It has been thirteen years since LeBron James first signed with Nike, straight out of high school in 2003 and over ten years since his first signature shoe with Nike debuted. With the release of the latest LeBron signature, the Zoom LeBron XIII (pictured above), a lot of collectors and sneaker heads are starting to wonder, “when will we see a retro of some of the earlier LeBron product?”.
First hinting of a possible retro back in August 2013 after posting a photo to Twitter and Instagram wearing the Air Zoom Generation, the conversation among sneaker heads and on social media really picked up. Would you pick up a pair? With todays current consumer, sneaker market, and footwear trends be enough to attract people to the Air Zoom Generation or Zoom LeBron II? That is the question for Nike.
LeBron’s first signature shoe, the Air Zoom Generation was designed by a trio of homerun-hitter designers from Nike – Aaron Cooper, Eric Avar, and Tinker Hatfield. Together they would make arguably one of the best first signature shoes since the Air Jordan 1. LeBron would go on to wear the shoe during the 2003-2004 season and soon progress more into the future of the LeBron signature line. After a rumor floated around that the Zoom Generation was going to be retroed back in 2006 in a camo color way that never made it to market, it left some OG collectors in disappointment. But would that have been too soon for a retro? It would have only been three years since the release of the Zoom Generation…
In the early years of LeBron’s partnership with Nike, we would typically only see a few colorways for each shoe – a home colorway, an away colorway, and All-Star color way. As his shoes evolved over the years, we began to see more and more colorways and different releases. Around the time the LeBron 8’s and 9’s were releasing is when more colorways and different stories and inspirations began to show up on LeBrons. Starting with the LeBron X, Nike created a LeBron ‘EXT’ or Extension line where they would take the signature on court shoe and remix it with more off-court friendly and upscale materials and colors. Nike did really well with this concept by creating just enough hype for each shoe while still maintaining to release them at limited quantities. In doing so, the demand was there and consumers really loved the shoes. Pictured below are four version of the LeBron X ‘EXT’. Each shoe used a different material on the upper while keeping the same full-length Zoom Air midsole from the goncourt version.
If Nike were to bring back the Zoom Generaton, LeBron II, or even the LeBron III and release them in their original colors and in small quantities, the hype around each shoe would be there. In today’s current market, the demand for LeBron’s shoes just isn’t there like it used to be. Nike, in a way, has over saturated the market with all the different colorways and different stories starting with the LeBron 9. Athletes today get the misconception that LeBron’s shoes are ‘bulky’ or ‘to heavy to play in’, (which could be true, depending on what type of player you are or what position you play), and have often been the reasoning behind the diminishing value of his current shoes. Look at the LeBron XII for example. Only a few colorways of that shoe sold through last season, with most just ending up at outlets. Too many colors and too many stories makes for a confused basketball consumer.
The thing that is special about LeBron’s early shoes and designs is that they’re simple enough to play in and perform, the colors aren’t overwhelming, and they’re stylish enough to wear off court with a pair of jeans or sweats. You look at the Zoom Generation and how sleek looking it is – that shoe still looks good till this day. Same goes for the LeBron II as well, a simple design done by Ken Link with just enough details, call outs, and colors on the shoe to make it pop.
In 2013, Nike brought back Kobe Bryant’s shoes in what was called the “Prelude Pack”, which featured the Nike Zoom Kobe 1 through the Kobe 8 each launching different weeks in late December of 2013 and leading up to the launch of the Nike Kobe 9 in early 2014. Although the the Prelude Pack didn’t feature any original Kobe colorways, each color way was unique in its own way because each pair had a specific story or meaning to Kobe’s life. Although the shoes are completely different than LeBron and his brand, but would a similar concept be good for LeBron? The idea has definitely been tossed around at Nike HQ before. Would LeBron’s 1 through III do the same if each shoe had its own story relating to pinnacle moments in LeBron’s career?
Sneakerheads across the college basketball ranks and NBA ranks have even brought back some of LeBron’s early Nike footwear to the court, such as Nick Young, Norris Cole, and various college players. It’s truly amazing that the shoes can still perform on the court, being over a decade old and also a testament to the classic designs of LeBron’s early sneakers with Nike.
Nike may not be quite ready to start retroing LeBron product just yet, but people are definitely beginning to wonder. His first few shoes were classics, then leading up to some even more popular shoes such as the LeBron 7 and LeBron 8 down the line. Whenever Nike does decide to bring back retro LeBron’s, the timing will have to be perfect. Right now just doesn’t seem like the best time to do so. How would you feel about a LeBron retro? Would you like to see some retro LeBron shoes on the market?