Success doesn’t happen overnight. Kyrie Irving etched in his name in the NBA’s history books with his amazing three-pointer in last season’s Game 7. A stepback fading three-pointer, pinned to the right sideline, against the reining MVP and champ? That’s no accident. That’s years of hard work.
He drained that shot in a black and gold pair of his second signature sneaker, a silhouette that quickly picked up steam as a favorite among players, WNBA superstars, playground hoopers and hypebeasts. Its curved outsole and big strap helped it stand way out and perform.
Like his jumpshot, Irving’s signature sneaker line has proven to be lethal, leaving other kicks in the dust. And like his jumpshot, Irving has been working on his sneaker knowledge since he was a kid.
“It started with me just being an observant kid, seeing new Nikes come out, new Jordans come out,” the New Jersey raised Irving told us over the phone last month. “Seeing how past players released their old colorways, seeing how from a marketing standpoint guys were releasing shoes. And then also, my artistic background of me being comfortable with pushing the envelope. I’ve tried to put that attitude into the design of the shoes, the colorways.”
He’s comfortable enough to use OGs as inspiration, and confident enough to put his own spin on things. Like the Nike and Jumpman athletes before him, he’s been in tons of commercials and videos and in as many meetings as possible, so that his design team knows how he thinks and what he values.
Those years of watching the greats translated into two wildly successful sneakers. The Kyrie 1 was a hit among other NBA players. The 2 broke through into the mainstream. It didn’t hurt that the sneaker’s namesake seemed to have a different fire colorway to unveil every other game.
“How crazy was the WNBA ones? Oh man, it was nuts,” Irving says. “The conversations that I was having with the girls at USA was specifically that. Sue [Bird] is a great friend of mine now. I told her at USA, she had better colorways than I did. I’m teasing her about it, but that right there just shows me that she believes in not only the shoe, she believes in me.”
“Kyrie’s great,” Bird says. “It was really cool to get to know him during the Olympics and build a friendship. It did start off talking about his shoe because I had a pair of the green and yellow ones, Storm colors. He commented on them. I was, like, Oh, wait, you watch games?
“I really like a strap,” she continues after a quick chuckle. “These [Kyries], they might be the best. It feels like pillows on my feet.”
Irving and Leo Chang, famed Nike designer, are building on the success of the first two sneakers for a new silhouette that they say is their best yet.
“It’s definitely going to give you a different feel from the 2,” Irving says. “It’s definitely lighter. The traction is a step up from the 2. Technology-wise, they just did a great job of really implementing things on my shoe with the pods at the bottom of the shoes. More specifically the traction that it has, man… Just the response you’re gonna get on the court. You’ll see the evolution of us going from the 1 to the 2 now to the 3.”
Irving brings up the independent traction pods on the forefoot that will enhance traction for hard cuts. There’s also an integrated forefoot band and Flywire in the forefoot, and heel Zoom for cushioning. The “Black Ice” Kyrie 3 releases on December 26, for $120.
Sneakers tell stories. Materials and colors connect us to what athletes have gone through in their lives. Last year, Nike and Irving used Australia, the Cavs’ championship parade, Duke, summer, his driveway and his favorite cake as inspiration for colors. And while Irving promises there’ll be similarly eye-popping colorways of the 3, he says his sneakers aren’t about just him anymore.
“There’ll definitely be some storytelling,” he says. “But I wanna open it up for interpretation of what it resonates with people when they first see it. I’ve tried to take the role of passing the eye test and seeing what emotions come with it, with this 3.
“Giving not only myself, but elevating people that were in our brand team and working on the sneaker, an opportunity to come with some out-of-the-world things that everyone wasn’t necessarily looking for,” he continues. “I wanted to come out of nowhere, which is a Nike plug.” He laughs.
Irving’s no longer coming out of nowhere. He’s averaging a career-best 24 ppg. The internet’s been waiting not-so-patiently for the 3 since last season ended. He’s expected to be great and he’s making it all look easy. All the years of practicing his jumper and studying the sneaker game have finally paid off.