More Than an Accessory: Locally, Nationally, Sneakers Rise In Self Expression On The NBA Hardwood

by Jake Bisimis, special to NY SportsDay

In a world where appearances seem to be everything, the role that sneakers play in NBA culture is one of extraordinary proportions. While the sneakers that NBA players wear bolster the connection between fashion and the NBA, they accomplish much more than just being a sight to behold on the court. This year the NBA, in an effort to help players identify more with fans and the culture around them, have allowed players to design their own shoes, creating an 82 night canvas for those who would like to send messages or create conversation.

Now other leagues have tried this in a more controlled situation. The NFL the past few years has created “My Cause, My Cleats” one weekend a season to allow players to use their shoes as a way to storytell and MLB has taken one weekend of self-expression every year to really blow out players personalities in everything from uniforms to batting gloves. In other years NBA players have also expressed messages through their footwear, but nothing like this. How will it work and how is it going with sneakerheads?

By loosening the color restrictions on sneakers, the NBA is giving more freedom to its players, giving them the opportunity to express themselves and create more engagement with their fans than ever before.

”The rule change speaks to two trends we’ve seen in the NBA for quite some time now. The first, its ties to fashion, and the second, its commitment to players’ freedom and expression of individuality”, said Zack Weiner, cofounder of social media sports network, Overtime.

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard, whose team visits the Knicks Tuesday night, has taken full advantage of the opportunity by giving fans the chance to create and submit custom designs of the Adidas Dame 4 onto the Adidas website, for Lillard to potentially wear during a game. This is a unique experience for the fans that establishes a stronger connection between them and the player and creates more exposure for Lillard’s signature shoe.

Another player capitalizing on the increased opportunity for self-expression is Brooklyn Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie. Dinwiddie, who actually owns his own shoe company K8IROS, has flaunted customized sneakers that pay homage to many different figures so far this season, including Allen Iverson, Colin Kaepernick, and numerous media outlets to thank them for their hard work. His Stan Lee shoe last week was all the buzz on social media, and he will take advantage of the opening of “CREED II” this week by wearing shoes against the Philadelphia 76ers as an homage to the film, since he is all in on his love for the “Rocky” series. Dinwiddie has also taken the ability to self-express to another level by donating the shoes after each game for a cause, and works with the noted street artist Kickasso to make sure that each design is both memorable and unique. Also, since he is not constrained by a shoe deal, a rarity today, he has his own say in design.

While other players have gone to a rainbow of colors thus far, the holiday season should see an uptick in interest and innovation as fans turn more towards the NBA for attention. Let’s see what happens for example, on Christmas Day, when the NBA basically has the world’s sporting eyes to themselves. Christmas Day games have traditionally been the launch of new uniforms, so why not sneaker innovation? Then we have the All Star Game as well, where players like to trick things out.

As for the homestanding Knicks and other moves by the Nets? A player who is extremely socially conscious like Enes Kanter may be able to use his feet more for cause in the coming weeks as well. We shall see.

Early on it seems that the rule change is a slam dunk for the NBA, as the players are using the rule to their advantage, and the league is continuing to prove the point that it understands the player culture, the importance of freedom of expression, and how to create unique engagement for its fans.

”I think it’s great that the NBA has fully embraced the sneaker culture around basketball. It allows the players to get even more attention for themselves, the sneaker companies, as well as more exposure for each game”, said Buster Scher, another young disruptor in the sports space and a basketball tastemaker as the founder of social media basketball community Hoops Nation.

While most people follow athletes for their talent, it is refreshing to be given closer insight to the human-being underneath the jersey literally starting from the ground up. The growing value of sneaker culture, especially around basketball, makes this move watch to watch, to see both what the market will bear and how the first adopting players of the NBA use their shoes as a canvas to storytell to the world, one lace at a time.

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