Designer Jason Petrie has worked with LeBron James for more than a decade. Their collective output includes every LEBRON signature from the 7 on, as well as contribution to the ever-popular LEBRON Soldier series. Not surprisingly, the longevity of work realizes a near telepathic bond. Now into the LEBRON 15, Petrie and James have found a groove not only in the familiar but also in where to push boundaries.
Here, Petrie discusses the nuances of his latest design, with special consideration for the Nike BattleKnit that influences the LEBRON 15’s sharp aesthetic.
Going into the 15, what rules do you keep from the line and which do you throw out?
We have three adages: “Lock me down so I can fly,” which came straight from LeBron; “Protect me from myself,” which relates to how we build for season-long comfort; and "Make me light." We try to keep those rules steady and make sure that we address them in all of his products.
But we always want to be open to new ways to build a shoe. One instance of this was the Soldier 10. It looked so sleek on court. Obviously, LeBron played really well in it and made history. From that, we learned he could play in a little less than we thought and that we were probably overbuilding for him. It opened up our apertures in terms of thinking how we can solve for problems a little differently.
How did you and LeBron begin talking about the aesthetic?
LeBron and I have talked about Flyknit products for a while now, but we never had a conversation about making it look a particular way. He leaves the creative portion of it up to us (unless there is something specific that he's looking for). The aesthetic of this shoe comes from knit.
We showed him a very early iteration of the Flyknit, and he loved the texture and feel of it. But he still had questions: "Will this work for me? Are you guys sure this is going to hold up?" We went through a lot of testing to make sure it was right.
How did the technology help achieve the look?
We always want the overall vibe of LeBron’s shoe to be aggressive, stylish, modern and classic. Flyknit, with its texture and dimension, defined the aesthetic from the get-go. We let that organic nature of the knit take us to that really aggressive diamond chainmail type of look.
We always want the overall vibe of LeBron’s shoe to be aggressive, stylish, modern and classic.
What did you want from the knit?
I wanted there to be a great containment, but not be too bulky. LeBron directed the collar. We had a couple of different iterations along the way, and he was adamant about getting lower and sculpting around the ankle, but still wanting to retain that hugging fit. So that shape is a direct response to his feedback.
How does knit benefit LeBron? What does this knit do?
This new iteration of Flyknit, Nike BattleKnit, is built specifically for LeBron. He needed something more than what knit uppers, to date, could provide for him structurally and also in the way that he wanted it to come to life.
So, we spent a lot of time figuring out what the solution within the knit process would be, and it took the knit innovation team actually knitting the material in a completely different way in order to benefit LeBron, which is really cool, and opened up a bunch of possibilities.
The main benefits we were looking for were containment and strength, but we also needed the things that are great about Flyknit: fit, a dialed design and less waste.
With the knit in one material, one basically fabric part, we're able to engineer the protection, stretch and performance specifications we want to have for each area of the shoe. It’s an all-in-one package that allows LeBron to feel locked down, feel protected and also be able to move freely to dictate the action on court and to respond and react when he needs.
What is most exciting to you about the upper?
Aside from the performance benefits, which I think is inherent in any Nike shoe, the colors we have coming and some of the things you can do with knit that you can't do with traditional construction have me really geeked out. It's just getting started as we explore Flyknit for LeBron.
How do you go about formulating the color stories?
With every shoe in Nike Basketball, we've got an amazing team of color and materials designers. LeBron has given us some insight. There are some things that we wanted talk about through his lens. I think you'll see that throughout the course of the season as we explore those stories and see all these little details and touches that provide this incredible narrative.
What is new about the tooling?
The LeBron 15 has a brand new air unit, a combination of Air Max and Zoom, formed for incredible transition, really great impact protection and a lightweight ride. It’s all the things you would expect out of Zoom Air with the comfort and protection of Air Max.
LeBron loves max Air. Obviously he generates a lot of impact force. The energy return and the rebound and the quick response feel of the Zoom Air in between the pylons and the heel and throughout the midfoot and forefoot allow LeBron to run and jump at full speed, come down with force, absorb that impact and then sprint off in another direction while returning energy to every step of that. It's a propulsive feel.