What Really Delayed the Launch of the Nike LeBron 12?

We examine the differences between the LeBron 12 releases to figure out the cause for the delay.

by Brendan Dunne

images by Andy Hur

Back in October, Nike suddenly pulled the "NSRL" colorway of the LeBron 12 from its launch calendar, citing "a small cosmetic issue with some of the LEBRON 12 shoes" and announcing that their release would be delayed.

After the debacle surrounding LeBron James’ infrequent use of the LeBron 11, questions loomed about whether or not this "cosmetic issue" would threaten the integrity of the Nike's LeBron line, which brought in a massive $300 million for the brand in 2013. 

The original "NSRL" LeBron 12 colorway is now re-scheduled with a release date of Dec. 1, and two other colorways of the shoe have since released, but what exactly was it that caused this initial delay? 

LeBron had, of course, gone back to his old 23 jersey number since heading back to Cleveland, so early speculation was tied to the appearance of the number 6 on the outsole. Even more than that Nike had gone all in on the 6 theme: hex-Zoom cushioning was touted as taking advantage of “nature’s perfect shape” and another forthcoming colorway had a massive 6 planted on the tongue. The 6 on the bottom was even made up of miniature hexagons.

Above: the outsole of the recalled LeBron 12 "NSRL" featuring the 6 detailing

Given how far in advance Nike Basketball would have finalized designs for the Nike LeBron 12 though, there’s no real way that they could have planned for LeBron’s team change and number change (aside from leaving his number off the sneakers altogether). The dates of production on the Nike LeBron 12 “NSRL” for example read 4/11/14 through 8/12/14 - James didn’t even announce his return to the Cavaliers until 7/11/14 and didn’t reveal the news about the number change until 7/27/14.

Above: the tag of the recalled LeBron 12 "NSRL" displaying the production dates

Were Nike concerned with the 6 detailing, it's likely that they would have acted on it back in the summer. LeBron's number change came before Nike released any official images of the LeBron 12, and yet when they did release imagery, the 6 detailing on bottom was there. All of the pairs of the LeBron 12 on display at the shoe's media unveil at the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton featured the 6 on bottom. What’s more, the LeBron 12 pairs that have released so far, the “Heart of a Lion” and “Dunk Force”, both have the 6 detailing on the bottom.

Above, top to bottom: the outsoles of the LeBron 12 "Dunk Force", "Heart of a Lion", and "NSRL"

The Nikestore Twitter account referenced the rumors about the 6 as the cause of delay below. Their response isn’t entirely explicit, but the message seems to be “Yes these were created before his number change, no that’s not the reason they were delayed.” This reply also suggests that later LeBron 12 colorways beyond this first batch will eventually remove the 6 from the bottom.



This goes in line with the Nike’s original statement regarding the delay:

“Product quality is a priority for Nike. Due to a small cosmetic issue with some of the LEBRON 12 shoes we have delayed the initial retail launch that was scheduled for China on October 1, and the global launch that was scheduled for October 11. We will communicate an update on the retail date as soon as possible.”

The 6 on bottom is still a strange sight, but its presence doesn’t speak to the overall “product quality” of the LeBron 12.

Users on NikeTalk who managed to get their hands on pairs of the LeBron 12 “NSRL” before they were recalled offered up a different theory. Members there mentioned that the topmost inner eyelets around the collar of the shoe had quickly fallen off after a couple of wears. Later, when the LeBron 12 “Heart of a Lion” colorway showed up before the “NSRL” as the first one to release, members noticed that the eyelets this time were metal instrad of plastic, and some even mentioned that the old plastic eyelets were found discarded in the box.

The recent release of the LeBron 12 “Dunk Force” increases the sample size, and again shows that Nike has upgraded the eyelets with a sturdier metal treatment. Not only is the material different, but the shape is different - the eyelets on the recalled version of the LeBron 12 “NSRL” featured a rounded diamond shape, where the other colorways to release at retail so far have eyelets with a more straightforward oval shape.

Above: the plastic eyelet found on the recalled LeBron 12 "NSRL"

Above: the metal eyelet found on the LeBron 12 "Heart of a Lion", released October 30th, 2014

Above: the metal eyelet found on the LeBron 12 "Dunk Force", released November 11th, 2014

When we reached out to Nike for a comment on the matter, they did little to clarify the cause for the delay with their response: "There was a small cosmetic issue with some of the LeBron 12 shoes that we chose to correct before making them available at retail."

With that being said, the change in the eyelets is the only visible physical alteration that sets the original, recalled LeBron 12 “NSRL” we examined apart from the released “Heart of a Lion” and “Dunk Force” pairs (aside from the obvious changes in color). This talk has been floating around online for a while now, but as the pool of released LeBron 12s grows, it becomes clearer that Nike delayed the shoe to address this very issue. When the LeBron 12 “Instinct” releases this weekend, it will have James’ old #6 on the bottom, and it will very likely have the metal eyelets at the topmost lacing hole. The final piece of confirmation will come when the LeBron 12 “NSRL” receives its proper retail release, currently scheduled for December 1st, which should feature the rebuilt metal eyelets.

Are you happy that Nike addressed this issue with the LeBron 12? Does this make you more likely to purchase a pair? Tell us in the comments and stay with Sole Collector for updates on this latest LeBron James signature shoe.

Latest in Sneakers