Sneaker Confessionals: 20 Years From Now You Will Remember LeBron as a Sneaker King

I don’t have many sneaker regrets–I buy what I like and like what I have–but the Nike LeBron 8 “Entourage” called my name long after I outgrew the show that inspired it. I missed out on the original release, however, and I had never quite found the right time to get them.

About a month ago, I spotted a pair while holding my 4-day-old son. Not that this particular moment in time needed anything at all to make it more special, but I decided to buy myself a celebratory present anyway, upholding what has become one of my favorite traditions.

The stuff we buy is ultimately that–just stuff. But at the same time, our possessions can sometimes signify something far greater, especially for those of us who love sneakers for the right reasons.

I decided after watching LeBron James play in high school that he offered a unique opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something special. Starting with a pair of Air Zoom Generations to celebrate landing my first job in sports, I’ve cultivated a modest but cherished collection of Nike LeBron sneakers. And as anyone who collects can tell you, sometimes just lacing up a specific pair can serve as a time machine to take you back to a special period in your life.

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To watch the entire basketball world descend on Northeast Ohio for the debut of the Nike LeBron XIII, it’s obvious its namesake has reached heights only one other sneaker pitchman has explored. Without getting into the usual debate about on- or off-court legacies, James is the most reasonable facsimile of Jordan in pretty much every way.

That said, it’s pointless to stack LeBron’s–or anyone’s–sneaker resume up against Jordan’s cavalcade of classics. You just can’t win. But what The King has in common with The Goat is that both of their personal brands thrive on innovation.

When you buy a numbered Air Jordan game shoe, you know you’re getting the latest and greatest in on-court technology. Likewise, it’s been enriching to watch LeBron and his eponymous sneaker set out on parallel paths, adapting and improving. Case in point: The LeBron XIII is lighter than its predecessor, with its trademark hexagonal Zoom Air bags tweaked to offer heightened performance.

LeBron James

“They are able to not only make shoes lighter but also keep them durable,” James told the media at the launch event. “For a guy like myself, carrying the weight that I carry at the speed that I go, they are able to still give me that lockdown suspension that I need when I’m playing the game. But at the same time, they help me be able to be as fast and as quick as some of the smaller guys in our League as well.”

Let’s be honest: James could dominate every game while wearing the boxes his sneakers come in. But if having top-of-the-line sneakers gives him even the slightest extra boost, they’re worth their (reduced) weight in gold.

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At 30 years old, LeBron’s on-court career probably has more years behind it than in front of it. It will be fascinating to see whether he can follow the example set by Jordan, who has continued to grow his personal brand long after he was no longer the best player in the game, much less a player at all.

If you pay attention, though, James is already beginning to set the stage for his next act. At last year’s LeBron 12 introduction, he floated the idea of wanting to round up a team of athletes to wear his sneakers and spread his gospel. (Sound familiar?)

James is also putting his unique spin on things. Along with the work his LeBron James Family Foundation does in the community, 16 Akron students were selected based on attendance and grades to design a LeBron shoe. Plus, his new sneaker was engineered to address the specific physical needs of infants, toddlers, pre-schoolers, and grade school kids. If one was endeavoring to make his presence sustainable in the future, planting these sorts of seeds with the younger generation would seem a great way to do it.

Not to mention, James will have plenty of factors keeping him in the public eye. Nike seems overdue to release a retro LeBron, though he periodically has hinted at the possibility. When that begins in earnest, retros alone should keep him on shelves for years to come. LeBron has also shown some legit comedic chops on Saturday Night Live and in the movie Trainwreck–seriously, he was terrific–which led to a major deal with Warner Bros.

The point is, even if you’ve never owned a LeBron sneaker, it’s hardly too late to get in on the action. (The “Written in the Stars” LeBron XIII, releasing this Saturday at Champs Sports, wouldn’t be a bad place to start.) Based on his gutsy, excellent performance in this year’s playoffs, James is not nearly finished on the court; his sneaker line should go strong at least as long as he does. And considering the groundwork he’s laid for the future with his personal brand, you might still be buying LeBrons 20 years down the road.

For my part, I certainly hope that’s the case. After all, I’m hoping that the future holds plenty of things for both me and my son to celebrate.

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image via Keith Allison/Flickr Creative Commons