2. James Harden
With images floating around the Internet of Harden in a potential “unofficial” signature sneaker this summer, it’s not hard to imagine the Beard going one step further in the future and getting his own shoe.
Harden is one of the game’s top 10 players and has usurped the two-guard throne from a mending Kobe Bryant and an ailing Dwyane Wade. He regularly kills the commercials he’s on. (Remember the Foot Locker song? That was an instant classic.) He plays in a big city for an up-and-coming team, and he has the game that typically translates into sneaker sales. With the Beard also being one of the five most fashionable players in the league, he’s a deserving candidate. No question.
Harden spent most of last season balling in his favored Nike Zoom Crusader and the Zoom Run The One, the shoe many are speculating will be his own next year, is very similar.
Harden still has work to do about his on-court reputation—I don’t think anyone expelled less energy on defense than he did last year—but as far as his kick game goes, most of the heavy lifting is behind him.
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1. Russell Westbrook
Westbrook is the NBA’s fashion icon. He puts himself out there more than Harden. He’s more confident and more willing to try something new than Kevin Durant. He’s more versatile than Rajon Rondo. And he doesn’t swing and miss as often as Dwyane Wade.
After a postseason that saw him morph into a new age Oscar Robertson, it’s obvious Westbrook’s knee injuries are behind him. Against Memphis he almost averaged a triple-double. Versus the Clippers, he shot 49 percent while averaging nearly 28 points and nine assists on CP3. Then in Game 4 against the Spurs, he matched MJ, going for 40 points, 10 assists, five rebounds, and five steals. Physically, with Derrick Rose still not 100 percent, Westbrook is the most destructive guard in the league and has a growing fanbase willing to overlook his flaws.
The Jordan Brand made Westbrook the leading man for the Air Jordan XX8 last year. It was a perfect match, as the shoe was the closest thing you’ll see to high fashion in the NBA. Then, this season, Westbrook was the first player to debut the XX9, featuring an all-woven upper, a first for a basketball shoe. I think it’s safe to say the Jumpman understands what it has in Russ West.
While his style is nothing like Jordan’s smooth, flavored look, Westbrook is every bit the ferocious competitor Money was. This is a perfect match, and JB should take advantage of Westbrook’s interesting talents by giving him something unique.
Don’t hate on the brodie.
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Not everyone can be LeBron James. Not everyone can sell $300 million worth of signature sneakers. But can they be Kevin Durant instead?
After just $35 million in signature shoe sales in 2012, Durant’s Nike KD sneakers jumped to $175 million in 2013, according to Forbes. With another spectacular season under his belt, one that included his first league MVP, it’s safe to say they’ll probably soar higher in 2014.
Durant must be the model for today’s aspiring young players. He’s probably not a global icon–at least not yet. He doesn’t necessarily have a superstar personality. He’s not a high-flying aerial artist or someone who consistently drops mixtape-like moves in a game. He’s just a great basketball player with a down-to-Earth personality. Fans adore him. Players respect him. Everyone recognizes him.
While Nike still eats the majority of the sneaker pie, its smaller brethren are making headway. Everyone from Under Armour to Li-Ning wants a piece, and this’ll lead to more opportunities for players outside of the ‘Bron/KD/Kobe trifecta.
With an older generation on its last legs it’s time for new blood to step forward and take the baton. Here are 10 of the league’s best players that don’t yet have signature sneakers.