NEW YORK — Back in 2012, a white mouthguard worn by LeBron James throughout one of his first playoff runs as a member of the Miami Heat featured one simple inscription: “XVI.” What those Roman numerals signify, 16, means a lot to the King, and should to every player in the NBA. That’s because 16 wins in the postseason are what it takes to earn the distinction of being called an NBA champion.
On Monday, Nike, Air Jordan and Converse honored the upcoming 2018 playoffs, as well as that coveted number James put on his mouthpiece several years ago as motivation, with the exclusive “Art of a Champion” exhibit at Nike’s New York headquarters in midtown Manhattan. It featured a collection of 16 different pairs of sneakers from the three brands, representing multiple generations of basketball. Each pair — from a revamped version of the black-and-white low-top Converse that Bill Russell sported in Game 7 of the 1962 NBA Finals, to the “Pass the Torch” Air Jordan 1s that celebrate Kawhi Leonard’s winning Finals MVP in 2014 — were put on display below unique portraits of the shoes, crafted by a group of artists.
Other sneakers in the collection included Kobe Bryant’s “Final Seconds” Nike Kobe 1 Protros, Kevin McHale’s “No Easy Buckets” Converse Fastbreak high-tops, Scottie Pippen’s “Trifecta” Nike Air Maestro IIs, Rasheed Wallace’s “Rude Awakening” Nike Air Force 1 High Retros, Maya Moore’s “Rook to Queen” Air Jordan 11 lows, Wes Unseld’s “Intangibles” Converse Star Player Oxes, Moses Malone’s “Fo’ Fi’ Fo” Nike Air Force 1 Low Retros, Kevin Durant’s “Battle Tested” Nike Zoom KD IVs, LeBron James’ “25 Straight” Nike Zoom LeBron Soldier 1s, Julius “Dr. J” Erving’s “The Scoop” Converse Pro Leather mid-tops, Michael Jordan’s “Last Shot” Air Jordan 14s, Ray Allen’s “Locked and Loaded” Air Jordan 28s and “Gold Standard” Nike Air Force 270s. Every pair will be available at retail from April to June.
Before the gallery was unveiled, ESPN’s Cari Champion hosted a panel discussion with Allen, Wallace and Erving, who shared their favorite playoff memories from their careers and the shoes they wore at the time. Allen repped Air Jordan (he’s been signed to the brand since its inception in 1996). Wallace, an Air Force 1 aficionado during his 15-year career in the league, talked Nike. And Dr. J, the O.G. of the bunch, reminisced about the old-school swag of Converse.
“It’s a lot to be said about this shoe, as well as the history of Converse,” said Erving, pointing to the Converse on his feet. “Growing up in the ’50s and ’60, the inspiration came from Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson.”
With the reporters, influencers and sneakerheads in attendance, Allen, Erving and Wallace stuck around to detail the experiences they had playing in their signature shoes that the gallery featured. In the middle of the exhibit stood the WNBA’s silver championship trophy and NBA’s gold Larry O’Brien Trophy, which many of the 16 pairs on display helped players obtain.