Last week, a question that basketball fans and sneaker enthusiasts had been speculating about for months was finally answered. After wearing the Nike LeBron XI sparingly during the start of the 2013-14 NBA season, LeBron James confirmed to ESPN that he was having difficulties with his latest signature model.
The Nike LeBron XI has only been laced on James’ feet for a total of two full games thus far this season. However, the lack of court and TV sightings has done nothing to slow the sales of the latest LeBron signature model: it’s already outsold the LeBron X by 18% at this point in the season. It’s impossible to pinpoint the reason behind this sales spike, but it’s clear that LeBron’s personal preference on court isn’t going to sway consumers.
"I just want to be able to wear them. It has been a frustrating process. But obviously, I know that Nike wants to do what's best. They're not going to put me out there in harm's way. So we're redefining the shoe to fit what's best for my foot." I could wear them, but they don't feel as great as I want them to feel. So we're redefining them, and I feel like this next round is going to be perfect,” James told ESPN reporters.
"The lack of court and TV sightings has done nothing to slow the sales of the latest LeBron signature model: it’s already outsold the LeBron X by 18% at this point in the season."
This isn’t the first time an NBA player has publicly voiced displeasure with their respective signature model. While many disagreements and product adjustments are kept behind closed doors, there have been a few notable instances of endorsers asking the brand to switch it up.
In 1994, Nike released the Air Jordan X (above), which was designed by the legendary Tinker Hatfield. As the story goes, Tinker initially included a two-piece toe cap in the design of the sneaker, a style cue that was prominent in previous Air Jordan models. The samples were approved and the sneaker went into production, but there was one small problem: MJ himself had yet to sign off on the final version. Jordan quickly told Nike to remove the toe cap for a cleaner look, and the design was altered mid-production.
A handful of pairs made it out, but the Air Jordan X that most people know and love today is actually a result of Jordan’s storied gambling habit. Mike told Tinker that the toe piece could remain under one condition: if the capped Air Jordan X didn’t outsell the Air Jordan IX, Hatfield would have to come out of pocket and pay Jordan the difference. The cap was dropped and the rest is history.
Years later, Jordan’s right-hand man Scottie Pippen also had an issue with his signature model. It was the sneaker most fans know as the Air Max Pippen 1 (pictured above), which was his first signature model to be exact. But Pippen’s personal version didn’t feature the visible Max Air chambers that were on the model released to the public. Instead, Scottie opted for the lower-to-the-ground, more responsive Zoom Air cushioning. "That was always my call, and I was never a Max Air guy and always wanted to play closer to the floor. I have never liked being in a high cushioned shoe, just because it was less stable and might have caused me to roll my ankle,” Pippen told Sole Collector.
Meanwhile, Aaron Cooper recalls the situation somewhat differently: “At the time I started designing the Pip I, Scottie was loving the Air More that had the full-length Air bag. So, of course, we wanted to continue with what Scottie liked and played in. However, somewhere along the design process, MJ convinced Pip that Zoom was a better technology for him.” Whatever the inspiration behind the switch may be, it was clear that Pippen preferred Zoom Air over Max Air in his signature models.
In 2009, Dwyane Wade was said to have had issues with the fit of his Converse sneakers, and went as far as telling the AP, “I didn't want to be in the Converse brand anymore because it seemed like they didn't know what to do with me.” From there, Wade stuck with Nike and transferred to a brief stay under the Jordan Brand umbrella, but eventually jumped ship again for Chinese brand Li-Ning.
"Would an athlete's public criticisms affect your interest in playing in their signature shoe?"
Looking back on other players who have had issues with their signature shoes, one thing is clear. As much as it may seem like an endorsement or logo connects a player to their respective sneaker, sometimes there's trouble in paradise. It's not unheard of for a signature model to go into production without approval from the athlete themselves, and as the LeBron situation has taught us, they're not always thoroughly play tested. Would an athlete's public criticisms affect your interest in playing in their signature shoe? Let us know in the comments below.
Riley Jones is a freelance writer from Charlottesville, VA and a contributor to Sneaker Report. With an unshakable affinity for basketball and all things ’90s, he can be found on Twitter @rchrstphr.