UNVEILED: KYRIE 4
We all thought walking away from LeBron or a sure thing was the biggest mistake he could make this early in his career. We thought he was nuts when he thought the earth was flat. But with a 25-7 record (as of December 18) leading the Boston Celtics atop the Eastern Conference, Kyrie’s happy and running the show.
As we have enjoyed the Kyrie Effect and his current signature shoe — the KYRIE 3 — a lot of us have been waiting for the latest in the signature line — the Kyrie 4. This year, Nike tapped Benjamin Nethongkome to work with Kyrie on his latest signature shoe. On December 4, Benjamin Nethongkome is seated in row 3, seat 1, behind the Celtics bench at Boston’s TD Bank Garden. It’s the first time he has seen his muse, Kyrie Irving, live. “The electricity, the fandom…this is an incredible reminder of how many people love him,” he says.
The Thai-born designer has been working on several basketball projects over the last few years and finally was tasked to work with Irving for this shoe. It’s funny if you think about it– Nethongkome’s first time to see Irving play live was just a few weeks ago. Nethongkome and Irving first met on Wednesday, September 7, 2016, during a meeting to firm up release plans for the KYRIE 3. During the session, Nethongkome was announced as the future lead for the line, a major career step and one that wasn’t without chills. “The major difference between my earlier work and this is that I was just another member of the design team and now I am blazing the trail,” he says. “That pressure was major. Even though we have a team of people behind us, that gave me the most butterflies.”
“By trade, industrial design is about problem solving. If you looked at all the classic Nikes, each silhouette starts as a performance innovation. Shoes become icons, but originate as purposeful things,” Nethongkome explains of why performance, rather than pure style, has driven his career trajectory.
Irving has very unique and specific performance demands. For Nethongkome, these are all good design challenges. The Celtics number 11 bewilders defenders with extreme directional changes. He requires constant support and dynamic traction, even as he banks in the most absurd, contorted foot angles against the court — anything to gain an advantage. “I need to identify a spot and get in and out of it without losing my balance,” says Irving. “Being able to pivot off my spot and have balance in the shoe, regardless of where my foot hits the court, is essential.”
Solutions for Irving’s style are the basis of the KYRIE line. Each successive model evolves ideas about motion banking, making the sidewall an integral part of the overall traction system and redefining surefootedness on the basketball court.
“In terms of the technology, Ben is the guy. He really helps bridge the gap between my game and technology,” says Irving.
Nethongkome’s ideas for the KYRIE 4, which are based on Irving’s desire to improve underfoot cushioning (solved with the application of Cushlon midsole Zoom Air heel unit) while simultaneously making him quicker on the corner, are most overtly realized in the outsole’s zig-zag flex grove. Effectively decoupling the sole, this feature enhances traction and response from side to side, forming more seamless transitions. Once again, the outsole wraps up and around the foot, this time forming a fanged sidewall that emphasizes that the shoe was built for speed.
“As we continue to grow a working relationship, we progress what we believe a shoe for this culture should look like and be like,” says Irving. The athlete pauses to define “the culture” too: “When you are part of evolution, when you say it is for the culture it means you are bringing a new flair. Bringing something new that is unmatched. Bringing that freedom to create against how I play, you create a new silhouette — something that can withstand for ages and stands alone.”
Nethongkome agrees and reminds that the KYRIE 4’s “visual expression is lead by the solution.”
Secondarily, the material choices and blocking are influenced by Irving’s interest in vintage Nike and Jordan silhouettes — a passion shared with Nethongkome.
In those vintage basketball shoes, Irving sees “the authenticity of a performance shoe — something that hits all the marks as a basketball shoe — matched with really good looks.” Nethongkome echoes this with an industrial designer’s added caveat: “Those shoes are classic because they are deeply rooted in innovation.”
The KYRIE 4’s blocking follows suit. The forefoot is built of a zonally engineered mesh, an upgrade from previous KYRIE silhouettes and one that provides both containment and a softer feel. The transition to the heel introduces more classic materials — many versions of the KYRIE 4 will carry a suede or leather — which not only feel great but offer opportunity against a new challenge: how people watch the game today.
Fully aware that the classics of the past were feted over a full 48 minutes and memorialized in static posters, while today’s icons are cemented in 15-second mobile video clips, Irving acknowledges that shoes now need to “be both more innovative and more creative.”
He and Nethongkome honor what they call “the speed of eye test,” always trying to ensure that there is an “instant recall.”
“We want specific things that stand out and spark a memory and draw people back. They don’t need to want the shoe right then and there, but they need an initial spark in 30 seconds,” Irving explains. “The blocking is one of the things we discussed, to isolate parts of the shoe and bring them to life. That’s something I want within the shoe and it extends the details of this masterpiece.”
Just last weekend, the KYRIE 4 ‘Confetti’ launched at several retailers in Boston and New Jersey as he laced them up when they played the Jazz at home last Friday. The KYRIE 4 blk/wht will be available December 20. Stay tuned for more info as to when the KYRIE 4 will be available in the PH.
*excerpts of the article came from the official KYRIE 4 release