In Nike’s world, it’s the Instinct, one of seven LeBron 12 color schemes introduced to the world Tuesday. A mix of purple and black with orange and teal accents, it shimmers a little, like the feathers of the tiny bird.
It’s not exactly the first — or second, or third, or 12th — animal you’d associate with King James. (Of course, Nike has that one covered too. In red, white and black, it’s known as the Heart of a Lion and will be the version LeBron will wear most often during the upcoming Cavs season.)
Of course, you’ve probably never thought of your sneakers the way the folks at Nike do — or even the way collectors and basketball junkies obsess over them.
Serious science goes into making sports gear like this. The Nike Sports Research Lab started in 1980 and has collected more than 30 years worth of data on athletes, performance and equipment.
“We’re at the intersection between the science of human performance and the science of the products we build,” says Matt Nurse, senior director of Nike Sport Research Lab.
“We have maybe the largest sports knowledge database in the world.”
That also means they likely know more about the science of LeBron than just about anyone else. His power, speed, agility, explosiveness. It’s all there.
All those characteristics are in the new LeBron 12 too.
One of the biggest changes starts right at the bottom, where five hexagonal-shaped Nike Zoom Air bags look like some updated version of the ‘80s game Simon. In the past, that cushioning and energy return system was a single piece. Now, it has been placed strategically to map the pressure points in the foot while playing.
And while it’s easy to start getting geeky about the advances in the LeBron 12 — breathable Megafuse construction (the stuff that looks like black and purple mesh) and Hyperposite wings (which adds strength and support without sacrificing flexibility) — I like the Instinct because it’s unexpected. The Instinct also embodies my favorite part about LeBron as a basketball player: his vision, his awareness and his decision-making. It’s the part I’ve missed most since he’s been gone.
The science guys know LeBron’s vision tested at 20/20. They determined that he can release a 40 mph pass in 0.18 seconds, less than half the time it takes to blink an eye.
The Nike designers know a little about him too. So sure, a hummingbird.
“Hummingbirds see so well. They see better than humans,” says Kevin Dodson, Nike’s senior product line manager for basketball footwear. “They’re insanely quick. As they see, they can react, instantaneously.”
But even with that kind of vision, LeBron didn’t quite get the hummingbird idea at first, either. “He was like, ‘You guys are crazy. You guys are out of control,’ ” says Dodson. “But once we started to tell him about it, he was like, ‘I’m in. I love it.’ ”
So peek under Lebron’s name on the tag, and you’ll find a feather designed in oranges and purples. The bird appears in a teal hexagon on the heel tag. It’s all in there.
But mostly, I like the Instinct because I’m glad LeBron’s all-in here.
Heart of a Lion Oct. 30
Dunk Force Nov. 11
Instinct Nov. 22
Six Meridians Nov. 29
Trillion Dollar Man Dec. 1
Data Dec. 20
The LeBron 12 is also available for customization on nike.com/nikeid, beginning Oct. 6.
By Steve Gleydura