There are only so many people who can tell Kevin Durant what to do. Nike designer Leo Chang is one of them.
Chang has designed all 12 of Durant’s signature shoes, the latest of which was released on Thursday. In formulating the KD 12, Chang knew the sneaker’s namesake required a significant adjustment: Durant needed a higher, more compact heel. Considering Durant has worn a low shoe since the KD VI, Chang knew he had to explain this change delicately.
“We told him – it was a kind of a joke, but kind of serious – ‘Yo, you’ve been popping out of your shoes a lot,’” Chang says. “We want to make sure, functionally, he’s locked into his shoe. It’s not so much about action around the ankle. It’s more just making sure he stays in his shoe. So we talked with him, like, ‘Hey, we want to just maybe go just a little higher than normal for you.’”
Enter the KD 12. Beyond the heel adjustment, this shoe is notable for being the first Nike Basketball shoe with full-length Nike Air Zoom cushioning stitched directly to the upper portion of the shoe. This allows the foot to be closer to the air bag, while creating a broken-in feeling requested by Durant. Four-way directional Flywire cables in the upper are designed to provide stability and lock down (and are even written about on the inner of the shoe).
The KD 12 will retail for $150 (black and white “The Day One” colorway, seen here, will go live on April 6).
Chang’s collaboration with Durant goes back even before the KD1 to such models as the Blue Chip Supreme. Like Durant, Chang came from a single-mother household and says that has helped him connect with the 10-time All-Star. Building and improving a product over a decade also strengthens their bond.
“He knows that I have his best interest in mind,” Chang says. “I know his foot and I know his style and I can anticipate his needs. A lot of times, we will find ourselves totally aligned on our ideas.
“I don’t know that there was a lot of disagreements or anything like that [with the KD 12]. It was more when he would have a question, I would explain it to him. I don’t think there were many challenges. I think we just have a really good working relationship and a good amount of trust.”
Chang started working with Durant before the latter became a scoring champion, NBA MVP and NBA Finals MVP. Those Nike loyalties pay royalties: Durant’s profile, bank account and business network have grown, but his Nike inner circle has remained mostly consistent. That may be more important than ever this season, when Durant’s icy rapport with the media over his impending free agency has become a national storyline.
“Over the years, especially lately, he’s been scrutinized for every little thing he says or every little thing does,” Chang acknowledges. “Knowing that there’s a team here that he’s been in with for a long time that knows him and can represent that, I think it’s always a refreshing thing that feels comfortable with him. It’s a team that he can trust.”
In terms of construction, Chang prioritized a lightweight feel, one which eliminated the midsole layering and added flyknit-constructed tongue for a plush, padded feel. It’s a departure from past models, which, according to Nike North America Media Relations Director Josh Benedek, facilitated an earlier-than-usual release date “so that he is comfortable in the shoe for the playoffs.”
Durant was reportedly set to debut his first pair of the KD 12 on Saturday against the Thunder, nine months after the KD 11 was released in June 2018, but he did not play due to an ankle injury. According to Chang, none of the fun has worn off along the way.
“He’s like, ‘Man, I’m on the 12th shoe. This is crazy. We’re still going,’” Chang says. “It’s still like a kid in a candy store for him. He still feels that excitement of having a signature shoe and that privilege.”
Visually, the KD 12 provides deliberate references to the 1990s, a concept both Durant and Chang desired. Durant imagined a modern twist on the shoes of his youth, from Pennys to Jordans and especially Barkleys.
“Our approach was that a millennial represents the future and the 90s represents the past,” Chang says. “So, it’s bringing that together in a modern way that isn’t about retro or anything like that.”
Durant and Chang struck that balance by adding excessive shapes, especially in the bottoms, midsoles, outsoles and tooling. Chang says other upcoming colorways will epitomize this 90s flavor with bright colors and unique designs.
"I got something nice with Nike right now. You know like a Penny or a Charles Barkley, obviously MJ as the standard but LeBron is heading that way, Kobe.. I want that… you can only do that with Nike, in my opinion." – @KDTrey5
— Front Office Sports (@frntofficesport) February 26, 2019
Making innovative basketball shoes ready to be broken in before the playoffs? It’s not an easy task, but Leo Chang knows how to do it. Moves like that keep Kevin Durant’s trust.