Prose: Jake Sittler (@jtsittler)
We’re fresh off of All-Star weekend, where superstars young and old had a spotlight shone upon them for a couple of fleeting days. The old guard – Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, among others – shared the attention with the new guard led by James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Paul George and Jrue Holiday. Beyond the weekend itself, even rookies like Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis have announced their arrival over the first half of the season.
Sneaker companies and their respective kicks played a role during All-Star weekend too. Nike went all out with the Area 72 theme and dropped a massive amount of models. Jordan Brand released the much-anticipated XX8, which garnered more attention than any other single model. Under Armour was well-represented on the booth scene, showing off all their PEs and adidas is the NBA’s official sponsor.
Those companies also took advantage of the increased attention and launched marketing campaigns and unveiled new technology in the days and weeks surrounding the All-Star festivities. Nike went with the aforementioned Area 72 campaign and Jordan Brand was represented with the XX8 Days of Flight countdown that culminated with the brand’s most technologically advanced shoe ever. Adidas recently unveiled new Boost cushioning and Blade midsole, while Under Armour continued to push its Spine technology. Reebok even got into it on the Classics side, announcing the return of Shaquille O’Neal and his Shaq Attaq and Shaqnosis signatures.
For all the marketing and technology, those brands still rely on the performance of those products while on the feet of their athletes – and vice versa. With some of those players nearing the end of their playing days and others such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant already entrenched as the new breed of superstar, it’s time to take a look at the future of those sneaker companies. They’ll need both superior products and the right athletes wearing those products in order to be successful in a hypercompetitive market.
We’ll do this in several different installments, brand by brand, and the first company we’ll take a look at is Jordan Brand.
JB is a little hard to break down because of the sheer amount of retro and lifestyle basketball models compared to the relatively few true performance hoops models. It’s also in the process of integrating signature athletes Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook – and possibly signature shoes – after parting ways with Dwyane Wade. The launch of the next Jordan signature shoe, the XX8, was a polarizing event thanks to its looks (an eight-inch high zip-up shroud) and price tag (a staggering $250).
Market Share (U.S. Basketball Shoe market): 58% – via @MattSOS
Latest Performance Models
Jordan Melo M9 (Carmelo Anthony signature)
Jordan CP3 VI (Chris Paul signature)
Jordan Super.Fly Mid and Low
Jordan Aero Mania
JB and Nike set the standard for performance technology, and Jordan Brand has all the money, research and development resources it needs at its disposal. The XX8 is the pinnacle of the sneaker world in terms of innovation and technology (and price) – no surprise coming from the mind of the Godfather, Tinker Hatfield. The shoe features a reinvented Zoom Air (cushioning system made up of tensile fibers in a pressurized bag that compress upon impact then expand back outward giving a responsive and bouncy ride) bag, dubbed ProPlate Zoom, that puts the cushioning unit directly in contact with the foot. JB also developed a carbon fiber Flight Plate, a super light and super strong chassis for the shoe that helps the Zoom bag make flush contact with the foot, resulting in increased responsiveness. The heel counter is also made of carbon fiber, while the stretch synthetic shroud is made using premium Swiss textiles. The inner bootie features a Dynamic Fit system, with the lacing directly attached to the midfoot for a snug fit. All of this leads to hefty price tag, but you get what you pay for: no other shoe on the market features this kind of technology.
Other performance models haven’t shied away from using the technology at its disposal either. The Melo M9 is the lightest Melo shoe ever made and packs a ton of technology into the package. The most striking tech is the Flywire-based Dynamic Fit straps that wrap around the upper of the shoe and provide a tight fit. The M9 uses maximum volume Zoom Air units in the heel and forefoot, and a full-length TPU cage for a stable fit. It’s a shoe perfectly tailored to a player like Melo.
Chris Paul’s CP3 VI once again uses Podulon cushioning – a staple of the CP3 line – and a one-piece Hyperfuse upper stitched together at the heel. The shoe is 20% lighter than his last shoe, and the Fuse material provides better fit and durability. The Podulon material is highlighted on the outsole of the shoe, and is concentrated across the forefoot and along the medial (big toe) half of the foot for extra responsiveness when planting and pushing off.
The Super.Fly has been a popular model because it’s playable for a variety of different players and features a comfortable Lunarlon forefoot, Zoom unit in the heel and Phylon midsole. The Aero Mania is a recent release seen most often on the feet of Blake Griffin and features a Flywire-based upper and forefoot Zoom unit.
Jordan Brand boasts two established superstars in Anthony and Paul and two up and coming faces of the brand in Westbrook and Griffin. It’s not hard to see where JB is going with this strategy, as Westbrook and Griffin are two of the most exciting and explosive players in the league. Both could warrant signature shoes in the future – especially Griffin – and the fashion-forward Westbrook has been leading the XX8 charge by becoming the athlete chosen to first rock the shoe on court. Allen has long been the recipient of some of the best Player Edition colorways, and Johnson is just another productive, big name in a big market.
We’ve already talked about how the brand is positioned with two of the most exciting individual athletes in the league signed to JB contracts. Melo and Paul will carry the signature shoe line for several years, with Melo approaching his tenth signature model next year. The XX8 was a statement in terms of fashion and performance for the brand and it set the bar high in terms of expectations for that signature numbered line.
It will be important for Jordan Brand to continue to innovate, but it will be interesting to see if the numbered line becomes a top-of-the-line, technologically advanced product every year. In order for that to happen, the shoes may have to stay in the upper echelon of the market’s price range, attainable only for those elite athletes or simply hoopers with no regard for budget.
The Melo and CP3 line should occupy a price range just below the top, while perhaps the Super.Fly (the Super.Fly 2 was debuted by Griffin during All-Star weekend) and Aero- lines will be even slightly more affordable while providing exceptional technology.
The retro craze will always fuel the brand and there are so many models to be taken advantage of that I don’t foresee it slowing down anytime soon. But on the performance side of things, look for Jordan Brand to continue to be leader in innovation and technology thanks to some of the best minds in design, while pushing forward with Griffin and Westbrook joining Melo and Paul as the faces of the brand.