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Earlier this year, LeBron James freely admitted something that few NBA stars have ever spoken aloud: He’s pursuing Michael Jordan. He was at his Nike Skills Academy when a player asked him about his motivation. “My motivation is this ghost I’m chasing,” James responded. “The ghost played in Chicago.” Jordan’s legacy, of course, is mainly defined by his championships and being considered the greatest player of all-time. But it goes deeper than that. James knows this, too.
So there is probably no coincidence that James started wearing older models of his signature shoes to games and practices during last year’s Finals run, or that he wore an all-blue pair of LeBron III lows to Cavs media day last week. He’s even spoken about his sneakers retroing. James knows that, while sneaker legacy isn’t as important as basketball, it is another part of the Jordan mythos that he is pursuing.
The time is right. James brought the promised championship to Cleveland, defeating the best regular-season team in NBA history in the process. At the same time, some of his shine has been taken away by Steph Curry, defending two-time MVP. A LeBron retro line would serve to remind those young enough to have missed it—his rookie season was 13 years ago, after all—of the path his career has taken.
And while LeBron continues to build his on-court legacy, there is much to mine from his past. There were prototype Air Zoom Generations that never made it to retail, SVSM makeups of every shoe and many other PE versions. It would not be difficult to imagine the “South Beach” colorway on other models, as well as a straightforward “South Beach” LeBron 8 retro. Although that might be getting ahead of ourselves, it would probably be best to start with the Air Zoom Generation and see what happens.
The Generation was James’s Air Jordan 1, in a more self-aware kind of way. OK, the shoes themselves weren’t aware, but Nike certainly was, producing limited numbers of the “First Game” colorway, pink-accented PEs for James’s mother, Gloria, and even “L.A.” All-Star PEs for an All-Star Game he didn’t even make. A reasonable first year of LeBron retro product could include his true first-game shoes (the “White/Black/Red” he wore in Sacramento), the “Wheat” version he wore in the rookie game, and either the original prototypes or something entirely new. With its synthetic leather upper, carbon plate and Hummer-inspired styling, the AZG isn’t a ‘90s shoe, but it has a ‘90s feel.
It’s yet to be seen whether James will ever be considered Jordan’s equal as a player—back-to-back titles in Cleveland would certainly help—but it’s hard to imagine his sneaker legacy ever matching Jordan’s. This is no fault of his, moreso that his line started in 2003, not exactly a banner year for sneaker design. And will kids who grew up on retro themselves really be checking for that LeBron V re-issue, or will they just gravitate towards the latest Jordan 1 re-re-re-re-retro? It’s a question that can only be answered by putting them back out there. It’s time to start.