James Harden‘s first signature sneaker with adidas isn’t expected to launch until late this year, but it’s probably already considered one of 2016’s most anticipated releases. That’s what happens when a brand gives you $200 million to jumpstart their basketball footwear division and then bills Project Harden as something that’ll extend off the floor, thus lumping you in with style icons like Kanye West and Pharrell. However, if any NBA player has the moxie to fill that role, maybe it is Harden?
Houston’s All-Star guard isn’t just one of the NBA’s most stylish players. He’s also one of the few that’s real with it. His style isn’t industry-developed. It isn’t constantly changing. It just feels authentic and helps ground Harden to a place that fans can relate to.
I caught up with Harden in Toronto during NBA All-Star Weekend. We discussed how life has been with adidas, the progress on his first signature sneaker, and potentially, someday, mixing it up with Yeezy.
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How’s that 3-Stripes life treating you?
Really good, man. I’m all about having a voice and they definitely allow me to do that with my signature shoe, the brand. Everything that goes on that has to do with me and the brand, they always ask questions.
Take me back to the summer on that first day when they came to your crib with trucks of sneakers.
It was a great feeling. When a brand embraces you and shows how much they appreciate you, just delivering gear on gear, it was overwhelming but it was a great feeling. I was excited to be a part of the team.
If you had told a 15-year-old James Harden that would happen to him someday, what would he say?
I would think it was a joke. (Laughs) Like, what? A truckload of shoes for what? How? Why? But I think these last several years in my life have been surreal. They just continue to pile up, blessings on blessings. I’m trying to stay level-headed, stay focused, and continue to be who I am.
Off the court, what shoes are you wearing a lot recently?
I got so many different shoes. The Shell-Toes. Obviously the Yeezys. I wear a lot of adidas sandles now to try to keep my feet aired out. Just whatever I feel like wearing. I got a large variety of kicks in my closet and have a lot to choose from so it’s a good feeling.
Guys like you, Kanye, Pharrell, Pusha are so influential when it comes to style. For you, did that interest evolve or were you always heavily into it?
I think it evolved for me. When you see things, when you’re around things constantly, you start to catch interest in certain things. With fashion, just seeing it, seeing different trends and what was going on. The baggy clothes were in and now more fitted clothes are in. And now we’re getting back to baggy a little bit. I kind of got interested in it like, okay, maybe I can do it? It wasn’t trying, it was who I am. It was who I was. That kind of brought me to where I am today.
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It’s funny you mentioned that. Style changes all the time. But certain sneakers stay relevant forever. Why is that?
Being consistent. Having what you love and what you do and continuing to do it at a high level. That’s all it is. Being consistent with your brand and your business like that, people are going to look at you for one thing and as long as you’re consistent with that one thing, you’ll always be successful.
What are some style essentials for a city like Los Angeles, your hometown?
L.A. is everywhere. (Laughs) It’s not just one style. Personally, if I see something that maybe 90 percent of the world might not wear, I’ll wear it and I’ll be comfortable in it because it’s who I am. You get what I’m saying? I think that’s how a lot of people in L.A. are. That’s why style is very important there and New York is the same way. It’s what separates people who are very fashionable who wear things that are questionable. That’s what separates them.
How would you define your own style?
I got a different variety. Depends on the weather. Depends on how I’m feeling or the occasion I’m going to. It just depends. I think I can mix it up a little bit. I can give you the bow-tie. I can give you a nice clean suit with no bow-tie, no tie. I can mix it up.
Do you mix it up depending on where you are or is it more of weather?
I think it’s where I am. I think the weather, all that plays a factor. Going to a business event, I’ll wear a suit but mix it up, put my own twist to it. More casual event, I might throw some sweats on with a hoodie, some sneakers. It just depends. Like I said, it varies. It depends on how I feel.
What is the Crazylight Boost 2.5 like on the court?
The Crazylight Boost is very comfortable. When I first got to the brand, this is the shoe they told me I was going to be wearing and I put it on and it fit my foot pretty tight. It felt comfortable. It’s light, low-top, which I’m always wearing. And then the 2.5 is even better. It looks better, the design. This All-Star colorway is pretty dope. The brand is building and I’m building. I’m impressed.
To be honest, this All-Star shoe is pretty dope with the features like how it glows in the dark, which is something you don’t see a lot of people do, especially during All-Star Games, one-off events like this.
Some on-court shoes can transition and look great off the floor as well. What goes into that?
I think it has to, for the most part, be low-top. And it has to have some kind of in-between. You can’t make it too dressy and you can’t make it too basketball-ish. You gotta find a medium and right now while designing my own shoe, I’m in the process of trying to do that. Whatever that is, it’s going to take some time because when it’s out I want it to be good no matter what.
Does that come into your thought process on the signature shoe a lot?
Yeah, for sure. I want a shoe that works off the court and on the court, obviously, but off the court and be comfortable. You can wear it with anything. You can wear it with a suit. You can wear it wherever you are going. That right there—I’m talking about kids, older people, whoever, different types of ages, whoever it is, I want my shoe to be great, especially the first one. It’s going to mean everything.
Is there anything in particular that you really want to express through that shoe?
Yeah, how I got to the position that I am in today. Not being the guy that was supposed to be a superstar in the NBA basically his whole life. Off the bench, playing a bench role and then in high school as a freshman becoming a starter and being a starter four years of high school. Not going to a major Division I basketball college in Arizona State, which isn’t really known for basketball. End up being the third overall pick. Coming off the bench in Oklahoma City. And now here I am a superstar and 4-time All-Star. It was a process. It wasn’t just given to me. I had to work for it. I had to earn where I am. That’s what my shoe is going to tell.
I heard you want to eventually work with Kanye?
It was just a thought. Once my shoe gets rolling…obviously he’s hot right now. For the adidas brand to collaborate between basketball and fashion, it would be dope.