Ever since landing the cover of Sports Illustrated as a High School Basketball Phenom, LeBron James has been one of this generation’s true sports icons. With supernatural gifts of flight and power, Nike is hoping that his performance on the court will continue to inspire millions to buy his shoes.
Air Zoom Generation
Everyone knew LeBron James was special, but no one knew how quickly he would change the game. Most players not named Michael Jordan had to earn their signature product. But the folks in Beaverton laced LeBron with his own shoe from day one. The Zoom Generation was a good introduction to the line. It wasn’t a revolutionary shoe but it combined existing technologies in a flawless way.
Inspired by practical objects, such as the Hummer H2 (which his mom got him in High School), to capture the mass and size of LeBron - the design featured an external heel counter in chrome that locked the star's massive foot in place during transitions. While the shoe was built like a tank it featured a large ventilation window on the medial midfoot to lighten the load. One of the most unique material uses on the shoe was the molded mesh that featured predominantly through the heel and midfoot. That material use gave a ballistic feel and indestructible presence to the first signature. Zoom Air provided the cushioning, while a composite plate helped keep things stable.
Zoom LeBron II
The LeBron II completely changed the direction of LeBron's signature line. The Zoom Generation set the tone for LeBron, but it wasn’t headed in any particular direction. It could have been any signature player’s shoe or even a well-executed inline shoe, similar to a Hyperdunk. The LeBron II packed a very strong punch, there was no denying when you saw it that it was a special shoe.
The shoe featured an all-over ballistic mesh with leather overlays in very specific areas. It was damn near indestructible, which was a theme that started on the Zoom Generation. One new piece that was brought to the II was the strap. There was a debate at the time as to how functional it was, but it definitely packed a solid aesthetic option for one’s style and gave a football feel to the signature model. Where the shoe really thrived though was the sole unit; it featured double-stacked Zoom. Easily one of the more luxurious rides Nike has ever created. What also made the sole unit stand out were the details of the tread pattern. LeBron is too big for herringbone so he got his own pattern!
Zoom LeBron III
The III had a very unique blocking straight from the start with the home colourway. The way the black split the white was bold and very far ahead of its time in that respect. The area where you really see that come to life is the toebox. The toe really helped transition and balance the bold colour blocking by splitting the forefoot from the rest of the shoe. It helped carry the white up and through the shoe. It even featured a nice micro-perforation pattern that gave a subtle touch to a luxury-made product.
The shoe really focused on holding down the beast that LeBron is. It started by incorporating a TPU chassis that featured molded-in leather pieces. The chassis ran two-thirds the length of the shoe and incorporated webbing that extended from the TPU and up into the lacing system. The whole setup also wrapped below the foot giving him 360º of support.
Zoom LeBron IV
The IV changed the game for the LeBron line by ushering in a technology that had been left on the shelf for a few years—Foamposite. Foamposite was developed in the late ‘90s to create a shoe that was completely molded and formfitting. The goal was to create a process that would allow Nike to make shoes even if the price of labour became too high. What they didn’t realize was that they had created one of the best fitting and supportive technologies ever, especially for large and agile athletes like LeBron.
The Foamposite was created in a chassis form as well; it wrapped the entire foot with flexible fingers on the upper that closed in around the tongue. The key thing the IV did was incorporating the learning Nike had gained from the development of the Free line. Foamposite can be challenging to make flexible, it takes some time to really break them in. But by siping the structure it really freed it up to make it move with the foot.
One other detail that can’t be overlooked is the introduction of the “Witness” campaign. On the heel of the IV “Witness” is written vertically down the heel wrapping the sole. It creates a nice hidden detail that nods at the special moment in basketball history.