16 games – that’s all it takes to win an NBA Championship. Sounds pretty easy right? Tell that to the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Clippers – just three of the various teams that have been around for several decades and never hoisted the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy. Winning a championship in any professional sport is no easy task, and so, with the NBA postseason approaching, Nike wanted to commemorate some of the greatest moments from the playoffs, on the feet of the greatest players who put the game on their shoulders and, in the process, became immortal.
From Michael Jordan’s iconic Game 6 championship-clinching jumper in The Finals in 1998, to Bill Russell’s 30-point and 40-rebound explosion in Game 7 of The Finals in 1962, to Kobe Bryant’s first round Game 4 buzzer-beater in 2006, this new collection, Art of a Champion, throws it back to the shoes seen in those historic moments, allowing fans to get their hands on special edition Converse, Air Jordans and Nikes. Released sporadically over the next two and a half months, there will be 16 total, one for each postseason win necessary for players to earn a championship ring – and all of the glory that comes with it. There will be 14 shoes to start, followed by a Nike Air Force 270 “Gold Standard” which mimics the look of the aforementioned gold trophy handed to the winning team after 16 successful games. The last shoe, well that remains to be seen – as it will honor a great moment from this season’s champion.
Earlier this week, Nike held an enormous event at its New York City Headquarters to introduce the collection to the world and give the media an opportunity to speak to three players whose shoes were featured, one with each specific brand – former Philadelphia 76ers Hall of Fame great Julius Erving, former Detroit Pistons star Rasheed Wallace and recently announced Hall of Famer, Ray Allen. For each player, the new shoe – a tribute to its similar old school counterpart – meant something different, as though the collection has the ability to teleport the each player back in time to their special moment.
“It just takes you back,” Allen admitted. “What [a sneaker] does for you, like when you look at a car or a video, you just remember like what you guys don’t see – my first time opening up the box, the time I spent in the locker room lacing them up, changing the shoestrings. There’s so much connected to them.”
With an 18-year career often comes many postseason experiences and Allen certainly had his fair share of big shots – and even bigger moments. But none compare to what he did in The Finals in 2013, with the Miami Heat trailing by three points – and 3-2 in the series – to the San Antonio Spurs with 19.4 seconds left. Allen got a feed from Chris Bosh, stepped back and hit a monstrous basket, even with Tony Parker in his face, to tie the game. Ultimately, the shot turned the tide in the game and lead the Heat to a win, which was followed by a Game 7 win, leading to back-to-back championships in South Beach. The new Jordan XX8 “Locked and Loaded” honors that iconic moment and will be released on May 12.
The Art of a Champion collection will launch this weekend, on April 14, with the Kobe 1 Proto “Final Seconds” model, focusing on his first round dismantling of the Phoenix Suns – complete with his No. 8. It will retail for $175, with others in the collection hovering right around the same price, or as low as $100.
There are really some iconic shoes on the docket, but Erving and the Converse Pro Leather Mid, nicknamed “The Scoop”, definitely stole the show at the event. An almost mirror tribute to what Erving wore in 1980 during Game 4 of The Finals, when he left the Los Angeles Lakers dumbfounded with a move that defied the laws of modern physics. And it never gets old for “Dr. J”, who seemed thrilled not only that the moment lives on and defines a generation of basketball, but also that the shoe is reminiscent to what he actually wore.
“I think it’s a good representation of what I had on my feet when I played basketball,” Erving said with a smile. “I played in the NBA, I played in the ABA, I played around the world, I grew up in Long Island. And Converse has seemingly always been a part of my life and now it continues to be.”
You can see the entire line and learn about the iconic moments below, per Nike: