What do we think of when we think of “signature shoes?” Invariably the answer is likely Jordan, whose iconic brand has cemented itself as an intrinsic part of streetwear culture (let alone just athletic footwear). When you think of current examples though, it’s likely going to be LeBron, KD, Steph, or Kyrie who comes to mind (though Kobe Bryant‘s line is still popular as well).
It looks like NBA fans and sneakerheads may have some exciting new material on the way though. A fresh wave of legitimate signature shoes is about to break.
Built To (Existing) Lasts
Nike has been guilty in recent years of blurring the lines of what constitutes a genuine signature shoe. The brand has made a habit of releasing “player edition” (or “PE”) shoes that are specific to individual athletes, but which belong to existing lines. The Jordan 35, for instance, has been made for many players, with the only differences being colorways. Zion Williamson, Luka Doncic, and Carmelo Anthony have all been spotted sporting them in the past year. PJ Tucker, meanwhile –– one of the most committed off-court sneakerheads in the league –– had a whole range of Kobe 6s, but never his own model.
It’s understandable that apparel companies might be wary of committing major resources to a single athlete. An injury can destroy consumer interest in a player; an off-court scandal can devalue a brand entirely; and even on-court exposure can be a double-edged sword. After all, Nike lost $1 billion off its stock price when Williamson blew out a pair of Jordan 34s while he was playing at Duke.
Then again, Williamson does not have his own signature shoes….
The New Wave
Since signing a multi-year deal with Jordan in 2019, it’s taken a couple of years for Jayson Tatum to become bankable enough to get his own shoe. But it’s about to happen; Tatum revealed on the Knuckleheads podcast earlier this month that his signature is in the pipeline.
Luka Doncic, who signed with the same brand in the same year, also appears to be on the cusp of his own model. He has already had successful player edition Jordans, and he has a logo ready for use. Meanwhile, there’s been talk of Ja Morant being attached to a designer for a signature shoe as well.
Fittingly though, the next shoe up is likely to be for someone playing for the team owned by Michael Jordan himself: the Charlotte Hornets’ LaMelo Ball. Skirting his own family’s “Big Baller Brand,” Ball signed with Puma in advance of the 2020 draft. And while he’s had some personal releases –– custom Puma Court Riders and Clyde SEs –– Ball’s Puma MB.01 signature shoe is now slated for imminent release. It will mark the first such shoe Puma will release for one of its young stars (the company having signed DeAndre Ayton, RJ Barrett, and other prominent players in recent years). Ball has earned the honor as one of the most exciting young stars in the league.
Tatum, Doncic, Morant, and Ball do indeed look to represent the imminent wave. But with so much young talent in the league today, it’s hard to imagine there won’t be others hot on their heels.
Devin Booker’s slow start took away some of the shine of last season’s Finals run (and his play at the Olympics), but he’s one of the young players who comes to mind as being potentially worthy of a signature. Likewise, if Zach LaVine continues to lead a newly excellent Chicago team that’s competitive atop the Eastern Conference, he’ll have a massive, hungry market ready and waiting. One has to wonder if the likes of Nikola Jokic or breakout rookie Evan Mobley could be in the conversation as well –– though big men seldom get the same love from sneaker companies.
Time will tell which players see signature shoes rolled out. But a new wave is coming, and with so much marketable talent in the league, it might not stop.