On March 12, 2015, the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs put on a competitive favorite for Game of the Year. It was an intensely fought contest between play-off perennials that exceeded perhaps even the loftiest expectations. What’s more, everybody got in on the action, with plays coming from the likes of Danny Green, Boris Diaw, and Tristan Thompson. But, for anyone watching that game, we don’t remember much about all of that. What we do remember, however, is the play of one Kyrie Irving. A franchise record-setting 57 point performance wasn’t enough for the Duke product. He also had to hit an eleventh hour buzzer beating three to tie the game…over the best defender in basketball.
Yes, we remember that ridiculous shot and the following hush that fell on the San Antonio crowd like a ton of bricks. You know what else we remember? The shoes.
After Irving’s historic performance, Nike almost immediately named the until then unremarkable version of the Kyrie 1 “57 Points.” And thus was born one of the fastest selling iterations of the Kyrie line. In fact, it’s probably second only to the Duke inspired “Brotherhood” and “Flytrap” drops on the list of Kyrie 1’s I most frequently saw on courts. That, in a nutshell, is Mamba marketing. Take an essentially standard and inconspicuous colorway and tie it to an unforgettable occasion.
When Kobe Bryant played his storybook level final NBA game, it seemed like the movie would never end. The last three minutes of that contest against Utah were particularly memorable. In classic Bryant fashion, the Lakers great hit tough shot after tough shot to bring his team back into a position to sneak away with a win. We’re all going to remember that game very clearly for a very long time and a lot of us will have an even more vivid memory of the shoes Bryant wore for it.
Flash back a couple of years, to 2014 when Bryant surpassed Jordan on the all-time scoring list, and I still remember the specially released sneakers as vividly as the occasion itself. I’m not alone on that, and Nike knows it.
Linking sneaker colorways to momentous occasions isn’t a new concept for basketball shoes. In fact, it’s sort of an expectation when a sponsored player does something special. But, the difference with Kyrie is that he’s taken the flagship position left by Kobe Bryant, whose mythological on-court exploits proved to be the mother of all sneaker marketing. So, what do you do when the line replacing the Kobe series is a collection of, let’s face it, largely unremarkable footwear? You let the player, and his own increasingly ridiculous exploits, make them special.
Back to Kyrie. Let’s take his most famous moment into consideration. Playing the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, Irving had about a minute to make something happen. In response to some fantastic defense by Stephen Curry, Uncle Drew messed around and hit one of the toughest ISO three-pointers you can think of. It served as a huge part of the most memorable NBA Finals in quite some time. LeBron James in tears, Kevin Love in equal jubilation, Ty Lue struck with the shock of coming back from a 3-1 deficit to win it all, so much happened that night. Even with the silence of the GSW crowd, you couldn’t absorb it all.
But, those shoes…