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Kyrie Irving And Ben Nethongkome Embark On New Trilogy With The Nike Kyrie 4

By John Kim

For Kyrie Irving, it was time for a change. The seeds of this coming of age were planted in the Summer of 2016 after he hit (arguably) the clutch-est shot in the history of the Finals, only to have its magnitude completely overshadowed by LeBron’s chase-down block on Andre Iguodala. Regardless of the outcome of that play, a bucket was needed, and it was Kyrie rose to the spotlight and decided the series. After winning a title and achieving his first Olympic gold medal, Kyrie Irving was firmly cemented as the alpha he was projected to be. As his success in the game continued its ascension, so did his value to Nike; his Kyrie 3 signature shoe was the industry’s best seller in the basketball category and one of the brand’s best selling shoes period.

Nike Kyrie 4 designer Ben Nethongkome, who is originally from Thailand, landed in Beaverton as a design intern for Jordan Brand and the Nike Innovation Kitchen with the NXT group. From there, he continued to hone his craft, delivering basketball shoes such as the Kobe Mentality 2, Mamba Rage, and LeBron Witness 1. He had the chops to deliver high-functioning performance wear for the big names, but the next step of his design journey was a big leap forward as he was tasked with Kyrie Irving’s new signature shoe. The two met in the same summer in which Kyrie won his ‘chip and immediately went to work, laying the groundwork for a pivotal fourth shoe. Of course at the time, things were all gravy and the sudden trade request and departure to Boston that would go down a year later was entirely unforeseen, but this coincidental timing seems to be one of Nike’s knacks.

Quick around the corner

  Make Kyrie better

The key design detail of the Kyrie signature line of footwear is the outsole. Its importance is paramount to Kyrie’s operation on the court, where he surgically cuts through opposing defenses before magically caroming the ball off the backboard with some sweet english. The groundwork was laid by Leo Chang’s designs of the Kyrie 1, 2, and 3, which featured an exaggerated sidewall and a rounded heel that ensured Kyrie didn’t lose a step. Nethongkome focused on further evolving the learnings from previous models and introduced a completely decoupled outsole, giving unprecedented levels of traction for explosion and stoppage in any direction. Kyrie’s body is always on a tilt, and by splitting the sole longitudinally, stability would not be compromised as the medial and lateral sides act almost independently during those severe cutting motions. The sketches below clearly depict the theory.

The detailing on the new model reflects Kyrie’s attention to craftsmanship and his love for classic Nike and Air Jordans of the past. For the Kyrie 4, Nethongkome selected suede and leather materials typically found on older models, applying them in key regions as well as unexpected areas such as the toe. The forefoot is highlighted by Engineered Mesh with key ventilation zones and emphasis on torque points, while Flywire acts as the chief lockdown supplier. It all works harmoniously to provide top shelf performance for one of the league’s most remarkable talents while delivering a stylish package to the demanding public.

Color-blocking potential

  Nike’s calling card

Right off the bat, it’s easy to tell that the color-blocking capabilities of the shoe are on point. The materials are placed to serve the athlete, but it also lends to some attractive arrangements that can really make the shoe pop. The “Confetti” colorway, which releases tomorrow, features the alternating placement of vibrant colors, but the story behind it is a bit less celebratory; after the Cavs lost the Finals in Game 5, Kyrie grabbed a handful of confetti off the floor as fuel to come back harder and ensure a return to the big stage. Upon closer inspection, the upper features scribbles of motivational quotes that drive Kyrie to perform beyond his capabilites.

Introducing Ben Nethongkome

  New blood

The worldwide debut of the Kyrie 4 comes at a perfect time for Ben Nethongkome, who now joins an extremely exclusive group of individuals to design a Nike signature shoe. Kyrie’s new green and white threads undoubtedly add to the aura of a fresh beginning as Leo Chang hands over the delicate reigns of this highly successful line, but the decision to do so would not have been done without confidence.

Taking on a signature athlete like Kyrie is a very special moment and opportunity for me.

  Ben Nethongkome

Sneaker News: What was Kyrie’s first response when he learned that a new designer was taking over?
Ben Nethongkome: Just like with any working relationship, we had to establish a repore, and he was in good spirits when we first met and it was good. He just won his first NBA Championship and Olympic gold medal and he was just excited to start the next journey of the next trilogy. So with that, we introduced me, a new designer, to help him with this new journey, so that was dope. It wasn’t until this past Summer in Asia where we got into a path of really fine-tuning our workflow. I had a lot more chances during our downtime to really get in and talk about details that we don’t really get to. Moving forward, it’s just gonna get easier. Now that he’s taken over as a leader with the Celtics, that same leadership translated over to the product creation aspect. He’s a lot more vocal, a lot more in-tune with what’s happening, starting from a sketch to choosing colors and materials to even narratives for his PEs. He’s definitely evolving as an individual and in the creative process.
SN: Do you feel any pressure designing a signature shoe, given the massive success of the line?
BN: The pressure is there, but having a very well-versed team like Leo Chang and Jason Petrie helps alleviate a lot of the pressure. Having Kyrie at your corner definitely helps because he’s very involved with the creation of the shoe, and he’s been very vocal. If he’s feeling good about it, then we’re feeling good about it.
SN: What have you learned from working with Leo Chang?
BN: Leo’s been great at keying in on what’s really important. You look at a lot of the shoes he’s worked on and they’re timeless because of that. I try to take that methodology moving forward with the Kyrie line to make sure that we’re making him a better basketball player.

SN: The shoe is made for Kyrie, but it has to be appealing to the masses. What sort of obstacles, if any, does that present?
BN: If you look at the silhouette of the Kyrie, it’s definitely a basketball shoe. But from a “masses” standpoint, we hone in on traditional crafted details, even something as simple as adjusted tongues versus a stretch bootie, but it’s also adaptable to different foot fits. On the aesthetics as well, the way we color-blocked the shoe, it has has more of that “on-court and beyond” effect, so that goes out and gets more than the pure hoopers.
SN: The traction at the forefoot that wraps up is one of the standout details of the shoe. What was the design inspiration behind that?
BN: Everything we do is to make the athlete better, and Kyrie has a trainer he works really closely with, and they’re convinced that what gives Kyrie an edge is having traction wrap up on the sidewall on both lateral and medial for him to push off. Something we continually add and keep on his products is to keep him quick on the court, so those details are there for a reason.

Having Kyrie at your corner definitely helps because he’s very involved with the creation of the shoe.

  Ben Nethongkome on Kyrie Irving

SN: Over the last year, another level of Kyrie’s persona was revealed. Does any of that quirkiness come up when working with him? How much different is he than other athletes you’ve worked with?
BN: I’ve only had limited experience working with other athletes like Kobe and LeBron, but Kobe’s always been the type to challenge everyone around him about every single detail, so we’ve always gotta dig deeper when working with Kobe. Kyrie’s a lot of the same. He’s a student of the game and he has a say in everything and he’s really coming into his own and getting involved with the creation of his shoes.

The Nike Kyrie 4 releases globally on December 16th in the “Confetti” colorway, followed by the black version on December 20th.