Kevin Durant’s Sneaker History

Michael Jordan will release his 30th signature sneaker sometime in 2015 and while that number dwarfs all other athletes, we’ve seen a few other basketball stars support successful lines. LeBron. Penny. Allen Iverson had Reeboks dropping for well over a decade. Kobe Bryant had a solid signature line with adidas, and now has an even better on with Nike. Even Tracy McGrady hit close to double-digits.

Kevin Durant has now released seven signature shoes, dating back to 2009, and the latest Nike KD7 colorway, dubbed “Good Apples,” will be dropping at Champs Sports this Saturday. But the OKC MVP didn’t truly enter sneaker history until this year, when up-and-comer Under Armour tried to lure him away from Nike by offering somewhere between $265 and $285 million over 10 years.

“They won’t make money on it, at least at first,” Matt Powell, analyst with SportsOneSource, told CNN Money. “That said, they can absorb an overpriced deal much more easily than anyone else.”

It’s a lot of money, LeBron and D. Rose money. But it’s also about analyzing Kevin Durant’s potential, especially now that he’s signed to Jay Z‘s Roc Nation. Last year his sneaker sales jumped from $30 million to $175 million, and CNN Money reports those numbers are expected to jump 50 percent again this year. It makes sense. Last season, Durant vaulted to the top of the NBA, winning the league MVP and surpassing even LeBron James in statistical output. Is he the best player in the world? Probably not, but no one would be surprised if he, at 26, becomes that by the end of the year. Add in OKC’s potential championship window and the Nike KD7 could become what the Air Jordan 3 and the LeBron 9 are to Michael Jordan and LeBron James, respectively.

Durant’s signature sneaker line has come a long way since its debut under lead designer Leo Chang. Now known for its incredible storytelling, its somewhat signature mid-foot strap, the low cut, and the “best of both words” design technology, the first KD sneaker offered forefoot Zoom Air and a durable leather upper. It was a solid sneaker to hoop in, but it failed to stand out aesthetically and lacked the personal vision many of his later models did.

And while the KD II is proclaimed as perhaps the best performance sneaker in his line, it still felt like Nike and Durant were working through things, figuring out what worked, what didn’t, what made sense, what didn’t. They unveiled the mid-foot strap in the II, then dropped it for the III. They dropped the III on NIKEiD, but then released two tame All-Star colorways for Durant’s first and second appearances in the midseason classic. They went with a high cut on the II before dropping it significantly on the III.

Nike KD IV "Nerf"
Nike Basketball

It was the KD IV, originally released in 2011, that really made people stop and take notice. Hyperfuse was inserted. The mid-foot strap returned in a big way with an intricate lockdown system. But most of all, Chang and the designers took the sneaker to the next level with a couple of incredible colorways. The “Nerf” colorway spawned an entire generations of customizers. The “Weatherman” colorway spawned a storyline that’s been playing out in Durant’s sneakers for the past three years. As part of Nike’s “Galaxy” All-Star theme, Durant’s PE Orlando classic that season blew away all previous editions. To top it all off, Durant won a gold medal that summer in the KD IV.

The following year’s release will forever be remembered for the way it threw the classic KD design on its head, disregarding the low cut for a super high cut and the pronounced heel cup. Though the tech was virtually all the same as the IV — Hyperfuse upper and forefoot Zoom and Phylon — it was the appearance that shocked everyone. The IV was a classic; the V didn’t quite live up to the billing. However, Chang and Nike did push the line forward in one fashion: storytelling.

Up until that point, Durant’s signature sneakers had helped to tell a story through his shoes, with outsole childhood graphics on the KD I and thunderbolts to represent his teammates on the III, but the V dug deep into Durant’s upbringing in the DMV area to produce the greatest, most cohesive storyline we’ve ever seen in a signature line. That continued with 2013’s KD VI, which showcased awesome colorways like the Texas, Meteorology, the debuting Seat Pleasant, the Aunt Pearl, and the PB&J. As a child, Kevin wanted to be a weatherman, and that love has been hinted at — directly or indirectly — over and over again by Chang and Nike during the last few years.

Most sneaker lines that release as many colorways as this one lack structure. Yet the KD line has always felt connected by its supreme storytelling.

That all set the stage for this year’s summer reveal of the KD7, poised to become Durant’s best sneaker yet through its mid cut, the return of the strap, the introduction of Hyperposite tech in this line, as well as Flywire and Zoom Air, and, of course, a few amazing colorways. Already, the “Easy Money” and “Calm Before the Storm” colorways figure to be classics, while the “35K” debut colorway is, by far, the best debuting colorway in the line so far.

This year’s sneaker has it all, and if Durant is able to win a championship (and maybe another MVP?) in them, they’ll certainly go down as his best yet. To justify his new sneaker deal, Powell predicts that Nike would have to sell $420 million. That won’t happen. But Durant’s signature line has now surpassed everyone else’s — Kobe, Rose, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade — outside of LeBron.

“It’s been a great journey with Nike and I’m confident giving Leo specific feedback on what I’m looking for in a shoe,” Durant said at the release. “For the KD7, I really wanted a shoe that allowed me to move quickly, while having great support and stability. I also wanted to bring back the strap.”

Everyone talks about how it’s probably a foregone conclusion that Durant will one day break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s record for career scoring — at barely 26 years old, Durant is already at nearly 15,000 points — but what about his sneakers? When it’s all said and done, the Nike KD line will go down as one of the best ever. Just like the player.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney