A player of Ja Morant’s stature could’ve conceivably signed with any footwear company he wanted, but for him, it was always going to be Nike

“The offers came through, but I told my fam [and] my agency that Nike was always my choice,” Morant said during a media event in January. “I didn’t really care about any other brands.”

The Memphis Grizzlies superstar’s vision was realized before he was even drafted. He officially signed with Nike ahead of the May 2019 NBA draft lottery and now, less than four years later, Morant has become Nike Basketball’s newest signature athlete—the first from Gen Z.

The Nike Ja 1 was revealed on Christmas Day in a promo clip starring Ja and his daughter Kaari. The sneaker is scheduled to arrive this spring for $110, although an exact release date has not yet been confirmed. 

In his relatively short NBA stint thus far, Morant has proven himself as a leader, running point for the Grizzlies with numbers that put him among the league’s top names. He’s notched accolades like Rookie of the Year and Most Improved Player. Now, being selected by the world’s biggest sportswear brand to carry the torch for the next generation is further endorsement of his ability to lead.

“When we started to think about this process a couple of years ago, we looked at the young athletes making a difference and he was just somebody who stood out more than anybody,” Scott Munson, global vice president of men’s basketball at Nike, told Complex in January. “He’s an incredible leader. He’s just got this team-first mentality. He represents youth today. There’s a humanity with him, a humbleness. He’s an ally in the game. And I think all those things are the values of what this new spirit of today’s basketball player is all about.”

Nike Ja 1 (Day One, Chimney, Trivia, Scratch)
Nike Ja 1 colorways from left to right: Day One, Day One PE, Chimney, Trivia PE, Scratch. Image via Nike

Morant’s story, one that begins in his South Carolina backyard with his father, Tee, is partially told through the colorways of the Nike Ja 1. Fittingly named, the debut “Day One” pair takes on a few different meanings: It represents Morant’s attitude of treating every day like the first day of playing basketball as well as honoring the people who have been by his side since the beginning. The general release version uses a unique shade of blue created in tandem by Morant and the design team that nods to Ja’s blue-collar work ethic. That pair includes a handwritten note from Morant to his supporters on the sockliner, while a pink-based PE version (the one Ja wore during that dunk) features the same message on an icy outsole.

Other upcoming pairs include a previously unseen Vancouver Grizzliesinspired “Scratch” colorway which sees the team’s turquoise and red colors adorned with embroidered and printed claw marks. There’s also some that Morant has already worn on court, including the purple “Chimney” pair from Christmas Day and a “Trivia” iteration that highlights his family’s love of board games. 

Ben Nethongkome, Nike’s senior designer of performance basketball footwear, worked alongside Morant for 18 months dialing in the rising star’s first signature shoe. Oftentimes when working on signature product, designers have previous iterations to build off and get feedback from athletes about what they liked or didn’t like. But for the Ja 1, Nethongkome and company began with a blank slate.

Nike Ja 1 'Scratch'
Nike Ja 1 “Scratch.” Image via Complex Original

“It’s kind of a blessing to be able to have nothing prior as a cornerstone to lean on, to start fresh with something that Ja can own moving forward,” Nethongkome says. “We took some of his energy and created a sort of language that we can own for Ja, with the first one being something that can live beyond the basketball court. That’s something he wants to own.”

Munson echoes Nethongkome’s desire to see the Ja 1 infiltrate the lifestyle space, something performance basketball footwear as a whole has grappled with in recent years.

“We hope that this shoe can cross over a little bit and that people see an opportunity that you could wear this off the court as well,” Munson says.

On the court, the Nike Ja 1 is built to give Morant optimal control, while remaining lightweight enough so as to not hinder his hang time. That’s achieved through a low-cut, mesh-based upper supported by midfoot lock down overlays, while cushioning is provided by forefoot Zoom Air and a carrier foam that wraps around the entire shoe. Yet despite being equipped to handle one of the game’s most explosive players, one of the Ja 1’s most attractive selling points is its pricing.

Nike Ja 1 (Sketch)
One of designer Ben Nethongkome’s early Nike Ja 1 sketches. Image via Nike

When the Nike Ja 1 hits stores this spring, it will retail for $110, making it the most affordable signature model in Nike Basketball’s lineup. In a market where it’s the norm for sneakers, especially those connected to elite athletes, to sell for upward of $200, offering a signature pair at an accessible price point is yet another example of Morant leading the way.

“We’ve designed and built other shoes before within this price point, but not as many that are signatures,” Nethongkome says. “We worked closely with our testing crew to make sure that this thing does withstand the rigor of basketball at $110. I think there were materials that we were excited about, but Ja had to make a choice at some point to narrow it down to the right ones, and that was hard. I think it was a good problem to have.”