts on that. I think he definitely wants them to be accessible to everybody and we’ll still try to position them to be the most accessible out of our signature guys. For me, it’s just about being smart with the things we do on the shoes and not get carried away with things we don’t necessarily need on it. Not to say that the other shoes do that, because stuff like the full-length Zoom on the LeBron is really expensive, but I think it’s just about being smart and clever with how we construct the shoes to get the best bang for the buck.
SN: You just touched on a few of his initial requests for the new shoe. When you first sat down with Kevin to start on the KD V, what other kinds of input did he have on the direction and how involved is he along the way?
LC: Really involved. Each year it gets better and better and better. He started out pretty shy on the KD 1 and he was just grateful to have a signature shoe and respected what we did. But for me, I want him to tell me no sometimes and tell me ‘I don’t like that.’ And this was a case where I showed him a design and he was like “Yeah, it’s okay. It’s still early.” This was during the lockout last year and I went to OKC and went to his house and showed him all this stuff and told him the story and the idea behind the V and all that. And then I showed him the design and he was like “Yeah, it’s alright.”
And then a couple weeks later, he came up to Portland for LaMarcus’s (Aldridge) game and we met up again and he pulled me aside and was like “Hey, I want a mid. I want a bubble. I don’t want a strap.” And he said he would send some images too, just some inspiration stuff. So I was like, cool! He’d never done that before.
SN: What kind of stuff did he send you?
LC: He had just gotten a (Mercedes) SLS, so he sent me images of that. An Audemars watch. A few things like that and we just bounced back a few ideas, so just kinda wanted to know why he liked certain things and just getting the general flavor from that inspiration.