The Undefeated x Air Jordan IV is a holy grail, an unattainable piece of sneaker history that has made collectors shell out tens of thousands of dollars just have a pair. The shoes, which released in 2005 and were limited to 72 pairs, are now going to be in a video game.
NBA Live 18 is going to feature a whole collection of Undefeated sneakers and apparel, as well as a court, that includes the brand's collaborations on the Air Jordan IV, Reebok Question, and Nike Dunk.
"That's the shoe everyone wants," says Undefeated co-founder James Bond, in reference to putting the Air Jordan IV in the game. "We figured that's the first one, so let's give them what they want. Iverson is our muse here at Undefeated, so we wanted him involved, too."
If the sneakers themselves look life-like, that was done on purpose. "Our technology is advanced as far as how we scan footwear. The hardest part is getting access to [the shoes]," says EA Sports Creative Director Ryan Santos. "A good example would be the Undefeated x Air Jordan IVs. They resell for tens of thousands of dollars. Getting the shoe is the toughest part."
The sneakers themselves will be available through LIVESTRIKES, which "are limited-time events that drop new content like Live Event challenges and premium in-game apparel, shoes, traits and more."
We got the chance to talk to James Bond about putting his famous sneakers in the game, but also whether he's ever going to bring the Undefeated x Air Jordan IV back, the controversy around the brand's Air Max 97 release at ComplexCon, and those Air Jodan VIIIs that everyone swore was an Undefeated collaboration.
What is it like to see a sneaker like the Undefeated x Air Jordan IV be in a game like this?
James Bond: Any time you see your stuff in a game like that’s going to be seen by millions of people is surreal. You see Nike, Adidas, and so on, but then you see a brand [like ours] and it’s always interesting. So I’m psyched to see it come out.
How did you pick the sneakers for this game?
We figured that this probably wasn't going to be the first and last time that we’re going to be able to do something like this. So we picked some of the first sneakers that we did. It wasn’t so much cutting them. Our team wanted to do stuff that was relevant for performance, but we wanted to flex that we’ve been around for awhile. So we wanted to be able to do both.
Are you surprised that the Air Jordan IV has held up the way it has over the years?
Yes and no. The sneaker business is so crazy. There are so many ebbs and flows. It’s so cyclical. There were only 72 pairs that came out to the world, and that’s what keeps it going. It’s kind of like a unicorn when you see it. It’s kind of like, “Holy shit, I can’t believe it.” It’s almost like fake. You go to the zoo and see a fake unicorn. You’re like, “Those aren’t real.”
Has there ever been any talk of bringing the shoe back out?
No. We would like to do it. We kind of feel like we wouldn’t do it service if we brought it back out. It’s been too long.
You’ve had a big year for Undefeated. What do you attribute that to?
I think we’re at the point where, someone told me a long time, “When you cross a certain threshold in years, you become that brand people forgot about, but people still say, ‘Oh, they’re still here.’ And then there’s more interest.” I think we’re on our fourth or fifth generation of consumer since we first opened. When we started, there was no one else here, and that’s what helped us be successful in California. Then it became oversaturated, and the business became boring and a lot of those [brands] fell off. And we’ve stuck around. There’s a second coming of this industry. Not to sound ridiculous, but we’re still at the forefront, and that’s what keeps us in the mix. The brands know what they’re getting into when they come to us. We’re reliable in the projects that we do. It’s easy for us to deliver when given the opportunity.
How do you remain true to the consumer who used to go to you when you were a small boutique and still want that feeling?
A lot of our leadership hasn’t changed since day one. We’re fortunate that we have the same guys running the show that we when we started. Eddie [Cruz] has been at this for 30 years, I’ve been at it for 20. We kept the mindset of what it was when we started. We try not to get too caught up in the social media plays and keep it to what we know is best. That often helps us resonate. People can feel it in the brand, and that helps us.
You had a crazy release with the Air Max 97s at ComplexCon. It got so crazy that they had to cancel the release on Saturday and drop them on Sunday. Did you hear about that?
I didn’t go on Saturday, I went on Sunday. With my kids, the weekends are a little hectic. They texted me to let me know it was a little chaotic. I didn’t get the full scoop to later in the day. But I think it’s great. There were 400 pairs total. We wanted to think of how we could top last year with Anti-Social Social Club. We almost didn’t do it, because we couldn’t top last year. Then we decided to drop this 97. There’s no rhyme or reason to how this industry works or what people want. We’re just happy that people are still stoked on the brand. It takes a lot to go out of your way and cop and shop at our stores.
How much has the hype changed since you dropped 72 pairs of the Air Jordan IVs in 2005 to if you dropped 72 pairs at ComplexCon?
There are so many more consumers than when we started 15 years ago and so many more ways to get it. The anniversary 97s that we dropped -- we didn’t do 400 pairs. We did a good amount, and they still sold very well. Good product is good product. It’s nice, every once and awhile, to have enough to go around. This is just one of those friends and family releases that they made a few extra pairs and we said, “Let’s do something special.” So it was a last-minute drop. When we do collabs, we use the inspiration of kids we want to get stoked on the brand, make sure people are safe. We don’t want to see people getting jacked for shoes. It’s nice to see the kids who want the shoes get them, rather than the resellers. We appreciate the resellers, but it’s good to have the customer and consumer that’s been with us for 15 years get the product.
Do you guys make your stuff in the hopes that resellers will like it?
I get it. It’s a new business model, and it helps the retailers on the frontline. You have to come to somewhere first to get the shoe to resell it. I think that secondary market does help us. There are also fans of sneakers and the culture and don’t want to resell it. We want to make sure that we do enough so those people get it as well. When we design something, we think of the consumer first, not the resale value.
There was an Air Jordan VIII that released that people thought was yours. Was that weird for you?
Yes. It was one of those scenarios where if you don’t talk about it, people speculate. We proposed a style like that to them two or three years back. And they went on deaf ears. I think it inspired them to do something. Then it was like, “Let’s not say anything, maybe [our brand] has enough value that we’ll help them move a few more units.” We were fine with it. Jordan’s such a powerful brand that we were psyched to be associated with it. We let it roll. People knew it wasn’t ours. As long as it didn’t hurt [us] [Laughs].
What’s next for Undefeated?
We're gonna push the retail imprint of the brand. Go East. We’re opening up a gym. So we’re trying to flex some of the performance conversation that we’ve been having for years. That’s a whole lane that no one, at our level, is competing there. We’re gonna give it a shot. See what we can do. As the game brands come around and want to do more interesting things that we’re into, we’ll just have to push forward. It’s good to see the brand in these games and be seen on such a big level. It helps us stay relevant.