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Ja Morant is touted by Nike as its “first Gen Z athlete”, a spot-on description for a 23-year-old with a radical approach to his craft. He possesses a confidence bordering on brash, but is never afraid to back it up. He’s not defined solely by his game, but by his overall attitude towards the established. Ja can’t help but be the face of a team that can arguably be described as self-unaware, but that’s just the essence of Gen Z individuals — they don’t give a shit.
 
Just beyond mid-way of his fourth season in the league, Ja Morant has secured himself to be one of the few must-see athletes in the game. Flying against the headwinds above ten feet in altitude where a limited few can disturb him, his initial take-off from the paint is so thrilling that at times, the points are an afterthought and it doesn’t even matter if he misses the dunk. The Grizzlies star may be a highlight reel staple, but his overall game is worthy of building a team around — thus his five year extension with the franchise last summer. His impact on young basketball fans, however, is why Nike is so excited about the launch of the Ja 1.

The offers came through, but I told my fam – Nike was always my choice. I didn’t care about any other brands.

  Ja Morant on signing with Nike in 2019

Joining the ranks of Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Penny Hardaway (these four being the Mount Rushmore of Nike Basketball’s signature athletes), Kevin Durant, and more, Ja Morant is, by our count, the 23rd signature basketball athlete in Swoosh history. His arrival is indeed a change in direction and tone, a symbolic moment in brand’s ongoing evolution that is firmly dependent on the athletes that represent them. The timing couldn’t be better either, as the only other guard in their star-studded cast officially parted ways for good in late 2022. As they say, timing is everything, but it’s nothing without preparation.

  • Ja Morant Nike Panel 1

    (L-R) Scott Munson, Ja Morant, Ben Nethongkome

In the middle of January, Nike invited Sneaker News to a special media-only event in Memphis, Tennessee. By then, the world had already gotten the opportunity to see the shoes on the web and on national television, as just a few weeks prior, Nike and Ja unveiled the shoes on a ceremonious Christmas Day game. So the purpose of these media events is to give us actual first-hand accounts from designers, brand representatives, and the signature athlete themselves. It’s also a small opportunity for us to experience the surroundings that so profoundly influences the life of a 20-somethings person with all the ability and access one could have.
 
As he stated on Instagram on the day of the Ja 1 unveil in December, “I didn’t get here by myself”. Community and family is what keeps him motivated, which explains the kindred nature between this superstar and the city of Memphis. It’s not surprising to see that his community of fans reaches as far as China, a nation of hoopers that can relate to his speedy, handle-heavy style of play (and why the Ja 1 is predicted to be a massive hit). When it comes to supporting women’s hoops, there is no hesi. After all, his daughter, who helped him unwrap his shoe on Christmas Day, will most certainly touch leather somewhere down the line.
  • Nike Ja 1 Scratch Grizzlies 1

    Nike JA 1 Colorways Scratch

  • Nike Ja 1 Colorways 6

    Nike JA 1 Colorways Scratch

  • Nike Ja 1 Colorways 2

    Nike JA 1 Colorways Day One

  • Nike Ja 1 Colorways 3

    Nike JA 1 Colorways Day One PE

  • Nike Ja 1 Colorways 4

    Nike JA 1 Colorways Chimney

  • Nike Ja 1 Colorways 5

    Nike JA 1 Colorways Trivia PE

  • Nike Ja 1 Colorways 1

    Nike JA 1 Colorways Group Photo

This one here feels so special, and i’m willing to bet that it’s gonna give other signature models a run for their money.

  Ben Nethongkome on the JA 1

The Ja 1 is designed by Ben Nethongkome, Senior Designer for Nike. Hoopers and sneakerheads will primarily attribute him towards the Nike Kyrie signature line from the Kyrie 4 and beyond, but he’s also contributed to recent Nike KD models and special projects like the Cryptokicks iRL. With Ja Morant, he gets to start from scratch, establishing a design language with the athlete and creating the foundation from the get-go. Ben describes Ja’s approach as opinionated and very “black and white”, which as a creator is paramount to establishing direction.
 
The Ja 1 MSRP is comparable to a Dunk or an Air Force 1, but for the money, the Ja 1 delivers a lot more. A forefoot Air Zoom bag, a mid-foot lockdown system, and a zonal cushioning set-up — its a very effective and predictable package that has worked quite well for Nike Basketball given just how loyal NBA players are to shoes with the same engine. Lower MSRP means less to work with, but the simplicity lends quite well to the design as it provides some casual lifestyle sensibility. The low-cut style has also drawn comparisons to Nike Kobes, which by consensus is a compliment.
 
So inside the FedEx Forum locker-rooms, Nike went ahead and revealed special colorways of the Ja 1 signature shoe. A closer look at the “Day One” and its PE counterpart was revealed — the former releasing in April and the latter worn regularly by Ja in games. The “Chimney” is inspired by Ja’s infamous “ain’t duckin’ no smoke” post-game comment and features a hazy, smoke-like graphic on the upper. The Morant family’s love of board games and game night inspired the “Trivia” PE, which is covered in basic questions akin to trivia games. Finally, the “Scratch” takes after the Grizzlies’ roots, applying the signature teal, brown, red, and black when the franchise had its beginnings in Vancouver. There will be more to come.

  • Ja Morant Photo 1

    Ja Morant and Scott Munson

  • Ja Morant Photo 2

    Scott Munson, Ja Morant, Brittney Elena, and Ben Nethongkome

  • Ja Morant Photo 3

    Ja Morant at the FedEx Forum

  • Ja Morant Photo 4

    Ben Nethongkome and the Ja 1 “Scratch”

We want the athletes that matter and are relevant, and Ja is a huge part of our offense with signature.

  Scott Munson on Nike’s pursuit of Ja

The launch of Ja Morant’s signature shoe only supports the case that Nike Basketball is at a really healthy junction. In addition to the arsenal of signature footwear, the GT Series — particularly the GT Cut — has been a mighty addition to the portfolio. The City Edition jerseys, since its introduction in 2017, has continued to connect performance and lifestyle with thoughtful, nuanced design touches that only encourage rooting for the home team.
 
It is worth noting that the Nike Basketball signature athlete roster is growing some stray white hairs on the beard. LeBron James is nearing forty, KD is approaching is mid-30s, Giannis is neither old nor young, and there are no signature guards in the line-up. Ja does provide a much-needed balance to the group, especially when considering all the young signature athletes currently signed with competing brands. But as stated earlier, timing’s everything, and Ja is waiting at the top of the chimney.
 
 
The Nike Ja 1 is set to release in April 2023.

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