Behind the Scenes of the Air Jordan 34 Launch With Zion Williamson

Jarrel Harris
Sports Illustrated

The look on the faces of the kids at Harlem’s Dunlevy Milbank Center as they witnessed Zion Williamson throw down a few dunks, just solidified that the No. 1 pick is a marketing star in the making. Children gravitate to the 19-year-old and it is a reason why Jordan Brand has picked him to be the future of the company and the face of the newly unveiled Air Jordan XXXIV.

“It was love. From the second I walked onto the court it was nothing but love and I mean I can’t ask for much more,” said Williamson. “The kids were hyping me up and I did some cool dunks, so I couldn’t disappoint them.”

Williamson's road to joining Jordan Brand is well-documented. The former Duke star took the NCAA by storm last season and he became one of the most sought after sneaker prospects since LeBron James. The moment that crystallized Williamson’s potential as a sneaker prospect came in a game against UNC when he suffered a mild knee sprain after he slipped 30 seconds into a game and busted out of his Nike PG 2.5 sneakers. The moment created a social media frenzy and a sneaker war. Williamson made a point that it was not Nike’s fault and put the blame on himself for playing in them a lot.

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"I don't think that really had anything to do with me selecting Jordan Brand," said Williamson. "It was just one of those things where the shoe was kinda worn out because I had been practicing in it a lot and played a few hard games in it. So I think that was just kinda like my mistake. I just need to change my shoe."

After fielding offers from just about every sneaker brand, Williamson joined Jordan in July for a record rookie sneaker deal worth $75 million over five years. He joined Russell Westbrook, Jayson Tatum, Blake Griffin, Rui Haichmura and WNBA stars Kia Nurse and Asia Durr as marquee acts

"I was just looking for comfortability to be honest. That was pretty much it. I just wanted to feel comfortable where I was at," Williamson said. “When it came down to it, Jordan Brand was the most comfortable for me. I didn't feel like I was leaving anything on the table. I feel like I'm joining a family.”

Jordan Brand
Jordan Brand

Williamson will wear the Air Jordan XXXIV during his rookie season with the Pelicans. The 34th signature sneaker in Michael Jordan’s iconic line is one of the lightest basketball shoes ever created in Jumpman line. The number 23 is featured in Morse code on the upper part of the shoe and each colorway will have unique marks (for example, the heel counter is different on each colorway). The outsole has “J4 – 34, 2.89-2019” to signify the 30th anniversary from the Air Jordan IV to the Air Jordan XXXIV.

"It's lit! Simple as that. I think people forget I'm only 19, and to be this situation where they wanted me to unveil it [the Air Jordan XXXIV] is a huge honor,” Williamson said. “I want a shoe that is comfortable and stylish on and off the court. The XXXIV delivers on all of this and more.”

In joining such as iconic brand, it is tough to live up to the hype around MJ. But the Pelicans forward says he is up for the challenge.

"A lot of people keep throwing the word 'pressure' around. I don't feel no pressure at all,” said Williamson. “I have the job that I dreamed about since I was a kid, so I don't really see it as pressure. I love the position I'm in right now."

The Air Jordan XXXIV will be seen everywhere from NBA courts to high school and college teams. The sneaker drops Sept. 25.

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