For years players have honored past heroes and highlighted current initiatives and ongoing causes during Black History Month. Players often debut special-edition sneakers with a themed colorway in late January on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and wear them throughout the honorary month of February.
With athletes now looking to share messages of inclusion, they are utilizing deeper storytelling with their sneakers, with the proceeds from shoe sales benefiting organizations with a cause.
Here’s a look at what some of the NBA’s biggest stars are doing with their sneakers for Black History Month.
Nike: LeBron James/Kyrie Irving/Kevin Durant
Over the past decade, Nike has led the movement of bringing storytelling and depth to footwear paying tribute to Black History Month. Initially, the collections focused primarily on black sneakers with gold accenting and custom “BHM” word marks, but over the years the assortments have taken on added layering and detail.
This season, Nike is shifting its strategy. For the first time, Nike athletes will wear Black History Month-themed sneakers not just throughout February, but also throughout All-Star Weekend. Typically, the brand has created special-edition footwear drafting from the host city. This season, players will don half-black, half-white sneakers centered around its “Equality” campaign.
“Celebrating Black History Month and starting on MLK Day will always be a big one for us to make statements,” said Kevin Dodson, Nike Basketball’s product director. “The thing that we’re really focused on is trying to refresh that whole model. We had some great ones, and then people kind of copied the formula and now everyone was fighting for the same airspace.”
The brand is hosting workshops and art installations throughout All-Star Weekend for local children with less focus on retail activations and more emphasis on community outreach. The newest LeBron 14, Kyrie 3 and KD9 models feature clean white and black uppers, along with marbled outsoles that blend together white and black, representing the platform.
Proceeds from the shoes’ sales will benefit Nike’s Ever Higher Fund, which has aimed to bring mentorship and access to sport to several communities, along with the MENTOR, a national mentoring organization, and PeacePlayers International, which aims to unite divided communities through sport. Over the course of 2017, Nike plans to donate a total of $5 million to several community charities.
Under Armour: Stephen Curry
Now on his third signature sneaker, Stephen Curry has continually looked to bring awareness to African-American history each February. On his first two shoes, Curry honored electric lighting innovator Lewis Latimer and renowned medical researcher Henrietta Lacks, each recognized for their landmark contributions to technology and medicine.
This year, the Curry 3 honors the bravery and courage of those who escaped north through the Underground Railroad in the early-to-mid-19th century. With a fading midsole that shifts from navy to metallic gold, the shoe symbolizes a North Star sunset. Along the upper, there are also several details highlighting the constellations that former slaves used to follow on their way to freedom.
The upper mesh and outsole feature a star-inspired speckle along with a detailed sock liner that outlines the path they followed. Curry’s pair won’t be available at retail, but he will wear it throughout February.
Adidas: James Harden/Damian Lillard/Derrick Rose
With a growing stable of athletes across the league, adidas has been receiving more visibility this year, with several of their top stars wearing special February styles. In recent years, the brand has honored icons such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jesse Owens. This year, the collection celebrates Arthur Ashe, an early African-American pioneer in tennis and a renowned social activist. Ashe was the first African-American male to win a Grand Slam singles title, eventually winning three overall.
Signature athletes James Harden, Damian Lillard and Derrick Rose each have a special Ashe-inspired edition of their own shoes, while elite players like Kyle Lowry will also wear custom sneakers showcasing the sophisticated theme. Each pair is styled in simple white, grey and black, with a series of color hues striped along the collar, highlighting a scholastic legacy webbing to celebrate the honorary degrees that Ashe received from more than 20 universities. There’s an additional “AA” acronym along the insole, calling attention not just to his initials but also to Ashe’s anti-apartheid activist efforts.
Anta: Klay Thompson
Klay Thompson’s evolving signature line with China-based Anta is continuing to find its way when it comes to special editions. This month’s version takes a classic approach to honoring historic pioneers. In taking inspiration from Martin Luther King Jr., the Anta KT2 incorporates several “BHM” word marks along the collar, along with a unique African tribal pattern along the upper.
The black-based KT2 features gold accenting textures throughout and a subtle tonal black print along each panel, inspired by African patterning and handcrafted textiles. Thompson has routinely worn his “BHM” edition all month long and plans to continue to wear them at various times throughout the season.
Peak: Dwight Howard
Now in his second season with China-based brand Peak, Dwight Howard, playing his first season for the Atlanta Hawks, is utilizing his DH signature line to also honor the Atlanta-born King.
With a simple “I Have A Dream” tab along the upper of his black and gold Peak DH2 sneaker, Howard plans to honor King’s most historic speech throughout February. Featuring gold African kente cloth patterning atop the upper, his size 18 pair incorporates a classic theme among the mix of Black History Month sneakers throughout the league.
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