In Good Company: Victor Cruz Joins an Exclusive Fraternity With the Release of His Signature Sneaker

Drawing inspiration from his favorite childhood kicks and his late father, the Air Trainer Cruz is Nike's first lifestyle sneaker from a football player.

The first Air Trainer Cruz, in the Haystack color way, drops Friday.

While others search through their bags and dig into their wallets, Victor Cruz is just chilling.

It’s a Monday in October at the windswept Meadowlands and the Giants wide receiver is outside MetLife Stadium where the setting sun and shadows will soon make it feel more like December. Everyone in Cruz’s party needs to show ID at the security gates to get inside the arena except for Cruz. One of the most recognizable faces in football doesn’t need any when he’s on his own turf. He gets a free pass.

“If Victor wants to show me his license, he can,” jokes the elderly guard.  

Cruz is in great spirits despite the fact he hasn’t played this year. Coming back from a devastating knee injury that ended his 2015 season early, he’s been battling a nagging calf injury suffered in training camp. Weeks before he dourly revealed the calf would require season ending surgery, he’s about to escort the party across an eerily empty stadium and into the Giants locker room where he will don the kind of immortality that’s rarer than a Super Bowl ring in his sport.

Once at his locker, Cruz slips on a fresh pair of the Air Trainer Cruz, his shoe and the first lifestyle sneaker designed for a Nike sponsored football player ever. It’s a tremendous honor and another feather in the cap for the Paterson, New Jersey boy who burst onto the scene in 2011, helped Big Blue capture its fourth Super Bowl and later established himself as one of the most stylish athletes in the world.

On the way to the stadium from his home in northern New Jersey, Complex talked to Cruz about the honor of having his own signature sneaker, the effect of his injury on production, the sneaker’s many inspirations, and what special plans he has in store for Friday's release.

Where does the release of your own signature sneaker rank among your career accomplishments?
I think it’s right next to that Super Bowl ring. It’s definitely that high. I mean mainly because of the culture I was raised in. The culture I was from, signature sneakers were given to high-level athletes that are at the top of their game and, you know, are really changing the culture. For me to be an on-the-field athlete and have a lifestyle shoe that speaks to not only what I do on the field but what I do off the field as well. It’s a dream come true to have both of those things evolve into a shoe and into hopefully a lifestyle.

What do you remember about the moment when Nike told you they wanted you to have a signature sneaker?
After a long hard battle of talking back and forth and just, you know, negotiating it and getting the guys on board, getting Nike on board, it was amazing. Once they solidified it and once we… it really became real when I went to Portland and sat down and kind of gave them all of my ideas. All of the things that inspired me as a kid, all the stories, my favorite car, my favorite color, all of that stuff, and that’s when it became real. On that flight home I was like wow, man, this is actually happening and it’s a big deal.

How long did the process take from Nike expressing its interest in designing your signature sneaker to you actually holding it in your hands?
It took about maybe a little over a year just to get the first silhouette down. We met, I mean it was funny; our first meeting where I saw the first mockups on the computer were in Paris during Fashion Week. So they showed me there, saw the ideology, made some tweaks and then about maybe four or five months later I saw the first rendering of it as an actual sample. Made some more changes, couple of months later. So it was very much a process of, you know, understanding what we’ve got and then making little tweaks and changes and then getting another sample and color ways and it kind of went from there.

"one thing to make a shoe standout is being ok with having something that’s different or something that’s unique that you may not like at first."

Did your injury situation allow you to devote more time to seeing the sneaker's completion and rollout?
It did, mainly because I had a lot of time to kind of sit down, and in some cases lay down, and think about how the shoe was going to look, what I wanted it to look like, what inspired me as a kid that I could add onto a shoe, what inspires me now that I can add onto the shoe and all those things were definitely influential.

How different is the completed sneaker from the first sketch you saw?
It’s really different. The first silhouette I saw was like a high-top, we made them bring it down a bit. Then they added the straps. For some reason, I wanted my shoe to have two straps. Like, I wanted it to be the first lifestyle shoe to have two straps and make it look cool and I think we accomplished that.

You’ve said that you had to fight for this sneaker to get made and for it to rollout. What did you have to fight for?
I think we just had to fight for…at first it was just the shoe in itself, just the silhouette of the shoe we had to fight for to make sure, to reiterate that it was a unique silhouette, that it was something that we came together from scratch, something that we sat down and came up with on our own. We had to fight for, you know, specific color ways and the ones that we kept we love, so we’re happy about that. After that, it was just fighting for little things like laces—you know, rope laces over flat laces, leather laces over this—so that was all very intricate. But we figured it out.

Was it a compromise for both parties?
I think it was a compromise from both parties. Both parties got what they wanted. Ultimately, I just wanted my shoe to come out. I just wanted people to have my shoe in their hands, put them on their feet, say these are the Victor Cruzes. Anything after that was fine with me.

Your sneakers take elements from other iconic sneakers. Why did you decide to incorporate them?
The mid-sole, the tooling of the shoe is an Air Trainer 1. Growing up, Bo Jackson was kind of the first guy I saw with shoes, you know, really making culture cool and really playing to that. So I wanted to pay some honor to that. And I wanted that tooling to be a part of it and kind of build up from there. The strap which you see is just luxury. I wanted to have my strap not just to be a strap with molding or whatever it was. I wanted it to look like it belonged on a Balenciaga or belonged on, you know, a Givenchy shoe, or something like that. So I wanted to really spice up the luxury aspect as well as with the materials, the suedes and things like that. And then the side hit. The molding on the side was something Nike brought to me on one of the samples and I was, whoa, I like that.

It’s very different.
It’s very different. And you can play with it. It doesn’t have to be molding. Like on the blue pair, it’s not molding, it’s kind of just a woven pattern. You can play with that and have that be something that the kids like and be something they can play with and things like that. Even the blue one, the laces have 3M hits on it and stuff like that. So there’s different things, different aspects of the shoe that I love that I took from other pieces. Like the strap itself I took from the Deion [Sanders] Primetime shoe. That was one of my favorites shoes as well from a football standpoint, I wanted to take bits and pieces from that.

What’s your favorite element of the shoe?
My favorite element of the shoe is the second strap. The strap on the heel, the heel strap is rare, you don’t see it often and it has my signature on it as well, kind of tonal on the strap. It was just different. I feel like there’s always, you thing to make a shoe standout is being ok with having something that’s different or something that’s unique that you may not like at first. But as you see it more and more, you get used to it, you get comfortable with it and then it becomes something that the people love.

You have multiple references to your late father on this shoe—inside the mid-foot strap it reads “In Memory of Mike” and a No. 9 on the back strap that pays homage to him as well. Why did you incorporate those specific elements into the sneaker and why are those specific references so important to you?
The black and crimson pair pay homage to my dad on the inside strap as well as my high school number which is a number that he kind of gave me.

That was his firefighter ladder?
Yeah, it was his firefighter ladder and it just became my high school number. I wanted to pay homage to him because he taught me pretty much everything I know from football to being a man to being, you know, just accountable for all my actions. Everything that I learned to this day on being a man I learned through him. I wanted to honor him in some way, shape, or form. And when the sneaker came around and I started to spew out ideas and things like that, and numbers, the number nine came about and I was like, wait, why don’t I just try and put something on the inside strap. Instead of “Dance to Greatness” we put “in Memory of Mike” who was my dad and just apply these things to a person that meant so much to me in my life.

What was the moment like when you finally got a chance to hold the shoes?
Oh man, when I first…the final sample of the shoe…Well, first off, every sample I was blown away just cause these were a sample of my shoes that we worked on, and I made changes and they came back and made changes as well, you know what I mean? Every sample was great, but the final sample when I got to see and hold them in my hand and really examine them, I knew that it was everything I wanted, that it was everything I hoped for in my first shoe, everything I’d dreamed of and all my ideas were on it. Everything I told them I liked was on it. And I knew it was going to be huge for myself having my own shoe and the first one being this good, in my opinion, and it came out great. So hopefully the people will respond.

So a little bit of an emotional moment?
Exactly. 100 percent.

When your friends, family, and teammates finally got to see them, what were some of your favorite reactions?
I just remember them hounding me. Like my phone was blowing up. Hounding me on like what colors they want, how many pairs they want. I’m in a little bit of a predicament on how they’re going to get all of their pairs. Hopefully they can go to their nearest retail store.

You can’t fulfill all their requests?
I can’t fulfill everybody. I mean there’s 53 guys on the team.

You have four distinct color ways—Haystack, Wolf Grey, Black/Crimson, and Rush Blue. Do they all have four distinct stories behind them?
All these color ways obviously pay homage to either one part of my life or a part of my life that I feel is important. So like the Haystack, I grew up wearing Timbs and my culture of Timbs were like the thing to have for the wintertime, the fall. The grey pair is the cool grey pair because I was a huge fan of the cool grey 11s. Those were one of my favorite pair of Jordans of all-time and I think that’s where that inspiration came from for the second pair that comes out in December. The black crimson pair, I love black and red shoes from Jordans to inline Nikes to whatever it is, bred shoes, black and red shoes are always…you can’t go wrong. And I wanted to have my own pair of black and red shoes and I think those are perfect as well as them paying homage to my dad. And then the Rush Blue, playing for the greatest organization in the NFL, the blue was a no-brainer for Giants fans as well as myself.

Tell me why they have staggered releases.
I’m a fan of—I displayed this to Nike—I wanted my shoe to go back in time, right. So back in time, you knew a shoe was coming. There wasn’t a to know when this sneaker this coming a year in advance, six months in advance, you didn’t know that. You would see the shoe, you would just hear through someone or you heard through magazines and you would go to the store and hoping they would have that shoe you were looking for. I wanted to take it back to that, although obviously I can’t hide it from everyone in this day and age. But I wanted each shoe to live and have it’s own story in that month. So I wanted the Haystack pair to live in that month and then the next month you get another story and then you get another story and then Super Bowl weekend you get the final story. So I wanted them to live and not put out four color ways in four weeks and the buzz peaks and falls and then be over with.

There was a red color way that leaked online, but it appears that one won’t be released. Why did that color way ultimately not make the final cut?
That shoe, Nike made some sample pairs, some sample color ways that they were thinking about coming out but we just decided to use these four for now.

Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders, Calvin Johnson, Mike Vick, and Darrelle Revis are the football players Nike has made a signature sneaker for. Now your name is added to the list. What does it mean to be grouped with those individuals?
It’s amazing. I mean, it’s obviously an elite category. It’s obviously very, very humbling that Nike would even put me in the same breath as those guys, to give me a signature shoe and to really put their forces behind it and their energy behind it, it’s just a great, great feeling to be among those guys. Even the heritage of it; the Deions, the Bo Jacksons, you know the people of the past…Deion has had multiple shoes, actually, now that I think about it. And it was just something that, you know, you dreamed about and for it to come true with the force of, in my opinion, one of the greatest athletic brands of all-time, it’s a dream come true.

And you wore Deion’s shoes when you were younger?
Absolutely. I remember I had one pair but the first pair I wanted my mother couldn’t afford. And I remember having dreams and cold sweats and waking up and them being there, but then waking up from my dream and them not being there. Hence why I’ve decided to pay homage to it with my shoe.

"People were blowing my phone up telling me 'Good job.' 'I want a pair.' 'They look sick.' LeBron hit me up like 'Size 15. I don’t need to say anything else.'"

Your sneaker is different because it’s a fashion/lifestyle sneaker, unlike those of other football players. You’re the first NFL player sponsored by Nike to have that honor. How much pride do you take in that distinction?
I truly feel like I’m opening doors for people. I’m opening doors not just people but guys in the NFL that have aspirations to be fashionable and, you know, high end fashionable. That’s something that I take very, very seriously and I feel like I’ve broken down some barriers in that regard. I want to continue to do that in other realms of the world and not just in fashion but in everything else. It’s truly an honor, man, to be grouped, you know, to be the first football player to have a lifestyle shoe—strictly lifestyle shoe, not a performance shoe—is just unbelievable. I just want to cherish these moments in life because they don’t happen twice, they don’t happen again. So I just want to cherish these moments and make sure I take it all in and really value this because who knows what happens down the road? Who knows if I get a second shoe? We don’t know that so I have to live in these moments.

One’s a pretty good accomplishment.
One’s a pretty good accomplishment. And it multiple color ways.

Why is this an ideal lifestyle sneaker?
I think it’s an ideal lifestyle shoe because of the materials used on this shoe. Because of the height of the shoe; it’s not a super high top, it’s not a low top, it’s kind of a mid so you can kind of, you know, it’s right in between where you can dress them up and dress them down. Low tops you do in summertime, those are kind of distinct. So mids you can do both. And I feel like from a lifestyle perspective, that’s what you want: the best of both worlds. To be able to dress them up and wear them on a night on the town. Or just wear them casually on a Sunday when you’re running your errands.

You’re going to take care of Eli [Manning], right?
Absolutely. He’s a Nike guy now so we’ll take care of him. He will get the Rush Blue.

You said your phone was lighting up after you debuted the shoes on The Tonight Show. I believe LeBron James hit you up with a simple “Size 15” text. How many text messages did you get about the sneaker that night?
People were blowing my phone up telling me “Good job.” “I want a pair.” “They look sick.” Just compliments. Twitter, social media was going crazy. LeBron hit me up like “Size 15. I don’t need to say anything else.” It’s been a pretty dope response so far.

You said on The Victor Cruz Show that you’re going to wear your sneaker every single day? Have you stuck to your word?
I have. Obviously Nike wants me to keep a couple of pairs on ice for a little while. But I’ve literally been wearing the Haystack pair since I’ve got them. I’ve been trying to match every single thing in my closet with them. Sometimes things may not match and I still wear them because they’re mine. What can you say? They don’t match, so? It doesn’t matter. I’ve definitely kept sticking to my word.

Nike wanting you to keep pairs on ice…does that mean there’s stuff down the line?
Some stuff we’ve already seen as well as, you know, there’s some one-of-one pairs that I’ll be breaking out strategically as the year progresses.

Are you doing anything special for its release date?
Individually, I am. I haven’t talked with Nike if they have something in mind, but I want to physically go to certain sneaker stores and sneaker spots and greet the kids as they’re buying my shoe and talk to them on things they like about it and just be there while they’re getting their shoes. You know, just showing face and things like that so they can feel me, talk to me about questions they have, whatever it is and kind of take it from there.

So there will be surprises for fans?
Absolutely. Couple of spots.