A detailed look at Nike Basketball’s Area 72 space from All-Star weekend in Houston

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Nike Basketball pulled out all the stops during All-Star weekend to showcase its extraterrestrial lineup of special edition kicks that would be worn by Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant during the NBA’s midseason exhibition.

Setting up shop inside the Houston Galleria mall, Nike created an Area 72 retail space that allowed fans to get the full space-age experience. It was impossible to miss the large black dome in the center of the mall’s lower level that housed the exhibit — it was eye-catching from above, and even at a distance.

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Once inside, fans enter a hallway with silver “space boot” versions of the shoes lining the walls, which leads them into the main area of the exhibit.

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After passing through the hallway, you find yourself in the center of things, where the real All-Star edition shoes are all on display. This was one of the cooler parts of the experience, where everyone entering received an access card with a unique code on it.

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Visitors walked around the exhibit where the shoes were encased in glass, and got to enter their code on a keypad. If the display read “access denied,” they didn’t win anything. But if it lit up with “access granted,” a key was revealed and they could unlock their size of the pair of shoes that they had just won.

One young man really wanted to win badly, and would rest his head against the display, eyes closed as he was deep in meditation (or perhaps prayer) before entering his code on the keypad. Unfortunately, he wasn’t among the chosen ones, and let out an exasperated yelp after being denied at all three tries.

There was plenty more detail to see, including video displays featuring Bryant, James, and Durant. Near the display’s exit was a customization booth, where merchandise that included socks, shirts, and track jackets could be special-ordered with various Area 72 design options. This was packed consistently throughout the weekend, and orders took between 1-2 hours to complete.

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Nike held player appearances at the space throughout the weekend, which included the three biggest names in the game whose shoes were prominently featured. The crowds were at times alost unmanageable, which speaks to the success of the space, as well as to the popularity of the NBA and the merchandise supporting the league fans love to watch.

During my visit, I caught up with Erick Goto, a member of the design team that created all of this. One of the more interesting things we discussed was how the design process for the All-Star edition shoes, as well as the theme that would carry the company’s vision throughout the weekend, was over a year in the making.

As we talked about all that went into the design process, Goto was like an actor who works on a film a year or more before it’s released, and then has to discuss it again after it’s become a distant part of his professional past.

“Up until a couple weeks, ago, I really didn’t know how excited to be about this whole thing,” he said. “But seeing all the images of how the space would look, I got so excited because you know, you’re working on it a year ago, and you’re done with that stuff. It was so long ago.”

Goto said the design team was surprised with how popular the space-age themes have become, beginning with the Galaxy editions that carried the 2012 All-Star weekend in Orlando through to the extraterrestrial theme that was omnipresent in Houston.

“We were surprised,” he said. “We definitely didn’t think that it would cause as much chaos as it did last year, but it’s great. And that’s kind of what pushes the creativity for the team. We’re always trying to make sure we deliver something special.”

The detail and design that was put into each player’s special edition shoe is truly something to behold, as was the retail space that came together for the All-Star weekend celebration. Seeing the space in its finished form made it well worth all the hard work the design team put into it, beginning more than 12 months before the final vision was realized.

“This totally made it worth it,” Goto said. “It totally brought a tear to my eye. People were down here a couple of days [before the opening] just sending me pictures of how the space was building out, and I was like, no way! I got totally excited. We worked on the product so long ago thinking, ‘it would be cool if they did this, or it would be cool if they did that.’ But they actually made everything happen.”


Nike Basketball Area 72 space at All-Star weekend in Houston

Kendall Marshall, Marshall Plumlee headline Team USA’s AmeriCup roster

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AmeriCup, previously called the FIBA Americas Championship, lost its luster when FIBA decided the continental tournament wouldn’t double as World Cup qualifying.

But the U.S. is still sending a team, coached by Jeff Van Gundy. The roster (team last season):

  • Billy Baron (UCAM Murcia, Spain)
  • Alec Brown (Windy City Bulls)
  • Larry Drew II (Sioux Falls Skyforce)
  • Reggie Hearn (Reno Bighorns)
  • Darrun Hilliard (Detroit Pistons)
  • Jonathan Holmes (Canton Charge);
  • Kendall Marshall (Reno Bighorns)
  • Xavier Munford (Greensboro Swarm)
  • Marshall Plumlee (New York Knicks)
  • Jameel Warney (Texas Legends)
  • C.J. Williams (Texas Legends)
  • Reggie Williams (Oklahoma City Blue)

The Americans should still be favored, though obviously not as overwhelming as they’d be with NBA players, in a field also comprised of Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Uruguay, Panama and U.S. Virgin Islands.

This will be a good benchmark, as the U.S. might take a similar roster into World Cup qualifying.

Report: Tampering investigation stems from Magic Johnson’s TV interview

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In April, new Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and discussed then-Pacers forward Paul George:

We’re going to say hi, because we know each other. You just can’t say, “Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,” even though I’m going to be wink-winking like [blinks repeatedly]. You know what that means, right?

Now, the Lakers – at Indiana’s request – are being investigated for tampering.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

The investigation, which has been going on since May, stemmed from comments Magic Johnson made on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” that angered Pacers owner Herb Simon, according to several NBA officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

This doesn’t mean the Pacers believe Johnson tampered with his televised comments. It seems as if that was the last straw following numerous rumors about George going to Los Angeles.

However, there’s a case Johnson’s televised remarks alone would constitute tampering. The Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits “assurances of intent, or understandings of any kind (whether disclosed or undisclosed to the NBA), between a player (or any person or entity controlled by, related to, or acting with authority on behalf of, such player) and any Team (or Team Affiliate)” – and even attempts to solicit assurance of intent or understanding – when the player is still under contract with another team. Johnson sure appeared to do that.

But it’d be shocking if Johnson or the Lakers were punished for the interview alone. Indiana probably needs more evidence.

Then again, the arbitrary way the NBA enforces tampering, who knows?

Report: Nerlens Noel hires Rich Paul as agent, looking for big deal from Mavericks

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It’s been a rough year for restricted free agents (and plenty of unrestricted ones). After NBA teams spent like drunken sailors on shore leave last summer, this time around — with the cap not rising as much as had been expected — the market got tight quickly, and few questionable contracts were handed out. A year ago the Brooklyn Nets were making the Miami Heat pay big to retain Tyler Johnson and the Trail Blazers pay big to keep Allen Crabbe. This year teams were not biting the same way on restricted free agents.

Which left guys like Nerlens Noel, who expected to be maxed out by the Mavericks (or someone), still looking for a deal. Noel was frustrated enough to switch agents, picking up Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

Paul is LeBron James‘ agent, and in recent years has done well getting Tristan Thompson and Eric Bledsoe good contracts as extensions to their rookie deals. In both cases, he showed a fearlessness in holding out longer and being willing to push the envelope. That had to appeal to Noel.

But it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics at play — and not just with Noel. Paul also represents restricted free agents this summer Shabazz Muhammad — who has yet to sign a deal — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had to take a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million (well below his max). Throw in Noel’s injury history, and teams were not eager to jump in with a big offer for the athletic big man.

At this point, no team has the money to offer Noel a max contract right now — the Bulls have the most available money at $17.3 million, the Sixers and Suns have about $15 million and $14 million. Noel’s max is $24.7 million a year. Dallas is playing hardball because they can — without another offer on the table, Noel’s only real threat is to sign the qualifying offer (about $6 million) and play the season for that, then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’s possible, but a guy with Noe’s history of injuries may want to be careful betting on himself like that.

With Paul in the negotiations, expect them to drag out. That’s about the only sure thing.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.