March 28, 2013 BY John Kim
Take a look at the NBA players that have signature shoes today and it’s clear that being a signature athlete requires the perfect alignment of skill, charisma, sheer location of employment, and a few other things that make a human into a superstar. LeBron, Kobe, Melo, CP3, Wade, and D-Rose all play in major markets where the opportunity for extensive media coverage is all but guaranteed, with Kevin Durant being the one industry anomaly of being a highly successful signature athlete playing in a small-market city; this seems like a healthy list that should hold us down for a few years, but being content only means one thing – there is room for more.
The landscape of sneaker brands is unique in that some of these labels have become flexible with who they choose to represent their brands on that “face of the brand” tier. Take up-and-coming Under Armour for example; their lone signature athlete is Brandon Jennings, but with DeAndre Jordan playing in a huge market and his insane dunk placing some added spice to his shoes, the neophytic UA label has experienced some added exposure as the prime “indie” brand. While the responsbility that comes with being a signature athlete is something that can be compromised, Nike, Jordan Brand, adidas, Li-Ning, and Under Armour – the major brands in the basketball category – all have the room to fit in a new guy on the team.
But is it even time to welcome a new name to the sneaker industry? There’s no doubt that player names play a large part in shaping consumer tendencies, and with Kobe Bryant nearing retirement every passing year, LeBron well on his way to signature shoe history for Nike, KD well-ingrained in the Nike’s historical fibers, and D-Rose sitting prettily with a life-time contract, it’s a ripe-enough time for a fresh name to be thrown into the mix. Each brand across the board has a select group of athletes to represent their non-signature models, but is anyone ready to step up? We’ve narrowed down a list of the top candidates that may be worthy of sig-shoe distinction, so check out our list below and chime in with your opinions on this latest installment of What Do You Think?.
Kyrie Irving – Cleveland Cavaliers
Current affiliation: Nike
The case for: Kyrie is probably the #1 candidate to have a signature shoe for Nike. On the court, he’s shown flashes of greatness and looks to be a perennial All-Star type player – with potential to join Team USA in future adventures in the Olympic Games. In the point-guard position, Kyrie Irving is undoubtedly the future, and his recent showboating in the 2013 BBVA Rising Stars game proves that the spotlight is something he’s comfortable with. Off the court, Kyrie is slowly elbowing his way into the group of the most marketable NBA athletes today; his Uncle Drew campaign with Pepsi Max has made him a nationwide commercial star – even though he plays for one of the smallest markets in the NBA in Cleveland. His participation with Foot Locker also put his name at the forefront of the marketing campaign by the nationwide footwear retailer. Skill, marketability, charisma – the kid seems to be the whole package that just needs a few loose ends tied in.
The case against: As we mentioned earlier, Kyrie Irving plays for a small market team. Even though LeBron James had a signature line of shoes during his Cleveland days, the popularity of Nike LeBrons didn’t take off until he flew to Miami. In addition, Kyrie is prone to injury, missing a chunk of games in both years as professional baller and in his one season at Duke. He also doesn’t have that on-court bravado and intimidating presence as a LeBron or a Derrick Rose – but that should come with time. Can Nike strike gold again and bring in the next name in their legendary signature shoe history with Irving, who plays for a bottom-of-the-barrel team?