Kicks: Leo Chang Q+A
The man behind the KD IV talks Thunder hoops and new Nike creations.
by Abe Schwadron | @abe_squad
You may not recognize the name Leo Chang, but you’ve definitely noticed his game. The Nike Basketball Design Director is the genius behind some of the hottest basketball kicks to hit the market in recent years—from the Hyperfuse line to Kevin Durant’s signature series. Chang was the lead designer for the KD IV, which has been met with rave reviews from the hardwood to the streets. And most recently, he helped engineer the all-new Lunar Hyperdunk developed for Team USA at this summer’s London Olympics.
When Nike unveiled the Hyperdunk last week at its Innovation Summit in New York City (along with the introduction of Nike+ Basketball), Chang sat down with SLAMonline to talk about what it’s been like to see Durant ball up in his latest design, what it was like to work with the youngest NBA scoring champ ever, the newest Nike model and what he has planned next.
SLAM: What’s it been like watching Kevin Durant play so well with your creation (the KD IV) on his feet?
Leo Chang: KD’s awesome to work with, and just watching him play in the product and loving it, dropping 51, and also having Russ drop 40 and Ibaka do the triple-double, that was pretty amazing. I hit him up after and was like, “Yo, congrats.” It was really cool, and you see his character—to see him run to the side of the court and embrace his mom right afterwards.
SLAM: What kind of guy is KD like to work with on a sneaker?
LC: He may not be interested in the numbers and some stuff, but when it comes to design, he loves it. He really focuses in and gives us a lot of insight. Each year, we get more and more from him, too. He understands the shoe process a little bit more. Last summer we actually went to China, and he had the chance to see his shoes being made. That was an eye-opener for him, so getting to experience that with him, like “See how they’re making that right there,” it was a great education on how sneakers are made for him. Most people just assume—like he even said, “Oh, I thought you just a press a button and the shoe comes out,” so it was a really good experience, and I think he learned a lot. We continue to kind of help him out with that.
SLAM: Were you impressed with how hands-on he was?
LC: Yeah, it’s always great when someone is engaged and they’re really invested in it. I just love it when he has an idea, and it may be something completely outlandish or something that throws me off, like, whoa, how do I get that in there? Those are always the fun moments.
SLAM: Do you have a favorite colorway of the KD IV?
LC: I do have some favorites. The Year of the Dragon I thought was really cool, I also really like the Mint Candies, kind of forgot about those, but those are really fresh. And then, it just kind of depends on the mood. Weathermans are cool if you wanna go crazy.
SLAM: Have you been pleased with the reaction to the shoe so far?
LC: I have. It was a surprise, and I’m really happy for [Durant], and that his line is taking off now. He deserves it, and I hope they go really far in the Playoffs if not win it. I just wish there were more of the Nerfs, more of the Weathermans out there.
SLAM: How much of a hand did you have in the Hyperdunk created for the ‘12 Olympics?
LC: It was actually pretty cool, there were about four designers total working on this thing. It’s just one of those cool things where Nike can bring together the best talents at Nike to design the shoe…us four together just threw down. There were some cool moments, some good tension. But at the end of the day it’s like, we’re all here to make this product better.
SLAM: Why did you guys decide to show the “guts” of the FlyWire, with no mesh or other covering on the outside of the shoe?
LC: For us, basketball, I think we just like to be a little bit more expressive with our stuff. Hiding underneath the mesh—and we actually ran some options like that—we were like, “It just doesn’t feel right.” We want that instant, obvious, throw-it-in-your-face read of it. Our gut just told us that we wanted to expose it.
SLAM: Considering he just came out with his own signature shoe, how exciting is it for LeBron to be the main guy who will be wearing the Hyperdunk at the Olympics?
LC: It’s really exciting. And from the start, we had designed with LeBron in mind for this. We figured, he’s 260+ and he has what, like a 42-inch vertical or whatever it is. So if it can meet the demands of a guy like him, we know it can work for a lot of people. The Hyperdunk is one of those lines that, you look across the court and you can see positions 1 through 5 wearing it, so it has to work for everybody, even like DWill from a point guard’s standpoint. So, we want to make sure it works for LeBron and it’s great to have his endorsement as well, with the product.
SLAM: What’s next for you? What’s the next project?
LC: I’m working on the next KD, we’re working on Fall ‘13 kind of stuff. We’re just moving on [laughs].