Courtesy Adidas

Adidas unveils Donovan Mitchell's first signature shoe

by Aaron Falk

At the height of last season’s Rookie of the Year race, with Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell and Philadelphia 76ers forward Ben Simmons trading highlight-reel plays, stat-stuffing performances and win after win back and forth from opposite ends of the country, the crew from adidas was spit-balling some ideas to boost the underdog’s profile. Mitchell had been the No. 13 pick in the draft. His meteoric rise had come as a surprise to most, in many ways to the Jazz, his brand, and Mitchell himself. He was just a rookie, and yet somehow so much more.

Someone at adidas threw out the idea that would define the word rookie and Mitchell’s campaign.

“We just really wanted to back and support our guy,” said Rashad Williams, adidas’ senior director of basketball footwear. “Let’s put it out there. We think he deserves it.”

The “Rookie?” campaign was a hit.

Now, a season later, adidas is once again backing Mitchell in a big way: the Jazz’s young star is getting his own signature sneaker.

Spida’s D.O.N. Issue #1 was unveiled Thursday morning, confirmation at long last that Mitchell would be joining a short list of NBA stars with their own shoes. Mitchell and adidas plan to release more details of the sneaker in the coming months. For now, the Utah Jazz guard is still trying to wrap his head around the honor, the latest to come his way during a whirlwind 18 months.

“For me, really there’s just a lack of words at times,” he said. “It’s a blessing for sure.”

A ‘wild’ ride

Fewer than two dozen NBA players have their own shoes.

The list gets even shorter when you look at just those with shoes from a major American brand.

Mitchell will be the first from the Utah Jazz.

"I never expected to be in the NBA, to be here, let alone to have my own shoe in my second year,” Mitchell said. “I think I’m the youngest one with a shoe. It’s wild.”

Williams and other adidas executives watched Mitchell’s sensational rookie season closely. The Utah Jazz guard averaged 20.5 points per game last year, helping lead the Jazz to the Western Conference Semifinals. But the way Mitchell handled himself off the court impressed adidas just as much.

“The way he embraced his stardom, I was like, ‘Wow, he has the personality of a signature player,” Williams said. “He was just so humble and down to earth. That’s definitely something you want in a signature player, someone people can relate with.”

Mitchell has fully embraced his new home in Utah. There could be a new story every day highlighting his interactions with fans. And after the Jazz had been eliminated from the playoffs, when Mitchell made the rounds as a guest during the NBA Finals and the draft, Williams and adidas knew they had their man.

“That really solidified it for me,” Williams said. “He’s got a future. He’s got all of the attributes that you want in an ambassador. All of the things you want your brand to represent, Donovan encompasses all of that.”

Salt Lake City is one of the NBA’s smaller markets, but that doesn’t concern Williams. Adidas believes Mitchell has star potential that transcends the Wasatch Front.

“The question comes up a lot and it’s something brands think about,” he said. “But I don’t believe it. In the information age, the world is smaller. With social media and the NBA spreading globally, when you’re playing at that high of a level and you’ve got a personality like Donovan, people tend to gravitate toward you.”

“He’s one of the future pillars,” Williams added. “We all agree on that.”

There will be heightened expectations from the outside now, but Mitchell said he won’t feel more pressure to perform.

“I don’t think it’s pressure,” he said. “I’m starting to get to the point this year where I’m understanding that pressure is what you make it. If you think, 'Now I’ve got a shoe, now I have to average this, this and this,’ that’s how you get in your head.”

Mitchell, meanwhile, hopes his sneaker can be another thing that helps put Utah and the Jazz in the national spotlight.

“I love the fact that people aren’t overlooking us anymore,” he said. “We’re putting Utah in a different light. I’m glad to be a part of that. We’re all glad to be a part of that. My friends want to come here. When I was a kid, that wasn’t the case. That’s where I’m trying to get Utah to. I want people to see what we have because it’s a great place.”

“Mama we made it” 

Adidas approached Mitchell with the first plans for his sneaker during the 2018 Summer League. That’s when Mitchell gave fans on Twitter the first hint of what was to come.

“Always dreamed about this when I started hooping,” he wrote on Twitter. “Mama we made it!!!”

Then he had to keep quiet.

Waiting can truly be the hardest part.

“I’m so glad that I can say something now,” Mitchell said with a grin. “I’m a very, very impatient person when it comes to breaking news. It’s been killing me not to say anything.”

Mitchell finally got the chance to slip his foot into his sneaker last week, after months of conversations with adidas.

“There are only two pairs right now,” he said. “I’ve got both of them.”

Mitchell had a number of specific requests for the adidas designers working on his first sneaker. He did not want a high-top sneaker. He needed a special webbing on the toe, so that it would be comfortable as he worked his way back from a foot injury. And he wanted it to be affordable.

“My biggest thing, I just wanted kids to be able to have it,” he said. “Growing up as a kid, I loved all of these athletes and I couldn’t afford their shoes. I just wanted kids who are rich, who are poor, who are in the middle—anybody can go ahead and get it.

“I want the next generation to be able to relate to me and my story. You don’t have to be rich. You don’t have to be highly touted. You can be under the radar and still make it at this level.”

At adidas, Mitchell joins a signature sneaker club that includes just Portland’s Damian Lillard, Houston’s James Harden and Minnesota’s Derrick Rose among active players.

Mitchell shakes his head in awe thinking about the company he’s joining.

“Obviously I’ve got a lot of work to do to be at the level of those guys,” he acknowledged.

But he will be taking those steps in his own shoes.

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