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When nearly 11 million viewers tuned in for Sunday’s rematch of the 2016 NBA Finals, it was clear that the focus was on the playoff-like intensity and the blooming rivalry between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
That hasn’t always been the case. In past years, brands have looked to steal the spotlight during the Christmas Day schedule by launching new uniform designs and silhouettes, along with “disruptive” sneakers meant to clash and stand apart from team colors. Beginning in 2010, Nike built a full color story around Kobe Bryant’s Lakers facing the LeBron James-led Heat, outfitting every player on the court in neon green or bright red sneakers that were unmistakable on television.
Ever since, Christmas Day has been an anticipated exception to the league’s standard uniformity rules. Players are allowed to go outside of their team’s color palette and wear sneakers either tied to the Christmas hues of green and red, or holiday-centric themes in any color or graphics pre-approved by the league.
As the initial leader of the movement, Nike has shifted its strategy this season, moving away from the loud footwear.
“We’re changing things up,” said Kevin Dodson, Nike Basketball’s senior footwear product director. “For a long time, we had a great run and did some moments that you could count on every year that Nike was going to show up at. Like all good things, it’s about doing something new and something fresh.”
This year, the brand debuted the newest signature sneakers from Kyrie Irving and LeBron James instead of styling existing shoes already on the market.
Irving took the court in his third Nike shoe, and LeBron unveiled his 14th namesake model, showcasing their new looks. On the opposing Nike side, Kevin Durant wore his standard white, blue and yellow version of his KD9, and Draymond Green stuck with the black and yellow edition of the Zoom Clear Out he’d been wearing all season on the road.
In the rest of the Christmas games, most Nike players wore simple white sneakers with a gold Swoosh accent and grey marbled outsole. Adidas players could be seen in Christmas-themed white shoes with mint green panels and tree graphics. Stephen Curry’s vivid orange Under Armour shoes were styled with a “Red Hot Santa” concept.
“We’re going to attack things totally different for this season,” Dodson said. “We just want to keep it interesting and have kids feel like they’re seeing something different from us. This year, we love the opportunity to do some different things, but we also knew it was time to mix it up.”
Rather than tie itself to the 15-plus theme nights allowed by the league throughout the course of the season – including Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter – Nike is looking to latch onto just a handful of moments.
“Celebrating Black History Month and starting on MLK Day will always be [big] for us to make statements,” Dodson said. “It’s always a fun opportunity to tell great stories, but the thing that we’re really focused on is trying to refresh that whole model.”
Christmas Day will be one of several times the brand will look to mix things up by highlighting its signature athletes. “We’re going to pick a few moments a year where we really try to disrupt on court,” Dodson said. “But they’ll probably be different from the things you’ve seen in the past.”
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