This was Kyrie Irving‘s moment. He walked onto the court at Madison Square Garden wearing the debut colorway of his first signature sneaker. He had been waiting for this milestone for years.
“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,” Irving, in December 2016, told us. He’d been observing sneakers for a long time. He knew what he liked and he knew the direction that he wanted to take when Nike called his number.
Leo Chang, the lead designer on the Kevin Durant line, was tasked with making the Kyrie 1. He and Irving targeted three key points of emphasis, all tailored around the New Jersey-native’s game. Irving needed responsiveness, grip and breathability. With all his herky-jerky, quick-decision movements, his sneaker had to be able to react with him. The Kyrie 1 featured Nike Zoom Air in the forefoot to cushion Irving when he was weaving around defenders. And that was complemented by a new traction pattern that provided the necessary anchoring for those crossovers. The Hyperfuse upper was rounded out by a teeth-like heel cup to keep Irving in place.
Irving brought the Nike Kyrie 1 underneath the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. He had already torched the Knicks there, getting buckets in an astounding 41-point performance in 2012. The Cavs lost that game, though. This time, in his first-ever sneaker, there was no way Irving was going to lose.
Irving attacked everyone the Knicks threw at him. Shane Larkin, Jose Calderon, Iman Shumpert, Amar’e Stoudemire–nobody could slow him down. He threw head fakes, caught ’em with in-and-outs. He brought out spin moves and found impossible angles to make ridiculous layups. He nailed pull-up jumpers and buried his catch-and-shoot opportunities. He wound up with 37, hitting the matchup’s dagger shot to lead the Cavs to a 90-87 win.
The “Dream” Nike Kyrie 1 that Irving wore effectively set up his line, which has become of the League’s most successful collection of sneakers. The 1 was the precursor to the 2, the sneaker that Irving wore to win the 2016 Championship. That led into the 3, the silhouette that helped Nike redefine their colorway concepts. And now with the 4, Irving’s new designer, Ben Nethongkome, told us that Irving’s sneaker knowledge is being put to use.
“[Kyrie has] really been into vintage Nikes and vintage Jordans because of the craftsmanship,” Nethongkome told SLAM in December. “He noticed that the leathers back then were nicer. The craftsmanship was cleaner back then. We took notice of that and we tried to take better steps in designing the [Kyrie] 4 by making it a lot more creative than the previous ones.”