by Lang Whitaker

Late last summer, adidas approached SLAM on behalf of Gilbert Arenas. Adidas was preparing a big campaign for the 2007-08 season relating to Gilbert, commissioning 20 different styles of the Gil II Zero shoe. Gil and adidas were asking 20 companies that Gil worked with or admired — from Bungie Software to Benihana (Hibachi!) to SLAM — to come up with a version of the Gil II Zero that reflected their connection to and interpretation of Gil (you can see some of the other shoes here). So the SLAM crew went to the lab.

As well as all of us at SLAM get along, we all have a very different style aesthetic. So to settle how we’d design a shoe, we held a contest. Ben, Khalid and I each designed what we felt the shoe should be and then took a vote around the office. Khalid worked with Melissa, our creative director, and they came up with a shoe that would have looked great with jeans and a sweater, a conservative look that was mostly gray, white and red. Ben also worked with Melissa, and they designed a shoe made of pebbled basketball leather with gold highlights. Their design actually won the straw poll, but then we found out we couldn’t get the correct type of leather in time.

So as it turned out, along with our art director Stephen Goggi, I was a part of the winning design, which you’re seeing here for the first time in the world (it’s also featured in the upcoming SLAM issue 121).

Go ahead, shake your head, say the shoe doesn’t make sense, that it’s too loud, too strange, that you’ve never seen anything quite like it before.

And then remember who the shoe was made for.

From the start, Stephen and I wanted the shoe to reflect what Gilbert meant to us, as one of the most dynamic, hilarious, puzzling personalities in the NBA. And above all else, we wanted our shoe to be fun, and we tried to keep that in mind throughout the design process.

We started with the colors. We got out the Wizards media guide and looked up their actual colors, then tried to imagine those colors as interpreted by a set of highlight markers. Before he spent the season injured, Gil was supposed to wear the shoes in a game, so we at least wanted him to not get fined. (Not much, at least.)

Steve and I went with black as the background color, then orange patent leather around the front, on the back and on the strap across the front (with SLAM embossed). With the remaining panels, we thought it would be cool to do something tiger-related, since Gil had been on our cover shirtless, displaying his garish tiger tattoo. So Steve went and found the original photos from the shoot, and then he lifted Gil’s actual tattoo from the images and we put his actual tattoo pattern on the shoe (on blue horsehair, no less).

We were running out of space but still had ideas. On the insole we wrote SLAMonline.com. On the heel of the shoe, in small letters, we had “MY SWAG WAS PHENOMENAL.” embossed into it. On top of the tongue, on the little thingy the laces go through (that’s technical talk for ya), we put Gil’s Agent Zero logo. Underneath the tongue, we put Gil’s autograph.

There was just one more thing we wanted to utilize, and we had the perfect place: We made the sole out of transparent rubber, and then put Gil’s actual SLAM cover underneath it. You don’t see it when the shoe is at rest, but when you find it, it looks, well, phenomenal.

Again, the shoe was pretty out there, something completely out of the ordinary. To us, it was perfect. We made it as a shoe not to be worn so much as it is to be collected and admired. And if we’d meant it to be a shoe to be sold in stores for mass consumption, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have even come close to going with something like this.

Of course, the original plan was for Gil to wear the shoe during a game last season and then we were going to sell a small run of the shoe in stores, but that all went to hell when Gil’s knee went to hell. So, instead, we made a super-duper limited run of the shoe, a small enough run that you’ll probably never see a pair of these shoes on eBay unless one of us gets really hard up for cash.

And later on this summer, we might just give away a pair or two of the shoes here on SLAMonline. Keep it locked…