How, and Why, Anthony Edwards Got His Own Adidas Sneaker

Edwards and the team behind the Adidas AE 1 explain his first signature shoe.

Anthony Edwards
Minnesota Timberwolves shooting guard Anthony Edwards is Adidas’ newest signature athlete. Via Adidas
Anthony Edwards

Anthony Edwards, the ebullient Minnesota Timberwolves shooting guard who just became the latest Adidas athlete to get their own signature shoe, swears he didn’t know his signature model was coming.

One might expect some braggadocio from Edwards on the subject—this is a man who’s claimed he is a general all-sport all-star athlete (“tennis, swimming, lacrosse, whatever you need me to play”) and wields a cheeky pride that turns press conference platitudes into instant memes. But it took some prodding for Edwards to even show up to the meeting where Adidas let him know it was making him a signature shoe.

The brand wanted to deliver the news to Edwards at Summer League in July 2022. Edwards wasn’t planning on attending.

“You gotta come out here,” his business manager Justin Holland kept encouraging him. “I’m not telling you why, but you gotta come out here.”

Edwards was reticent.

“You need to come out here and stop procrastinating,” Edwards remembers Holland telling him.

Eventually, Holland let him know how important it was. They’re trying to give you your own shoe. With that bit confirmed, Edwards hopped on a flight. He kept the information close, divulging it to one family member and keeping the rest unaware.

“I think I’m finna get my own shoe,” Edwards told his brother over the phone when he received the news last year.

Otherwise, he was not prepared to talk about his forthcoming signature shoe too much in public or private. When the sneaker leaked online (as all sneakers do) in May 2023, he feigned ignorance.

“Somehow, the shoe hit Instagram, and people were sending it to me,” Edwards says. “I was just like, ‘I don’t know what y’all talking about.’ I think my family kinda found out then.”

Adidas didn’t officially unveil the sneaker until September 2023, when Edwards showed it off while being mobbed by kids at a basketball camp he puts on in his hometown of Atlanta. The camp, the unveiling, was the kind of marathon day that sneaker brands expect of signature athletes.

Adidas AE 1 Colorways

Edwards arrived still shaking off the aftereffects of a root canal, wearing the same shades he got at the dentist’s office. He sat with media, interacted with kids, posed for photos, and managed to shoot a Foot Locker campaign somewhere in the thin margins of the afternoon.

His sneaker, the Adidas AE 1, is finally ready to make its retail debut this weekend, in a Georgia peach–flavored “With Love” colorway that launches on Saturday, Dec. 16 for $120. It’s a wavy, mid-cut silhouette with an upper anchored by a ventilated panel that looks like a honeycomb being stretched out by a black hole. It’s a very modern-looking basketball shoe in that it is sleek, un-chunky, and self-aware enough to maintain a clean upper that feels like a response to the overwrought basketball shoes of the 2010s. The sneaker has a midsole that combines Adidas’ Boost cushioning with Lightstrike, a combination that the brand says helps with energy return.

The AE 1 is a milestone not only for its namesake, but for Adidas too. Leadership at the brand, all the way up to CEO Bjørn Gulden, have referenced how important Edwards is to Adidas’ long-term plan of regaining market share in the basketball footwear business. The AE 1 marks the arrival of not just a new signature athlete, but a new era for Adidas basketball.

In a series of interviews at the AE 1 launch event in Atlanta in September, Complex spoke with Edwards—and a handful of Adidas employees who touched the project—about the making of the shoe, the positioning of the shoe, and why Adidas basketball will look different going forward.

Designing the Adidas AE 1

Adidas AE 1 Peach Colorway With Love Sole

From the first testing sessions that informed what Adidas needed to build into the AE 1, Edwards was off the charts. The amount of force he was putting into his shoes was way higher than the average NBA player that Adidas has tested sneakers with, so much so that he could rip through mesh sneakers when using them. Because of that, Adidas had to build his shoe differently.

“It’s not just a mesh shoe on top of EVA and rubber,” says AE 1 designer Patrick Zempolich. “It’s this containment narrative that wraps from the bottom, so you don’t really see where that midsole topline is.”

An early vibe check with Edwards circa August 2022 established where Adidas would take the sneaker visually.

“He was gravitating towards this very futuristic vibe,” says Zempolich. “He told us he didn't want his shoe to look like anything else on the market.”

Adidas mostly succeeded with that, although it’s hard not to look at the model and see some influence from its recently extinct Yeezy line. The rolling movement that the AE 1 conveys is meant to represent Edwards’ energy; its precision-molded TPU shapes are meant to reflect him as a blurry gesture bursting through a defense.

The perforations help the shoe be more breathable but also less rigid, which is important for a guy who’s pounding into his sneakers for more than 30 minutes per game. The shoe being able to bend but not break is crucial for Edwards, who prefers to stay in the same sneakers for months.

“As long as they stay in good condition, I won’t change shoes because I don’t like breaking in shoes,” he says. “It be hurting my feet. I won’t play in a new pair—I ain’t doing that.”

Anthony Edwards holding basketball

Edwards says he didn’t come with too much input on what his shoe should look like; he let the designers do that work. Over the last year and a half, they met regularly to discuss what would become the Adidas AE 1. There was fine-tuning, mostly on the lockdown fit for containing the foot, but Edwards and Zempolich say that the early sketches, and then first samples, look pretty close to the final product.

One thing Edwards did ask for was more protection underfoot.

“The cushion at the bottom,” Edwards mentions, “adding more cushion so I wouldn’t feel too much of the ground when I take off and land.”

Will the sneakers provide him any mental advantage in addition to the potential physical one of playing in a shoe designed specifically for him? Players who become signature athletes will often cite the added confidence that comes with wearing your own shoe. That’s the case for Edwards, too, but he doesn’t necessarily need it.

“My confidence is at an all-time high,” he says. “I don’t need no boost. I’ll be alright.”

Except, Edwards concedes, for the Boost cushioning in his shoes.

“That’s the only Boost I need,” he says.

Edwards and Adidas Basketball’s New Regime

Adidas Anthony Edwards Motion Blur

Adidas knows that it needs to do better in basketball. CEO Bjørn Gulden said as much on an earnings call in August, admitting that the brand wasn’t performing to the expectations of shareholders. In summarizing the future of Adidas’ basketball business, he mentioned Edwards as a young talent who can help correct things for the brand.

“We feel we are in a better shape in this business than we've been for a long time,” Gulden said.

Adidas basketball is in a new regime, according to Eric Wise, who took over as the global GM of basketball at Adidas in March 2021. Wise, who’s been with Adidas for almost eight years, helped sign Edwards to the brand in 2020. He sees the launch of the AE 1 as the demarcation point when the public will first experience the new chapter of Adidas basketball.

Adidas has fresh design talent in basketball and also a new office—the brand opened a space in Los Angeles in February that will serve as the main design hub for basketball in North America. The L.A. space will help Adidas focus even more on winning in North America, an effort that the brand believes relies partly on success in basketball. Wise is grateful for the resources that come with the pressure to revive the business.

“You don’t have a lot of opportunities to have full support and backing from your brand at the highest level,” Wise says, “and we have that with Bjørn and the rest of the organization.”

The tough question of how to better sell basketball shoes isn’t unique to Adidas; there’s long been a slump in interest in modern, techy performance basketball shoes.

“We know that,” says Wise. “It’s not easy, and we take that challenge on.”

They’re taking the challenge on from the top down in a way that’s felt refreshingly spicy in recent weeks. Regardless of whether you feel inclined to pick a side in the sneaker wars, moments like Gulden’s shots at the 2023 FN Achievement Awards or that Nice Kicks video that led to a brief X beef between Adidas and Nike endorser Kevin Durant make for good entertainment for the footwear obsessed.

The Nathan VanHook Era

Adidas AE 1 Heel Shot

One of the most high-profile hires in Adidas’ new regime is Nathan VanHook, who became the German brand’s vice president of basketball design in April 2023. VanHook most recently worked at Moncler as its head of footwear, but is better known for the decade-plus he spent at Nike before that. He bounced between categories in his time at the Swoosh, making shoes for soccer, sportswear, training, and the outdoors. And (as must be mentioned whenever his name is) VanHook designed Kanye West’s second signature shoe, the genre-busting Nike Air Yeezy 2.

For him, overseeing the design of basketball shoes is a new challenge. VanHook’s portfolio does not include any performance basketball footwear, although he says he’s worked on basketball product that he’s not at liberty to discuss.

“Nothing I’ve done in my résumé has come from basketball, but I’ve consulted on a bunch of projects behind the scenes in the past,” he says. “So I have a good understanding of the game, but also what’s needed in the product.”

Adidas started courting VanHook in 2022. As he weighed the decision, he consulted with Fear of God designer Jerry Lorenzo, who signed an Adidas deal in 2020 that originally involved Lorenzo creative directing Adidas basketball. Lorenzo’s Adidas work is no longer solely focused on basketball, but VanHook is still involved.

“I just needed someone to come on with both the talent and the ambition and a little bit more of a proactive first place point of view against it,” Lorenzo says. “Versus kind of a reactive to what the person in the first place is doing.”

The hire was urged by Wise, who felt VanHook’s talents and track record could give Adidas basketball a new point of view.

“I was the biggest proponent for Nate,” says Wise.

VanHook arrived at Adidas too late to play a real role in shaping the Adidas AE 1, and the shoes he’s worked on from the ground up won’t be released until the end of 2024. But, like the AE 1 shoe, he represents a new direction in Adidas’ basketball division. For Wise, the energy and point of view VanHook brought in his first six months on the job was immediately refreshing. 

VanHook is supportive of what Adidas basketball has in the market now—he cites the Harden Vol. 7 as one of the best shoes in the category in a long time—although (to use a designer cliché) he is more focused on the future. And he says there is more sauce coming.

“My goal and my history working in this industry is always trying to look ahead and not trying to stay where people are now,” says VanHook. “If we’re always working in the future, then if you’re looking at what people are wearing now, then you’re going to always be in the past.”

Who Is the Anthony Edwards Sneaker For?

Adidas AE 1 On feet

Adidas’ roster of basketball players with their own active signature shoe lines is a deep one that features James Harden, Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell, and Trae Young alongside Edwards. If Harden’s current shoe, the $160 Harden Vol. 7, is aimed more at the premium, luxury space, Edwards’ AE 1 is oriented toward Gen Z.

“He is definitely positioned for the younger consumer,” says Wise, noting how Edwards’ shoe is being introduced at a skills camp for kids. “I think that’s something that we have to do with our category—is get younger.”

It helps that Edwards himself, at 22 years old, isn’t that distant from the target demo. Adidas’ leadership sees in him a balanced, relatable All-Star who’s both aspirational and attainable.

“I just wanna play in ‘em, show kids they could get my superpowers when they play in them,” Edwards says.

That’s not to say that the sneakers are just for kids, or basketball. The Adidas AE 1 doesn’t feel cheap in hand, and beyond being a performance sneaker it translates as a lifestyle model. It could sit on a shelf next to a basketball-informed sportswear model like the Crazy Iiinfinity and serve a different function for a different crowd with no intention to play sports in it.

Of course, for Edwards, the sneaker is still personal. At the Atlanta launch event, Adidas only had a handful of pairs for display and a few more for wear. Edwards, who will certainly be beating the sneakers up over the course of his season with the Timberwolves, was still precious with his AE 1s then, removing them in hectic moments so as not to scuff them.

Now that he can share the AE 1s with the world—and not just the information about their existence—he’s going to catch his family up.

“They’re gonna be the first ones to get ‘em,” says Edwards.