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Sole of the Warriors: Kevin Durant
by Julie Phayer
10 years ago, an 18-year-old Kevin Durant signed a life-changing contract with Nike. Now, he's one of the brand’s top signature athletes and about to begin his second trip to the NBA Finals. We recently caught up with Kevin to reflect on his decade-long partnership with Nike, plus hear how his love for sneakers began, his go-to pairs, and more.
First pair of sneakers?
I don't remember the first actual pair of sneakers I had, but my first Nike's were probably, I would say in 1996, probably had some team Jordans that Cincinnati, who was sponsored by Jordan at the time, used to wear 'em. I wanna say '96, maybe... right around that time, '97 -'96. I was probably in fourth grade or fifth grade and I remember those vividly, you know. I wore them everywhere... to the gym, to school. I didn't play in them until probably a year later. Probably my first pair of shoes that I remember. Obviously I had shoes before then, but that's the pair stood out to me.
Are there any pairs you wanted as a kid that you still don't have?
I wanted Foamposites. Tim Duncan had his own Foamposites that I wanted. They were amazing. Everybody in my neighborhood had them. So in D.C., anything foam was big - from Penny Hardaway's to Tim Duncan's to Flightposites, so I really wanted a pair of those. They were $200... we had it, but my mom wasn't paying $200 for shoes. But now, I get a chance to get my hands on Foamposites. They're really special.
Is that your most sentimental, treasured pair that you will never get rid of?
I like sneakers, but I'm not one of those guys that collects and makes it a big thing. My feet are so big and I just try to wear what's comfortable, you know. And sometimes you know those shoes aren't as comfortable as I want when I'm walking around but they still look great. Something I wouldn't get rid of would probably be my Jordan 1 collection. I got so many different colorways. They fit me so well. They look so good with jeans, they're comfortable. I wear 'em anywhere. Jordan, man. He's just... I don't even know. The innovation in his kicks, man, just next level. Timeless.
Any pairs you could wear on court that would make Twitter go crazy?
I don't even know what Twitter, what that world likes. What's the sneaker world really like? Retro Jordans? I think if you bring back, if I would wear like a Pippen... I had every color in Scottie Pippens. First Pippen not the one that had air on the side, red and white - I used to wear those a lot, so if I brought those back out I'm sure people would recognize what those are and I would get some respect in the sneaker world.
Go-to pair for off the court?
I wear the red and black Jordan 1s probably with everything. I like them to be a little distressed too; I like them to look kinda older. Not always super clean and fresh. I like them to look a little dingy; I don't know that's just me. It looks better that way.
My collection is not as big as I want. I'm really into runners now, I wear a lot of low-tops just cause it's comfortable. I wear my Jordan 1s a lot. I don't wear any other retros right now, maybe down the line, I haven't worn any retros other than Jordan 1s the whole year.
How do you style your sneakers?
I build down. I go from my t-shirt to my jeans to matching sneakers with it. I dress pretty simple. I'm a t-shirt, jeans, jacket type of guy so that makes it easier.
Do you have a stylist?
I wouldn't call her a stylist, but she knows exactly what I like. I give her my vision and she goes buys the stuff that I like. I don't have time to go shopping... that's something I try not to distract myself with. I order stuff on Amazon a lot, from vintage t-shirts to hockey jerseys. I got like, I wanna say 10-11 vintage t-shirts that I wear over and over again and they just look so great to me and I just mix them up with shoes. For me it just pays homage to things I like - 90s hip-hop, I like it simple.
How would you describe your personal style?
My personal style is simple and cozy, definitely comfortable. I’m a big guy so I can’t just throw on anything. I don’t want to have to worry about jeans being too tight, my shirt being too small, my shoes being too tight — I can’t enjoy my night out, you know what I’m saying? So I tend to structure my clothes around the type of night I’m going to have, where I’m going. It’s all about being comfortable and a little stylish, which is my style.
I like wearing jean jackets. A lot of people probably don’t wear jean jackets anymore, but I like wearing them. So I like to keep it really simple and basic, you know? I’m not a guy who would be at fashion week. I’m not a guy that would have his own collection of clothes because I’m not that stylish, but I like what I like.
Who's the biggest sneaker guy on the team?
Probably Ian. Every road trip he does his pictures. So Ian has a nice collection.
For someone who is new to the sneaker world, what would you say are the top 3 pairs everyone should have in their collection?
Air Force 1 — everybody should have, or should have [at least] worn a pair of Air Force 1s in their lifetime.
Third shoe gotta be KD 4s. Gotta be the Nerf's. If you got your hands on the Nerf's, you’re special. They gonna retro those too. I think they’ll retro those. And the Weatherman's. The whole 4 collection was dope, but the Weatherman 4s are dope. And Aunt Pearls. So if you got the Aunt Pearl 4s, those are dope.
What was it like signing first shoe contract?
It was life changing. I declared for the draft beginning of April, and April 13-14 they handed me a million dollar check. I'm coming straight outta the dorms, you know what I'm saying... they hand me a million dollar check and told me I'd have my own shoe in a year. It was just like, it happened so fast, and it is life changing. It's a generational change, something that my Dad and his friends, no one even dreamt about having. They couldn't even fathom this. To go from that to where I'm at, it was such a big change and I didn't realize, I'm not realizing what went on 'til like today, you know what I'm saying, 'til I get older and realize like... you look back on it and it's like 'wow' I really went, it really went 0-100 real quick.
A decade of signature shoes... How does it feel?
I'm on 10... and they'll live forever, you know what I'm saying. Like my kids will see that, if I have kids. They’re all different and unique, you know.
You're not afraid to take risks with them either.
Oh nah, cause they’re shoes at the end of the day. They're just shoes, so why not try? See I think the KD 2 changed the shoe game for professional athletes because this was the first one that kind of had the strap across, you know what I mean? So that one is special. The KD 8 Elite is real special because it was innovative. We tried the sock, which was very successful for us. And then the Zoom KD 9 is my first flyknit, which was really, really special. And the KD 6 was the first time I wore low-tops, so I feel like every shoe has it’s own little story.
How involved are you in the creative process for your shoes?
I’m very involved. Just from the stories that are being put out, to if I want to change — wait let me see that sheet again — like, for example, this. They asked me ‘what is something that you really want to try on the shoe?’ And I told them, I said, ‘how can I have a shoe that looks like a whole sock?’ And they came up with an idea.
So I can come out and say ‘I want my KD’ — they have my KD 10s already finished — so KD 11s I want 2 straps on them and I want them to be a sock, you know, they’ll figure it out. So I feel like I have creative control without having to worry about designing the shoe, which is the toughest part because the ideas always have to keep flowing, but if I give them a template of what I want, they’ll come back. They’re pretty — they’re great at collaborating, and that’s kind of surprising because Nike doesn’t have to do that. They have so many great and creative minds there they can do everything on their own a say, ‘here. We pay you this much money, just wear our shoes.’ But they want it to be organic; they want it to be about the athlete, so it’s very special.
Have you found any inspiration being in the Bay for the KD 11?
Yeah. I think I want to do a Golden Gate Bridge themed shoe... who knows. With us going to San Francisco, I definitely want to have something Oakland-inspired. Who knows, but we’ll figure some stuff out. Definitely now that I’m here and I’m kind of immersed in the culture of the Bay Area now I definitely want to do some stuff with that.
How would you say your shoe reflects who you are as an athlete, as well as a person?
I’m very reminiscent of my life, you know, what I loved growing up. So what I really — the moments that were special to me — I tend to forget a lot of stuff growing up, but the special moments like the time I spent with my aunt. I had a like a toy car-inspired shoe. I played with hot wheels everyday as a kid, so that was something that stood out to me. I ate peanut butter and jellies a lot as a kid, so I had a shoe about that.
It seems like you create shoes that are more special and meaningful to you, and if people like them that’s just a bonus.
Yeah. You can tell a story. I could walk through my shoes and give you every story of my life and how it correlates to what I went through, what I’ve grown to love. It’s definitely pretty sweet to know that you can tell stories through sneakers and I can carry my Aunt Pearl on the court with me. She’s never seen me play at a high level. So to carry her on the court with me and for everybody to just know her name, you know... Everybody knows, ‘When the Aunt Pearls coming out? When the Aunt Pearls coming out?’ and I’m like man, we really spent a lot of time together. We were tight. So, to have her name ringing around in the shoe world and in my shoe culture... I don’t think anybody really knows how big that is for my family and for me.
I want to say around my KD 4s is when people really started to really wear my shoes. A lot of people started to come up to me about how much they enjoy my line. It's still a surreal feeling to see how many people appreciate - first of all, I don't create the shoes so I can't take full credit for the design, you know I have some input but just to have my name on the shoe and people want 'em. Just for you to say 'the KDs', that's special cause you're always wearing Jordans, you're always wearing Pennys, you're always wearing Barkleys, Pippens, Kobes as a kid, so to have my name in that group is pretty special.