TORONTO — All-Star weekend is one of the biggest of the NBA season for stars like LeBron James, Steph Curry, James Harden and Dwyane Wade.
It’s even bigger for Nike, Under Armour, Adidas and Li-Ning.
With all the big stars in Toronto and millions of fans watching around the world, the big shoe companies have turned the basketball court into a fashion runway and unveiling specially designed sneakers during the game on Sunday. When it comes to the events of All-Star weekend, the shoe launches are right up there on the anticipation meter with the 3-point shootout and the slam dunk contest.
Wade has his designers from Chinese-based Li-Ning come up with something multicolored — almost rainbow-esque — with a shiny look. His fans can get them, but they’ll have to work for it since only 100 pairs of Wade’s All-Star shoe will be released.
"When people get it they’ll know this is a special All-Star to me," said Wade, a 12-time All-Star selection. "I’m not going to have 12 more of these, so I’m going to make sure that this moment is something they remember was special if they get one of the sneakers."
The 100 pairs that he’ll release will be numbered.
What Wade is wearing Sunday night won’t be — his are a tad different.
"I just think it’s cool," Wade said. "That’s the story. All-Star weekend, just looking to do something that I thought was cool."
Wade is certainly not alone.
All-Stars Kyle Lowry and James Harden will be wearing new Adidas sneakers during the game. James debuted a new version of his Nike sneakers this weekend called the 13 Lows, a black shoe with white and red trim and his signature King James logo on the tongue.
"I got a great designer at Nike, Jason Petrie. We have consistent communication about what I want, what we want and what we want to do from a comfort, style, technology piece," James said. "We pick each other’s brain and go from there. We figure it out and stuff like this happens. It’s pretty cool. The 13 Lows, coming to a city near you."
Curry’s explosion in popularity over the last two years has helped Under Armour gain traction in the hyper-competitive shoe game. Like James and many of his contemporaries, Curry’s goal is to follow in the footsteps of what Michael Jordan did at Nike, turning himself into the iconic pitchman and building an empire that has helped him become the owner of the Charlotte Hornets.
"They had a nice template of success with Jordan’s career," Curry said. "We’re trying to do it our way, which is very genuine and organic to what we’re trying to do. It’s been a great partnership so far. We’re honestly just getting started with where we’re at as a basketball brand and very excited about what’s to come. It’s nice to be as hands-on as I can be."
Jordan has shown that the shoe game offers the truly elite players a way to remain in the public consciousness long after their playing days are over. Indiana Pacers All-Star Paul George sees Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who is playing in his final All-Star game, following a similar path with his Nike shoes, one that will get kids for generations to come interested in his dynamic game even though his career is coming to an end this season.
"The people that didn’t grow up watching Jordan, his shoes told stories," said George, who has worn Bryant’s shoe since his high school days. "From there, people wanted to Google and YouTube him. It kind of brings up everything in the past that Jordan did, brings that back to life. It keeps you relevant."