Not just a sneaker for Derrick Rose and adidas
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And you thought it was just a sneaker.
There’s an old saying that, “Clothes make the man.” Though I think Mark Twain finished that with, “Naked people have little or no influence on society.” That perhaps deserves more debate in this era, though I digress.
If clothes define the man, then for Derrick Rose, it’s the shoes that explain how he got here.
That’s because Rose’s adidas sneakers, the fourth signature shoe being released this week, tell the story of his life and likes in the sneaker.
For example, the sneaker Rose is now wearing—and he and the Bulls are indicating he should be back playing after his groin injury within the week after a full practice Wednesday—has satellite imagery of his Englewood home and Murray Park, where he grew up playing basketball. It is part of how Rose maintains a connection to his community, and those who buy and wear the sneakers, in effect, share that tradition with Rose.
It’s actually more detailed than that as Rose’s sneaker line with adidas is a sort of a book with each shoe representing a chapter in his life and the ongoing story of his career.
“It’s a blend of science and art,” explains Robbie Fuller, a category designer for adidas. “It has to be both. It has to beautifully work. People are passionate about what works and what they love. That’s what we’ve done with Derrick. He’s so focused and passionate about basketball. But he’s also connected as a kid and to the city.”
Fuller has an unusual job. I’m not sure how you get it, though he said he has a degree in industrial design from North Carolina State. I should have gotten one of those. Rose is very important to adidas. We heard about his contract, which could be worth $200 million or more over a decade or more. So adidas has a staff of about 60 connected with the Rose line of sneakers.
And I love what they do.
They talk to Derrick. They talk to his brothers and his mother. They talk to his friends. They go shopping with Derrick. They were with him recently at two of his favorite sneaker/apparel shops in Chicago, SuccezZ and Leaders 1354. They went with him to his favorite pizza place. They looked at the Ford-150 he drove as a rookie. They rode on the El to where Rose used to ride.
And when Derrick talked about changing his style and perhaps trying a European look, they all went off to Amsterdam (not with Derrick) to try to get inspiration for Derrick’s sneakers. Really, this is a job? Yes, it’s a cool one, and it’s producing some pretty unusual and interesting products with Rose’s name.
Actually, they did get inspiration in Amsterdam.
The Rose line, Fuller said, is about speed and acceleration and taking off, and as it happened the group was in Europe when the volcanoes in Iceland was closing airports and cancelling flights.
“We were hearing about, ‘All flights cancelled,’” recalls Fuller, “and that’s exactly what was going on with Derrick. He was taking off.”
It became the inspiration for the third iteration of the Rose shoe and story. So inside the shoe is printed names of NBA teams like Boston and L.A. and New York with the writing that, “All flights are cancelled,” while Rose is, “Cleared for takeoff.”
Fuller notes, shyly, that, of course, Orlando is left out. That’s for Dwight Howard, adidas’ other main NBA client.
That all flights cancelled third shoe led to the fourth, the so called adizero Rose 2.5 with the Google Earth satellite view of Rose’s old neighborhood, the idea that he’s flying above everyone else.
“We want to get the story into the shoe, aligning him with an idea,” says Fuller. “That he’s one step faster and this is a journey that is just beginning but that he’s also a person interested in the best, his values both as a player and a person.”
So each shoe is a chapter with the adizero Rose 1 starting at 12.9 ounces and the adizero Rose 2.5, which is No. 4 in the series, down to 11 ounces, which Fuller notes weighs less than a can of Coke. It is harder to drink, though we didn’t go there much.
The sneaker business is big business, and sometimes you wonder if the country is spending as much on research. adidas has as many as 80 scientists around the world working on sneaker concepts as far as five years out in the science of making you jump higher or run faster and cut more quickly. They study body movement, biomechanics and physics and produce prototypes.
Fuller is the guy between the scientists and the store working with players like Rose to create a concept on top of the science to bring it to market.
So Fuller and his group meet with Rose a few times a year just to talk. What is he interested in lately? What’s he doing? His likes and dislikes. Apparel designers hang out with family and friends and talk about him.
“They give us insights as Derrick isn’t someone who likes to talk about himself much,” says Fuller.
They’ll ask Rose preferences about the sneaker. So they shape it to accommodate the ankle braces he wears since he doesn’t like to tape his ankles. Fuller says Rose likes a clear and smooth toe, something that will look good with jeans. Done.
They talk about what he’s doing lately and Rose was talking about watching boxing. Fuller said Rose was watching Muhammad Ali fights, but wasn’t sure of the opponent. Fuller said Derrick told him he only watched Ali because he is a winner; that he didn’t want to see what No. 2 guys did.
“It’s about being the best,” said Fuller.
So Fuller said that was their mandate for Rose, to make a signature shoe that was so light it required less energy in picking up your feet hundreds of times every game. If you could do it faster it had to give you an edge. Fuller also said they used Derrick’s life and likes in the color for the shoes.
“The black and blue was him telling us the story of the way he used to get roughed up on the court by his brothers, the elbows he’d take to the face and play, what he learned from them,” said Fuller.
The first chapter of the story expressed in the sneaker was for speed and the second employing green, not only representing Chicago for St. Patrick’s Day, but how lucky the Bulls were to get him in the lottery with such low odds and how lucky he was to end up back home in Chicago to play in front of his family and friends. And also the green to represent Beasley Academy, where Rose attended school as a child.
Then came the takeoff with all other flights cancelled and the current looking down on his old neighborhood and park as he’s flying above.
Fuller said with Rose’s talk about taking the El train there is a printed map of the El inside the shoe and then a metallic colored finish to represent the train and red and black and blue laces for the colors of the subway map, something of the symbolism you might have seen in great novels now transferred to sneakers.
There’s also the red sneaker, which is “the Brenda,” for his mother and her favorite color.
And with Rose coming back soon and the playoffs approaching, it’s a new version with red accents and black to pay homage to the Bulls’ playoff tradition of wearing black shoes throughout the playoffs.
And you thought it just was a sneaker. How droll.