Sneak Peak Wonder Years: Kamikaze II
The object of many posters.
Every year, hundreds of basketball sneakers are produced, issued, sold, and played in on the hardwood worldwide, and for every year in the NBA, at least one star player has a special season that is the peak of his career—and a signature shoe that shares in his glory. That’s what Sneak Peak is all about—highlighting players and their sneakers from the past 25 years who shared the spotlight with iconic play and iconic style.
(For the time being, the Sneak Peak series will now focus on the golden era of the top sig shoes, players, and their best overall seasons, which was approximately between 1994 and 1996, which we are dubbing “The Wonder Years”.)
Shawn Kemp was just becoming a star, a real star. Sure the League knew the man could jump (he wasn’t just wasting his time in those Slam Dunk Contests—well, after getting cheated out of at least two of them, he sort of was). It wasn’t just him being an explosive athlete or showing the signs of walking into to Springfield for the Hall of Fame. Yeah, those Payton-to-Kemp connections were surely entertaining and satisfying (especially if you were one to detest John Stockton and Karl Malone). Kemp was coming into his own, and so were the Seattle SuperSonics.
A uniform switch-up and a new arena seems to do wonders for teams, and in the ‘95-96 season, Kemp must’ve felt like a new man. He had forest green and brick red over his torso, some All-Star recognition, and he had his first signature shoe with Reebok. Life was good to him and it was only going to get bigger.
For the record, Shawn Kemp came into the League as a non-balling collegiate entry in the 1989 NBA Draft, meaning that he wasn’t a non-baller, as in lacking skills; literally, he went to Kentucky and then a community college, didn’t play, but still was a first-round draft choice by Seattle—technically, Kemp was the first player since the 70s to bypass playing college ball coming from high school to the NBA (in other words, Kevin Garnett wasn’t really the first guy to jump into the League since Bill Willoughby and Darryl Dawkins—it was Shawn).
He and the SuperSonics then started to really put together some good teams out in the Western Conference, and Gary Payton and Kemp grew to be a dynamic duo under the guidance (and abrasion) of George Karl. Becoming a League superstar known for his exciting dunks and play in the paint in 1994, the 6-10 power forward (I wonder if he would’ve been great at small forward, actually) had his best overall season of his career with averages of 19.6 points, 11.4 boards and 1.6 blocks, and did it shooting over 56 percent from all over the floor and sported a career-high 41.7 three-point shooting percentage.
(Not to spite Shawn, but actually the ’95-96 season was really his second best overall season—his best season overall, according to his actual numbers, was with the Cleveland Cavaliers during the ’98-99 lockout season. He was at least 25 pounds overweight, no longer dunking, and found later on to be on cocaine. Amazing. Just check his PER numbers. His best statistical season was as a temporarily overweight, drunk, cocaine-addicted Cleveland Cav. I’m not lying to you…and thankfully, he’s much better.)
No. 40 ended up being a top-10 NBA leader in field goal percentage, total free throws (both made and attempted), total rebounds (both offensive and defensive) and rebounds averaged. He ended up being a sole factor in the SuperSonics run to the 1996 Finals, where he and his Sonic teammates were dealt with by the Chicago Bulls in Michael Jordan’s first comeback championship. The Kamikaze II, on the other hand, was another big reason that Kemp was so popular.
Building upon the success of the initial Kamikaze, the Reebok Kamikaze II was a literal shockwave to see. Designed and first released in white/black/forest green, his second signature sneaker was a high-mid cut basketball shoe that featured supportive synthetic leather in the form of vertical zigzags, like a shockwave might be drawn. Using black flat laces, high eyelets, a firm polyurethane midsole and a sturdy rubber outsole, the second Kamikaze looked like it was truly ready to go to war in flight. The Hexalite honeycomb cushioning system made it even more worthwhile to see and wear. At the time, outside of the Nike signature models and the Air Jordans, Kemp’s Reeboks were the next best thing to wear for the court and for school, and further cemented his presence as a true league superstar (and poster child—if he had royalties paid to him for his posterizings of various NBA players, big and small, he could’ve been a millionaire off of those alone).
(San Dova Sidenote: I actually owned the Kamikaze IIs for a brief time, starting out in the seventh grade. I wasn’t able to get any full-priced shoes at the time for retail price—which is ridiculous to pay most of the time anyway, now I realize—so I settled for his Reeboks, which were out of season in the ‘96-97 school year/NBA season. Those quickly got exchanged a few days later at JCPenney—when they actually sold high-level shoes—for Fila’s The Hill II, in the navy/white/red colorway, also known as the Grant Hill shoe that 2Pac made famous with the Outlawz in the CD jacket of his classic “All Eyez On Me” album.
Another funny thing about those shoes was that I settled on those second Kamikazes after I saw the first ones on the feet of a famous actor I met randomly. Ever heard of Timothy Stickney, aka R.J. Gannon of “One Life To Live”? Not that I watched that soap opera as a kid, but after meeting him when I was 12—he’s married to a family friend—and then looking down at his feet to see the first Shawn Kemps in those unmistakable paneled black and blue synthetic suede, I absolutely fell in love—with the shoe, that is. Me and my little brother made such a big deal out of the shoe that he even started to get hyped; apparently, he didn’t know he bought the Shawn Kemps when they went on sale, *hahaha*.)
In the years to come, because both Reebok and Shawn experienced such a precipitous fall in the years after the Kamikaze II was released, neither player nor shoe has been given the proper respect deserved for their presence in their most significant times of the day. Kemp ended up really hitting an almost-unbelievable low point in his post-Seattle years, after he was rightfully upset about not being paying market value when Jim McIlvaine was given a $35 million contract by Seattle’s Starbucks-silly ownership; he complained enough to go to the Cavaliers, where again, he somehow was a statistically better player and even an All-Star despite his vices, before he landed with another high-paying contract as a Portland Trail Blazer; in Portland, No. 40 became a first-class member of the Jail Blazer fraternity and was heavily chastened for his addictions, in addition to his piss-poor pathetic play. To remember that he was a Magician with Orlando in 2003 almost seems irrelevant in the course of the Shawn Kemp retrospective.
Meanwhile, Reebok became a tour de force with Allen Iverson, but soon suffered losses in both sales and actual design standards. The Vector’s shoes were mocked openly and critiqued as a poor performance company for much of the 2000s, outside of Iverson’s own line. Bought by adidas in later years, Reebok has finally brought its overall basketball product line to satisfactory standards, though the company hasn’t been the same since Kemp, Shaquille O’Neal and Steve Francis were top-level endorsers (both Jay-Z’s S. Carter basketball shoe, 50 Cent’s, Nelly’s and Daddy Yankee’s shoes were all failures in some respect).
What more can be said of them? The Reignman (which was actually a really good Reebok signature shoe for him) has been training to come back to the League and ‘Bok is finally doing alright for itself.
Here’s to hoping that the Kamikaze can somehow get its number called and get retro’d without further delay.
Sandy Dover is a novelist/writer, artist, fitness and shoe enthusiast, as well as an unrepentant Prince fan (please, refrain from cackling). You can find him frequently here at SLAMonline, as well as at Associated Content and Twitter.