I preface this by saying that I wrote the article in my "King's Pride" Nike LeBron XI, and there may have been tears crashing against my MacBook keyboard. For anybody that does not know me, my name is Joseph Sherman, and I am a die-hard LeBron James fan.
Just before Game 5 of the NBA Finals, a good buddy of mine tagged me in a picture of LeBron James on Instagram. The King was sitting in the locker room ready to face elimination against the San Antonio Spurs. To the average eye, you would have seen the world’s best basketball player meditating before one of the biggest games of his life. To me, I saw LeBron rocking a pair of Nike Zoom Soldier VIIs. And the season-long disappointment of the LeBron James not wearing the Nike LeBron XI ended.
The stage was set perfectly for the Nike LeBron XI to be the greatest shoe of King James' signature shoe line. LeBron was coming off back-to-back championships, his team was back in the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive year, and his Nike LeBron X series had already put numbers on the board. It seemed as if the good folks in Beaverton had the perfect shoe to assist King James on his journey to a potential 3-peat. Then the unthinkable happened: LeBron didn't like the shoe.
Nike’s campaign leading up to the release of the Nike LeBron XI was thorough and galvanizing. We were first introduced to the Nike LeBron XI in August of last year. I remember it vividly: I was immediately sold on the shoes. Reminiscent of war armor, the sneaker featured Hyperposite technology, in additional to pretty much every other Nike basketball innovation. Many believed the shoe would help lead the way in shifting the sneaker culture. Complex even dubbed it the best shoe of 2013.
Okay, confession: I watch a lot of NBA pre-season basketball—not for the game, but because it is the time when players like to wear whatever sneaker their sneakerhead heart’s desire.
As usual, LeBron started his 2013-2014 pre-season with his secondary sneaker line: the Nike Zoom Soldier VII. But speculation grew rapidly when that trend carried over into the regular season.
The Twitterverse, sneaker blogs and shoe connoisseurs worldwide began to come up with ridiculous jokes as to why the King ditched his latest signature. I even remember reading somewhere that the reason that LeBron didn’t wear the XIs was because Mario Chalmers messed up the shipping address, which led to UPS losing the shoes. Over 77 regular season games, one All-Star game, and 20 playoff games, LeBron wore the sneakers in only 35 times.
Though Nike promised a “redefined” Nike LeBron XI and the Elite version of the model, LeBron was still committed to the Nike Zoom Soldier VII for the majority of the NBA Playoffs. The King even went as far as rocking last year’s “Championship” Nike LeBron X Elite during the NBA Finals. Tomfoolery.
Seeing LeBron lace up a previous model and his secondary series on the biggest stage constantly had me on the precipice of a Kanye-esque rant. To make matters worse, Manu Ginobli was ABSOLUTELY BALLING in the Nike LeBron XI during the Finals. I mean, from no look passes to putting Chris Bosh on posters.
One can only imagine what kind of effect having a botched sneaker could have.
It seemed as if the cloud around the Nike LeBron XI was a little foreshadowing to LeBron’s season. Nick Young stole the show as sneaker king in which LeBron is typically carrying the torch. He was also dethroned as the reigning league MVP by offensive juggernaut, Kevin Durant. Then Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs dominated The King in the Finals. Being an avid supporter of the LeBron James and defender of his career, it was tremendously disappointing seeing the fate of the Nike LeBron XI. Through all that The King has accomplished, it is unfortunate that this year and this shoe may leave a nasty taste in people’s mouths when discussing his overall legacy.
My disappointment in the Nike LeBron XI was not personal. The displeasure was more from an empathetic, fanatic standpoint than anything. I felt bad for The King. Anyone who has competed as an athlete knows that comfort with your equipment is one of the most important things. When you are facing double and triple teams, the last thing you want to worry about is discomfort in a shoe that was exclusively engineered for you.
LeBron recently admitted that he was frustrated with the Heat's "maintenance plan" with Dwyane Wade, because it had a negative effect on the team chemistry. One can only imagine what kind of effect having a botched sneaker could have on his personal chemistry and routine for an entire season.
But with all that being said, I bought both the Nike LeBron XI and Kobe 9 Elite without the typical endorsement of each star. The technology in both sneakers was more than adequate for my lifestyle of trying to get a couple compliments and shoe selfies. If anything, It goes to show that a player doesn't have to actually wear the shoe for me to like it.
Joe Sherman is a contributing writer to Complex. You can follow him on Twitter here.