The NBA Finals lasted way longer than I ever thought it would. After six lengthy and mostly lackluster games, we finally got an all-time classic in Game 7 between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers with LeBron James doing the unthinkable and knocking off the defending champs while being down 3-1. It was a moment of reckoning for James as he finally fulfilled his longtime of bringing a championship to the long-suffering city of Cleveland. With three rings now in his possession, including one that can no longer be credited to Pat Riley, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, James is now playing with house money. He can retire tomorrow and he will be considered one of the 10 best players in the history of the game, but as The Finals proved, he’s still the best the NBA has to offer and a chance at more rings with a core group of players that now has that championship confidence will no doubt fuel him for years to come.
But since this is a sneaker blog, we need to talk about the sneaker legacies of the signature shoe athletes to just got through a slog of a series. These Finals were essentially a Nike-Under Armour rematch as James and Kyrie Irving were representing the swoosh and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson led the new generation in brands that we didn’t even acknowledged in the sneaker community as recently as two years ago. Now that the dust has settled, here’s where we see each signature guy moving forward in the coming months.
If we are to believe Maverick Carter, LeBron James is going to be just fine with or without our approval of his signature shoes. His run in Miami led to some of the most popular shoes to drop in the past decade (Nike LeBron 8 South Beach, Nike LeBron 9 Championship Pack, Nike LeBron 10 What The MVP, etc.), but it also had some of the most notorious releases as well (he barely wore his Nike LeBron 11s). James’ return to Cleveland hasn’t done him any favors with the sneakerhead community as his signature LeBron 12s and 13s sat on shelves waiting for price drops.
However, he’s either first or second in signature shoe sales of current NBA players depending on who you believe and there has been positive buzz for his Nike LeBron Soldier 10s thanks to their minimalist style and love of straps. This championship victory checks off some of the last things he needed to do in his NBA career (win one for Cleveland and without fellow alpha dog Dwyane Wade) and you can be sure that when those golden Soldiers drop on NIKEiD there will be a Mamba Day-like rush to cop them. And don’t forget that ‘Bron could potentially play in Rio for Team USA Basketball. The last time he suited up for the red, white and blue, the sneaker world was buzzing about the then-new Nike LeBron 10.
LeBron will always have his doubters as to whether or not he reach Jordan Brand numbers when he retires, but the reality is that it doesn’t matter because eventually all those old farts who hate on LeBron are going to be too old and washed to be relevant and the kids who grew up only watching ‘Bron go through his journey are going to matter and have the buying power to cop his kicks both new and retro. It’s the sneaker circle of life and ‘Bron will soon reap the benefits and justify that lifetime deal – however much it is – he has with the swoosh.
Grade: C (as in “Crying Jordan”)
Curry’s Finals performance taken in the aggregate wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t at the level that we expected out of a two-time defending MVP and leader of a team that just posted the best regular season regular in NBA history. Similarly, his second signature shoe isn’t as bad as the internet makes them out to be, but it’s nowhere near the level it needs to be for a player of Steph’s stature and popularity in the NBA. A lot of snark could have been alleviated had the Warriors won last night, but that loss will only fuel the fire of the haters and keep the memes coming. Curry could have had the best summer ever with a championship and a gold medal run in the Olympics, but with neither happening anytime soon (he’s skipping Rio to rest his injured knee), it’s going to be a rough one for the Chef.
Similar to LeBron, Curry is going to endure the jokes and hate for his kicks for as long as he’s doing well and just like ‘Bron, that hate will subside in time. Under Armour needs to do their part and design better-looking shoes for Steph to help quell the dumpster fire though.
The playoffs were a roller coaster ride for Kyrie as opinions about his game and worthiness as a signature shoe athlete varied with each win and loss by the Cavs with or without him. But the former All-Star came up big in The Finals and showed the world that Nike was right to put their faith in him and not Nike defectors like Curry or James Harden. He’ll never be “The Guy” as long as he plays Pippen to LeBron’s MJ, but then again, Scottie Pippen had one of the coolest and most underrated Nike signature shoe runs ever so that’s not a bad spot for Kyrie to inhabit.
While the Nike Kyrie 2 did not have the impact of the Kyrie 1, it still had its fair share of hits like Ky-Rispy Kreme and many more. A championship and a gold medal run in Rio (with so many injuries and drop outs at the guard position, Kyrie’s a shoo-in if he wants a spot) will put a bigger spotlight on Kyrie’s kicks and sneakerheads and parents of sneakerheads will be pleased with how affordable they are compared to other Nike signature shoes.
Grade: ? (As In “Wait, Klay Has Signature Shoes?”)
When Steph was getting roasted by social media about this shoes, I want to know what part of Klay Thompson was wondering whether anybody would ask him about his signature shoes or if he’s actually glad they’re leaving his ANTAs alone. Despite being an All-Star player who is not that far off in the skill department compared to his Splash Bro, Thompson has managed to live a life of relative anonymity and that includes his kicks. Maybe that’s how Klay likes it as he follows a Dwyane Wade-like path or maybe he’s just waiting for the right opportunity to jump back in with another major American brand. He’s the ultimate wingman – even more Pippen to Steph’s MJ than Kyrie is to LeBron – and time will tell if Klay will elevate ANTA to something more.
J.R. hasn’t had the easiest road to becoming a championship player and he’ll admit that a lot of it is his own doing. But sometime after escaping New York and landing in Cleveland, he became a beloved folk hero that endeared himself to more than just NBA’s hardcore fan base. His emotional press conference was a touching reminder that he knows he has a lot to atone for but that he will get through it with his family.
Smith’s eventually sneaker legacy will be similar to that of guys like Nate Robinson in that they were never superstars but they developed a following thanks to their choice of kicks. Hopefully Nike will show Smith some love like they did Nate and drop some player exclusives with his logo for us to cop in the future.
But really, I just wanted to add J.R. Smith just so I can grab this tweet from last night…
— KicksOnFire.com (@kicksonfire) June 20, 2016
— KicksOnFire.com (@kicksonfire) June 20, 2016
Didn’t Kevin Love have signature shoes with 361°? Who cares? He just did the Stone Cold Steve Austin celebration.