adidas Basketball has created a roster of athletes to rival any major hoops brand. James Harden set the news cycle ablaze when it was announced he had earned himself a 13-year contract worth around $200 million by switching from Nike to adidas, but he’s not the only big name pushing the three stripes hoops imprint into their bright and creative future. Damian Lillard and Andrew Wiggins were among the brightest stars to make an appearance this past weekend at the adidas LVL 3 Las Vegas Event space where the brand created an immersive experience at the Cosmopolitan Hotel by showcasing some of their latest and greatest innovations including the recently launched Crazy Explosive 17. Also on hand: the top High School athletes from around the country convening for various national basketball tournaments, and they just happened to serve as the perfect focus group to give feedback on the Crazy Explosive 17 and its revolutionary combination of Forged Primeknit and Boost cushioning.
LVL 3 was the perfect space to unwind between tournament games, take lessons from various adidas trainers, relax playing NBA 2K17 in a lounge area full of snacks, and get the drop on exclusive Las Vegas-themed products like customizable t-shirts and more. We flew out to Las Vegas to sit down with Kris Aman, a veteran of the sneaker industry with over two decades of experience to talk about the creative renaissance happening over at adidas Basketball. Also on hand was Alex Zerzan, Crazy Explosive 17 Product Manager, who has experience working with both Damian Lillard and Andrew Wiggins to implement the best technologies for not only the three stripes’ hoops superstars, but for basketball’s up and coming generation competing in Las Vegas this past weekend. Check out the full event recap below and know that the adidas Crazy Explosive 17 is available today from adidas.com for $150 USD.
Kris Aman is a sneaker industry veteran. He spent over a decade at Nike spearheading different product lines for their basketball department and made the switch over to adidas at the start of 2017. We sat down with him at the adidas LVL 3 space in Las Vegas to talk about the current wave of innovation and creative inspiration happening in both Portland, Oregon and Brooklyn, New York and what’s next up for adidas Basketball.
Sneaker News: We’ve noticed that adidas is really pushing the whole ‘Here to Create’ tagline. You joined adidas as the Head of adidas Global Basketball at the top of the year and we just want to know what you’ve noticed changing at adidas since joining the three stripes from a creative standpoint. What inspires you?
Kris Aman, GM of adidas Global Basketball: That’s one of the most exciting things about what adidas as a whole and what adidas basketball is doing – when you have a brand that’s wired around creativity and focusing on creators. That creates amazing opportunities. I think what you’re seeing with the athletes is that they are grabbing that with both hands and wanting to partner not only with us, but one of the philosophies that we believe in pretty strongly around here is this idea of open-source partnerships. So what ends up happening is you have a brand that’s wired around creators and creativity, athletes that are wired around how they create, and that’s kind of cool because it’s not just in their game, right? It’s in their life and in their world. And then you get some of the other creators that are in other industries whether that be fashion or sometimes global partners – it creates this amazing swirl where what we’re seeing is people having more fun with it and connecting at a higher level. And of course as a brand that creates a tremendous opportunity for us to create the future. It’s a pretty exciting time.
SN: Where do you see adidas Basketball going from here?
KA: Everything we do at adidas starts with the sport itself. Basketball focuses on how do we help a player play better, do whatever they want to do while expressing their style at the same time. The first thing that you’re going to see is a tremendous acceleration of innovation. You already mentioned what we do with Boost and some of the knit upper constructions, and what we do with how we make some of the athlete’s performance on-court even better to give them a competitive edge. You’re going to see a significant investment in some cool things coming down the pipe. I think the second thing we believe in very strongly is creating the new. We’re a brand that partners with athletes of today, and the ones that are coming around the corner for tomorrow. We’re spending a lot of time on the design front with some very interesting partnerships and collaborations, working on envisioning what the future looks like. And not just the future through aesthetic, it’s the future through how do you help an athlete play better. How do you get a baller a competitive advantage? The style and the flavor and the life side of the game is a big part of it too, and we have a lot of big things coming in the future. Our goal is to become the best basketball brand and we want to be the most creative basketball brand. And when we think about creating the future, all of those creative elements come together.
SN: There’s been a shift in the sneaker world where everyone’s been moving to the lifestyle models like the Yeezy and NMD lines. Do you ever feel that there’s a problem balancing performance, price points and overall aesthetics to have your on-court models appeal to those looking to wear them off the court as well?
KA: I don’t see it as a problem, I see it as an opportunity. One of the great things about basketball is that it lives on the intersection of sport and culture. Of all the sports, I think that it’s the one that’s most inexplicably linked. We try to create innovation in both performance and aesthetic in the game and in and around players lives. And what we believe in is that through sport we have the power to change lives. And I think that for me it’s not a problem it’s an exciting opportunity. In basketball, you’re going to see even more of that. We’re taking performance insights, and performance energy, and performance benefits and then mixing those together with elements that come from style, or personality, or culture. The days of only living in sport or only living in style – I don’t see that too much. The big opportunity is taking those two elements and seeing how they form together. Both sides, both halves of the equation have to work together.
SN: What effect has opening the Brooklyn Creator Farm had on adidas Basketball’s overall design process?
KA: The Brooklyn Creator Farm is phenomenal because not only is it a true collective – tremendously creative and talented individuals, but I think the biggest thing is the approach. It’s about how the Creator Farm works and about how they work together as a collective. We’re spending a lot of time at adidas Basketball partnering with the Creator Farm. And I think one of the great things about having Dennis (Dekovic), Marc (Dolce), and Mark (Miner) is that they’re also huge basketball fans. They’re able to help us re-imagine and re-create new thinking about the future and they do it in a very holistic way that affects the whole brand. And being in Brooklyn, one of the greatest basketball epicenters of the world, it creates this amazing partnership and connection because you’re living and breathing the creation part of the house in the middle of where so many important consumers are. I can’t tell you everything that we’re doing, but there’s a tremendous amount of partnership with the Farm and we’re leaning on them in some really interesting ways for the future. We’ve got some big moments coming up that they are dead center in the middle of partnering with us and I think you’ll see more and more of that collaboration coming from us in the future. The Creator Farm doesn’t have some of the boundaries that maybe some of the rest of the industry has. They’re able to look at performance insights, cultural insights, attitudinal insights, aesthetic insights, and remix that together.
SN: So to wrap up, going on the whole ‘Here To Create’ mantra at LVL 3, where do you get your creative drive from and when did that start?
KA: For me, my whole life has been wrapped around creativity. My mother was an artist and a designer. I actually, believe it or not, in my early days through a part of college I was studying to be a designer. For me personally, creativity comes from within. What I’ve had to opportunity to do for a couple of decades is work in and around tremendously creative people and that was a huge part of the attraction and the opportunity to what lives in adidas Basketball. As far as where I think creativity comes from in general, I think everybody has it. At least what I see and what consumers tell us, and what our partners tell us is that the opportunity for adidas Basketball and adidas at large is to help people express their creativity. Everybody has it. What we want to do is partner with people in very engaging ways and sort of open up the tool box and invite them to partner with us so that we can create the future together. That’s the secret sauce of it. Everybody has it. Just some people are more blessed to express it but I think what we see and the kind of approach we like to take is focusing on the fact that anybody can create. You can create on the court and you can create in your life, and by doing that you can create in the world. And that’s what gets us excited.
Alex Zerzan has been with adidas for almost a decade and has helped athletes get the most out of their footwear with innovative designs all while balancing performance and refined aesthetics. His role as adidas Crazy Explosive 17 Product Manager couldn’t be more exciting with the current generation of signature athletes and new technologies from Boost, to Bounce, to Forged Primeknit ushering in more interest than ever for the brand. We took a few minutes out of Alex’s more-than-hectic Las Vegas LVL 3 schedule to talk about working with designer Jesse Rademacher on the adidas Crazy Explosive 17, Damian Lillard’s preference for Bounce over Boost, and more.
Sneaker News: You’ve been with the brand since 2010, so to start things off – adidas has so much positive momentum with advancements in Boost and Primeknit. So what’s your favorite thing that’s evolved since your time there?
Alex Zerzan, adidas Crazy Explosive 17 Product Manager: I think the culture with adidas and how it’s starting to be showcased and spotlighted more is great. I really think the key thing and the reason why adidas has all this momentum is we listen to what the consumer is saying, to what culture is saying. We want to be apart of it. You look at ‘Creators Never Follow’ campaigns or ‘Here To Create’ – adidas’ ability to allow kids now to create and have an impact is something that’s absolutely played into the momentum. You see it in the product – we’re listening to hear what they’re saying and that we’re providing them with what they need.
SN: You played a major role in the Dame 3 and now you’ve been working with the Crazy Explosive 17. Can you speak on the different performance qualities of both Boost and Bounce and what kind of player would prefer one over the other?
AZ: We’re in a great position right now because we have the two top cushioning systems in the industry in both Boost and Bounce. Working with a guy like Damian and having him be in Portland is great for us to tap into his resources and feedback. He’s a guy that likes Bounce for a few reasons: he really likes it for his style of play and for his price point. He wants his shoes to be accessible to more people and a broader fan base. I always say if Boost didn’t exist, Bounce would be industry leading. Boost is unrivaled and unmatched. Boost is so great because of the energy return – it’s unlike anything else. You look at the kids that are here this weekend for LVL 3 – they’re playing multiple games every day – they need that energy return. There’s nothing more important to athletes than their feet. Whether we’re working with Damian and what he needs in his footwear or working with Andrew (Wiggins) and his footwear, who was the muse behind the Crazy Explosive, we have great cushioning systems that allow for adidas to take the lead.
SN: When the original Crazy Explosive leaked on Twitter last year, social media was pretty ruthless with Andrew Wiggins’ model – saying it looked more like a wrestling shoe than something for basketball. Fast forward to today and the Crazy Explosive 17 has seen an overwhelmingly positive response. Did those insights help create the new model and what was the inspiration behind the design?
AZ: I think if you look at last year’s model it was polarizing. It was unlike anything you’ve ever seen from an adidas Basketball model and that was the intention. We wanted to grab people’s attention. The shoe was a performance beast. It had Boost, it had Primeknit. The great thing about the second generation is we started from a great place and get to evolve – we got to make it better and we got to talk to the kids that were wearing that shoe and see what they liked about it, what they didn’t and we can incorporate that into this year’s model. I think you’re seeing that with the design. I think kids now are open to what adidas Basketball is and this design direction that we’re standing for. We have some great technologies in here. Forged Primeknit is really the key story of why the shoe looks the way that it does. Forged Primeknit is crazy. There are TPU coated yarns infused into the Primeknit that are moldable so when you heat them up you can give them this shape and rigidity.
What that allows us to do is make the shoe just as stable and strong while taking away more layers. So the shoe’s more breathable. The shoe gets lighter and the shoe gets stronger. All things that basketball players want in their footwear. Everyone goes out there on the court and they want to be faster, want to jump higher, to get in and out of their cuts quicker and so Forged Primeknit allowed us to do that with this shoe.
SN: The major theme here at LVL 3 Las Vegas is ‘Here To Create’. So from a design perspective, when did your creative journey start and what inspires you to keep going?
AZ: The journey is always evolving and always going. We’ve been working on the Crazy Explosive 17 for 18 months. Myself and Jesse (Rademacher) the footwear designer, have been out and working on this shoe, talking to kids, getting feedback, learning what they wanted. Creating the new technology of Forged Primeknit into the shoe – working with the development team trying to find out how we make this happen. The creative process is always something that’s always evolving and that’s how culture is. The ‘Here To Create’ mantra and creator mentality – consumers these days are more creative than ever – and from a product side and design side we need to be just as creative. We need to be there with them step by step and creating together.
SN: You guys just opened up the Brooklyn Creator Farm in Brooklyn, New York, yet you’re still based out of Portland, Oregon. How has that advancement changed the design process and overall collaboration over at adidas?
AZ: I think that the Creator Farm is phenomenal because the guys out there are some of the industry’s best. Industry leading. And they really have tapped into this idea of co-creation and creating together. You go there and you can’t help but feel inspired. They’ve done a great job of incubating the process from design, marketing, apparel, footwear. You go out there and you’re just inspired. So a lot of credit goes out to those guys and what they’ve been able to do with that space. What they’ve been able to tap into, and how they’ve included basketball in that is awesome.
SN: Andrew Wiggins has been the face of the Crazy Explosive line and has been riding with adidas since his High School and Kansas days. What’s it like working with Andrew as ‘the muse’ behind this sneaker?
AZ: Working with Andrew is great. He’s the kind of guy that lets a lot of his talking happen on the court with his game. With the things that we are able to do in our adidas lab and at P3 down in Santa Barbara, gaining that incite and explosiveness, and sitting down with him and finding out what he likes and what he doesn’t like. He has a unique style of game – he’s the most explosive player on the court whenever he steps out there. We wanted to make sure that his footwear was addressing his needs that he has and his feedback really allowed us to design him a shoe that fit what he wanted to make happen. And if we make a shoe that’s right for Andrew Wiggins, it’s absolutely going to be right for that High School boy or girl that wants a new shoe.