Earn Your Stripes
Earn Your Stripes
A rapidly growing roster of young stars. A clear new design direction. For adidas Basketball, the future is now.
Earn Your Stripes

After a new champion is crowned and the champagne bottles are emptied in June, the NBA doesn’t take a break from partying. Instead the League sets up shop in Las Vegas, as Sin City becomes the epicenter of everything hoops-related each July.

Vegas is an odd enough place as is—a city where the ridiculous is the norm and debauchery is easily found. Throw in a bunch of 20-something professional athletes moving from casino to club, plus hordes of gangly teens in town for AAU tournaments roaming the Strip with nowhere to go, and you get a spot that is bubbling with excitement in a desert climate where the temperature routinely hits 110 degrees.

With Summer League, USA Basketball and players in town just to party or work out, it’s only natural that the major sneaker brands add their own extravagant events to the mix. Adidas, in particular, came to make a statement, arriving with its roster of star clients and a new line of kicks that offered a look into the promising direction of the brand.

For adidas Basketball, Summer ’16 marks a critical time for the brand’s future. The 2016-17 NBA season will be adidas’ last as the League’s official apparel partner. Last summer, Nike won a $1 billion contract for the rights to put the Swoosh on all on-court uniform designs.

Adidas responded with a much-needed Kanye West-inspired makeover and a renewed investment in high-profile talent. Last August, adi signed 2014-15 MVP runner-up James Harden—a former Nike endorser—to a reported 13-year, $200 million deal. The polarizing baller, who is as criticized for his defense as he is praised for his offense, provided a jolt to the Three Stripes as he joined an eclectic roster of stars that includes Damian Lillard, Derrick Rose, Kyle Lowry and Andrew Wiggins.

Back in 2006, adidas athletes Kevin Garnett, Chauncey Billups, Tracy McGrady, Gilbert Arenas and Tim Duncan graced the cover of KICKS 9 with the line, “The Starting Five.” A decade later, adidas’ lineup today may not have the Hall of Fame basketball talent (yet), but it certainly has a cool factor now that was missing from the ’06 crew—all due respect to TD, for example, but he never moved product.

Oh, and the new sneakers are fire, too.

In Vegas, adidas flaunted the latest in its design and technology at its #LVL3 space located at the Planet Hollywood Casino and Resort. With Harden, Lillard, Rose and Wiggins in the building, the foursome, along with adidas’ top sneaker designers, broke down the intricacies behind the Crazylight Boost 2016, the D Lillard 2, the D Rose 7 and the all-new Crazy Explosive.

For a player whose game is predicated on attacking his defender with precise footwork, Harden puts a pounding on his feet and needs a comfortable, durable sneaker to keep up with him. The Crazylight 2016 provides all that and more.

“This is the ultimate low-cut basketball shoe,” says Harden. “I’ve been wearing them for a few weeks now and sometimes I forget I even have them on. I actually just played a game in them for the first time at Drew League and I showed out. The shoe fit comfortably and was real strong when I made my step-back and Euro Step moves. It’s a good feeling, and if you feel good, you play good.”

When Harden inked his massive deal a year ago, he cited the opportunity to have his voice heard in the creation process as one of the main reasons for signing with the Three Stripes. Putting Harden’s ideas into motion, adidas launched its “Project Harden” campaign in Vegas and announced that the upcoming release of a signature sneaker for the superstar guard in December.

“My relationship with adidas is great,” says Harden. “I’ve never had an opportunity to express myself or my fashion and clothing and they listen to me and execute the game plan. If I need anything, I can reach out to them and vice-versa. I meet with designers as much as possible because in order to do something great, you have to put your best foot forward. I’ve had a lot of fun with the process of creating shoes.”

The shoe was shown exclusively to SLAM in the form of a virtual reality presentation. As of press time, we can’t say much about Harden’s soon-to-be-unveiled sneaker, but we can assure y’all that the kick will only add to adidas’ growing buzz.

While we wait for Harden’s sig look to drop this winter, the D Lillard 2 remains one of the cleanest looks on the market. In four short years, Dame has gone from relatively unknown prospect to one of the best, and most popular, point guards in the L—and his sneakers have enjoyed a similar rise. His story and humble approach have made him one of the more relatable stars in the game and it’s paying off for adidas in a big way. When John Wall parted ways with the company at the top of 2016, much of the attention shifted to Dame and he has delivered on-court, off-court and in sales.

The Blazers guard is a man of the people, and his reach extends beyond the hardwood. Dame has embarked upon a rap career—his rhymes have landed on major commercials and his #4BarFriday social media campaign keeps him in tune with his fans.

Known as Dame DOLLA when he grabs the mic, the All-NBA guard showed just how much his brand has grown as he performed in front of a sold-out crowd—in a very dope pair of tennis-inspired D Lillard 2s—at a Portland venue earlier this summer.

“The big thing for me as a professional athlete is I don’t want people to look at me like I’m bigger than they are or some big shot,” says DOLLA. “I like to be in touch with people, I like people to know who I am as a person. I don’t want anyone to say, ‘Oh, he’s an NBA player. He doesn’t care about us. He doesn’t come from the same place I come from.’ I never want that. I like to be in touch with people.”

While adidas has had amazing luck and fortune with Lillard, that hasn’t quite been the case when it comes to their road with former NBA MVP Derrick Rose.

The point guard has been the face of adidas Basketball since 2008 and signed a reported 13-year, $185 million extension in 2012. Since signing that contract, Rose has suffered major injuries that have sidelined him for the majority of the last four seasons. But to adidas’ credit, the company continues to stand by Rose and pump out his signature kicks.

That loyalty could pay off in a huge way as Rose embarks on the next chapter of his career. Traded to the Knicks in the offseason, Rose has an opportunity to rehabilitate his career in the Big Apple and adidas has a chance to make a huge splash in the market with the D Rose 7. The latest incarnation of Rose’s sig features full-length Boost for the first time, herringbone traction and a GeoFit molded collar to increase stability and lockdown with a sock-like fit. Most importantly, the “Solar Red” edition of the sneaker should pop on the Garden floor. Rose first saw the sneaker before he was traded to the Knicks and was befuddled by the colorway. But in time everything made sense.

“[Adidas] sent me, like, a sample shoe that had an orange in it before I got traded and I was like, man, why do these have orange in it? I don’t get it,” says Rose. “Then all of a sudden I got traded to the Knicks and I was like, Oh shit! Was that a sign? I felt like it was a sign. I always look into little things like that.”

As one of the latest additions to the adidas team, 21-year-old Andrew Wiggins will be the face of the new, innovative Crazy Explosive. The name of the sneaker is quite fitting for Wiggins, as he’s one of the more exciting players in the League and will lead an upstart Timberwolves team that promises to be a mandatory League Pass watch this upcoming season.

The Crazy Explosive was greeted with a “What are those?!” by the internet when images of the sneaker first leaked. But while that type of social media reaction would have fazed some young players, the soft-spoken Wiggins took the jokes and memes in stride.

“Some of the jokes, they were funny. You can’t do nothing but laugh,” says Wiggins. “I always stay positive—it never gets to me or nothing like that. I’ve seen them in person, I know the look and I like different. I like different stuff and I feel like different attracts more. I think when people see them in real life and how they feel, their mentality will change.”

The sneaker itself will likely take some time to get used to, appearance-wise, but when it comes to comfort and feel, the Crazy Explosive is second-to-none on the adidas shelf. Featuring the latest in a Primeknit upper, an extended GeoFit bootie, rope-style laces and full-length Boost cushioning, the Three Stripes is going all in with this one.

Aside from its performance, the sneaker represents a change in aesthetic direction. Inspired by the popularity of non-basketball looks like the NMD and Tubular, the Crazy Explosive is adidas Basketball’s adoption of Kanye’s “I don’t give a fuck” attitude and confidence.

“We wanted to create a polarizing shoe and wanted to change the conversation around adidas Basketball,” says Jesse Rademacher, the shoe’s designer. “When people first see something new, they don’t always know how to process it. But we’re here to challenge people’s expectations.

“It’s a shoe right now, but it’s really representing a shift in adidas Basketball. We’re changing the conversation and we’re going to keep pushing. It takes a while to see a product come to life, so this is a little appetizer of things to come.”

Speaking of Yeezy, the addition of ’Ye to the roster opens up plenty of possibilities for Harden, Dame, D-Rose and Wiggins to collab with the superstar. While there has already been an announcement that Kanye will work with adidas athletes as part of his Yeezy line, and chatter that he and Harden will work on a shoe together, the rapper can make an impact in the music world with Lillard and in the city of Chicago, both ’Ye and Rose’s hometown.

As adidas enters the ’16-17 season with a loaded stable of stars and kicks, the brand has also set itself up for long-term success by adding a crop of rookies from each of the past two Drafts.

In 2015, adidas signed Heat forward Justise Winslow, Wizards forward Kelly Oubre and Celitcs guard Terry Rozier. In 2016, the brand made a big splash by adding five of the Draft’s first seven picks—the Lakers’ Brandon Ingram, the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown, the Nuggets’ Jamal Murray, the Suns’ Dragan Bender and the Timberwolves’ Kris Dunn. On numbers alone, odds are adidas will hit it big on one of these players.

Prior to the #LVL3 tour, Chauncey Billups spoke to the media about how he bonded with his fellow adidas team members during summertime sneaker events and photoshoots, like the one for KICKS 9. While some guys show up to summertime obligations to collect a check and bounce, the adidas guys seem genuinely cool with one another on a personal level—just like Billups and Co. were 10 years ago.

When Lillard and DJ Esco performed for AAU teams in town for the adidas Uprising tournament, Harden joined him and turned up on stage. Harden and Ingram sat courtside while the high school kids balled out at the Cashman Center in Vegas. It’s this type of bonding, camaraderie and commitment to the brand’s vision that will help adidas remain a contender in the hyper-competitive sneaker world.

Of course, no matter how strong the team is, none of the bonding and camaraderie will matter if the sneakers aren’t hot.

“We got a lot of heat coming—a lot of heat. Here at adidas, we don’t do it normal,” says Harden. “We create, we’re in our own lane, and we do what we want. People are starting to feel it now. We got some fire coming your way.”

Peter Walsh is an Associate Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @Peter_M_Walsh
Photos via adidas Basketball
Earn Your Stripes