“Russ wants to tell his stories and the stories that are important to him,” Lee Gibson, the lead designer of Russell Westbrook’s signature sneaker, tells SLAM. “And the thing that you learn about Russ that you don’t really get a sense of maybe in these interviews and seeing him on TV is just the loyalty that he has to his friends and family. That’s what he grounds himself in. These first four shoes are very much about those connections.”
The Jordan “Why Not?” Zer0.4 starts off with a quintet of flavors that, as Gibson said, have deep connections to the former MVP. There’s the “Upbringing,” an asymmetrical mashup of his childhood in LA.
Then there’s the black and gold “Family” option. Self-explanatory. The blue-based “Trust & Loyalty” joints are a tonal mockup that plays into Russ’ devotion to his loved ones. And then there’s the “FACETASM” collab, a project that was born during Westbrook’s 2019 trip to Tokyo.
Hiromichi Ochiai, the founder of Japanese-based design company, linked up with Russ and formed an immediate connection. Then the work started.
“Super involved,” Gibson says of Westbrook. “He’s a creative himself. He defines himself as a creative on-court, off-court. I wasn’t sure whether to show him sketches or detail drawings or samples. He sort of works across all of that. The really cool thing about Russ is once he sees something, he knows. Very quickly. Very much knows what he likes, knows how he wants things and really brings this personal point of view maybe don’t do. Even though he’s guarded, he does want to tell personal stories and narratives, which I think is really cool and key for the product.”
“Russ always brings a ton of different references and elements every season,” Mackenzie Sam, the lead designer of Westbrook’s apparel collection, adds. “It all goes back to him and his personal connection to everything. It’s taking subtle hits and figuring out ways to maybe make them more overt.”
Gibson and Sam worked with Ochiai and Westbrook to build a world of design connected through footwear and clothing. The sneakers relate to the pieces and the pieces relate to the sneakers. Both Gibson’s and Sam’s teams work with the namesake at the same time, which has led to a bridge between the two sides. Moving forward, motifs from a PE will be subtly found on a jacket. Or a logo originally seen on the back of a shirt will be exported to a new colorway.
Sam references OG Jordan gear, of course, but he also got his inspiration for this collection from an unexpected source.
“The collection started with a mashup and a lot of different elements from a lot of areas, whether it be from classic Jordan, a lot of vintage military,” he tells SLAM. “A lot of these elements were pulled and then mashed together to create this collection. It’s always about breaking that expectation. I reference everything. Prior to being in Portland, I lived in New York. So, honestly, a new inspiration reference for me is just getting outside and getting to the outdoors.”
But everything that Westbrook does is rooted in performance. So Gibson techs out the “Why Not?” Zer0.4.
There’s double-stacked Zoom in the forefoot and it’s got a decoupled outsole because the Air Jordan 28, a favorite of Westbrook’s, also had a decoupled outsole. There’s a TPU plate underfoot and a two-stage traction pattern. A series of thinner and thicker blades, with about 0.25 millimeter of difference in height, make up the outsole.
“You have this top layer that’s touching the ground and as soon as you put a lateral force, there’s a little bit of deflection and that’s when the secondary ones grip in,” Gibson says about the outsole.
The upper makes use of aggressive lines and layered pieces as a reflection of how unique Westbrook is as a person and as a player. Gibson and his team then shed weight on the 4 by removing the midfoot strap that was featured on the 3. But Gibson emphasizes the 4’s heel lockdown.
“The importance of locking the heel came from working with some NFL players actually,” he says. “Worked with Odell [Beckham Jr], where his trainer really wanted his heel to be locked down. And thinking about Russ as a similar sort of player, similar energy—Russ is a lot bigger than Odell—but the dynamic moves that they make on the floor, we felt that it was a really interesting match.”
Gibson is clear in saying that Odell didn’t work directly on the 4, just that his influence on it sparked a way to keep Westbrook safe when he’s dunking in DC this season.
“Russ really likes to see options, iterations of things,” Gibson says. “We had a couple of things in our minds. The lockdown and the cushioning started, the traction came a little bit later, some of these details on the upper came a little bit later. But we just built all these concepts through sketch. I even made a couple of samples that were terrible but just to illustrate a concept. And we would talk about them all and then Russ would talk about the things that he liked about the different things. Then we started to brings those things together.
“We would send him an email with images, we’d get on the phone, video chat—this all happened pre-COVID,” he continues. “And then we’d meet with him in-person, which is the most valuable because then you really get down to what he likes and what he doesn’t like. He would just take a shoe off the table and just go, ‘I don’t want to see that again.’ Super honest.”
The team eventually landed on the “Why Not?” Zer0.4, which will be part of the former MVP’s new journey. Westbrook is focused on using it as a platform to showcase the talents of storytellers and artists from within the Black community. That’s what’s most important to him.