The Extra Pass: Nike Elite series meets the performance demands of Kevin Durant and LeBron James

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NEW YORK — The folks at Nike Basketball have once again rolled out Elite versions of the signature shoes for LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant, just as they’ve done in advance of every postseason since 2012.

But the team faced perhaps its greatest challenge this season.

Bryant’s shoes didn’t need any modifications, considering the high-top, Kobe 9 Elite was already in its final stage the moment it was released. James and Durant, however, each had specific requests in terms of the improvements they wanted to see made to their shoes before the playoffs began.

Getting LeBron back into his more high-profile model wasn’t necessarily a priority for the Nike design team, but providing a performance improvement that James would feel comfortable with was definitely the goal that was in place.

The LeBron 11 was a huge success in terms of overall design and fan interest, but James himself caused a mild commotion when he ditched them early on in favor of one of his other models, the Zoom Soldier VII. Charles Williams, Senior Product Director for Nike Basketball, explained exactly what the issues were that James was experiencing.

“Early on, it was less about the components of the shoe, and more about fit,” Williams told NBCSports.com. “We went to a double-lasting proposition on the 11 that was a little bit different, so it was just more about forefoot fit, and making sure that when he cut, he wasn’t bumping up against anything, that he had enough volume.”

The fact that this was the first time one of LeBron’s shoes had an insert in it may have messed with the overall feel when taking his orthotic into account, which is essentially an additional layer of medical protection.

“When you’ve got an athlete that’s putting an orthotic in the shoe, it changes everything,” Williams said. “It changes the actual internal shape, it changes the actual internal volume and things of that nature. Players like KD and Kobe, they come right out of the box. But LeBron puts an orthotic in there, so that started to change things a little bit, especially because we had a drop-in. We’ve never had a drop-in (insert) before (on a LeBron signature shoe). So when you have a drop-in, something that kind of comes in and out — not unlike his orthotic — I think for him, mentally it was just a little difficult to get around.”

Along with the fit of the orthotic, James wasn’t feeling the level of lockdown in the 11s that he requires, and when he made cuts, he felt his foot sliding around in the shoe — another area which was unacceptable for the style that he plays.

All of that has been addressed with the LeBron 11 Elite, and the early results have been positive, if LeBron’s on-court decision to wear the model multiple times earlier than usual are to be believed.

“That’s why you’ve seen him wear the Elite model probably four or five times, and he’s never done that during the years that we’ve had the Elite project,” Williams said. “He typically starts April 17 when the playoffs start.”

The Nike design team went to Kevlar to increase the lockdown, which reduced the stretch in the material from 30 percent down to about two percent. LeBron laces up his shoes as tightly as possible on the bench before tip-off, to the point where he’s been known to break shoelaces. The lockdown aspect has been the most consistently important feature to him over the years, and it seems as though the team was able to address those concerns with the adjustment in the Elite materials.

A slightly lower cut to the Elite model (LeBron prefers a mid- as opposed to a high-top), along with added support on the outside that the design team refers to as a “roll bar” all helped to keep him from moving around inside the shoe, while providing the ultimate support for when he cuts. That extra support on the outside was by far the Elite version’s biggest overall enhancement.

“We knew that once we put that “roll bar” on it he was going to be able to have that confidence that when he cuts, he was on the foot bag,” Williams said. “And that way, we would be able to give him more of a free range of motion.”

A lot seemingly went into LeBron’s concerns. With Durant, it was a little less complicated.

His biggest request was to increase the cushioning on his shoe to the maximum level possible, while keeping a low-to-the-floor profile that is a perfect match for the complexities of his game.

“One of the big things for KD is really about impact protection,” Williams said. “As his game has evolved and as he’s really catapulted himself to be the best player in the world on any given night, we wanted to make sure that we were providing him with those things that he’s always asked us for. And one of them was this notion of cushioning, to make sure that the underfoot cushioning was something that night in and night out, he got consistently. And on a lot of the previous models he did what we would call a hybrid cushioning, where we had a max bag in the heel which gives you that protection when you’re coming down six, eight times your body weight. And then we would put zoom air in the forefoot, (which) literally gives you that instant response, that instantaneous gratification. So with KD, we said we’re going to go to a bag that will provide him with consistency across the board. It was ultimately what he’s been asking us for — maybe not specifically for the bag, but for that level of performance.”

The players, obviously, have little to do with the execution. They simply know what they want, and it’s up to the design team to figure out how to make that happen.

“KD wanted that cushioning, but he also wanted to feel very low to the ground based on the game that he plays,” Williams said. “So we made the bag lower by removing a lot of the foam that we would typically have in between the bag and the shoe.”

The Elite series has traditionally featured mostly black and white models, but this year’s class has all kinds of colors added to the project. There are three sets of colorways currently in the works, with the Gold series being the one that most resembles the past projects, but just barely.

Still, the team is driven by the performance aspect of the shoes above all else, and that’s the message that they ultimately want to get across.

“As much as we want to be provocative, we just want consumers to know that there’s a performance benefit rooted in that,” Williams said. “If I could just have consumers not view these as aesthetic propositions, if they could truly understand the competitive advantage that we’re looking to give them every time we create one of these shoes, that would be my dream.”

“This is about making sure that the best players in the world go into battle for the most esteemed goal that they’re trying to reach,” Williams said. “We give them products that really measure up to that.”


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Sparks, Lynx take part in pregame demonstrations prior to WNBA Finals

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The WNBA has been no stranger to demonstrations of social conscience in recent years. On Sunday, things were no different.

Before the Game 1 of the 2017 WNBA Finals, both the LA Sparks and Minnesota Lynx participated in their own pregame demonstrations.

The Sparks, similar to many NFL teams on on Sunday, stayed inside the locker room during the national anthem. The Lynx decided to take the court, but linked arms in their own show of solidarity.

This came in response to Trump’s recent comments about Colin Kaepernick. The former “Trump Steaks” founder called anybody who “disrespects our flag” a “son of a bitch”.

That prompted many NFL team mates to join together in their own demonstrations, either kneeling for the national anthem or staying inside their locker rooms.

Trump also decided to disinvite the Golden State Warriors after star Stephen Curry said that he would vote know heading into a team meeting to discuss whether they should visit the White House as the reigning NBA champions.

That prompted response from several players around the NBA and in Golden State, as well asWarriors coach Steve Kerr, who asked for Trump to remember that he represents the entire nation and not just his constituency.

Meanwhile, Game 1 of the Finals was pretty incredible with the Sparks winning thanks to a Chelsea Gray jumper with two seconds left to make it 85-84. LA leads Minnesota in the series 1-0.

Report: Chicago Bulls and Dwyane Wade reach agreement on buyout

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Well it finally happened.

According to Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Bulls and Dwyane Wade and have reach an agreement on a buyout.

This has been coming for some time, as it does not make sense to have Wade in the fold for a young Bulls team moving forward. Both sides seem to have been at a stalemate for some time as Wade’s salary is $23.8 million for the upcoming season.

Wade will now be free to move to another team, and many people think that he will be headed to the Cleveland Cavaliers to join his pal LeBron James.

Via Twitter:

The Cavaliers are over the cap, so the only deal Wade would be able to sign at the moment would be for the veteran minimum.

The full banana boat crew of Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Lebron, and Wade were not been able to get on a single team this offseason, so Cleveland does seem to be the most likely option.

What Wade can bring to the Cavaliers is another question. Cleveland has relied heavily on Richard Jefferson over the past two years, so it’s not out of the ordinary for them to use a veteran often. Wade has certainly declined in recent seasons but his per-100 possession statistics show he could still be useful for a championship-level team needing a bench ball handler and scorer.

Whether he would accept that role is another thing altogether, and if role is important to Wade moving forward he could end up in a different place than with James in Cleveland.

San Antonio is another interesting place for him to land, although so to is back home in Miami. We still have yet to see where Wade will sign, but this is just yet another item to declare this NBA offseason the greatest of all-time.

Report: Knicks wanted Cavs’ Tristan Thompson in potential Carmelo Anthony trade

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Carmelo Anthony is now a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, but save for a refusal from the Cleveland Cavaliers he could have been playing with LeBron James this season.

According to Cleveland.com, the New York Knicks apparently tried to complete a trade with the Cavaliers before settling with the Thunder.

The centerpiece of the potential trade with Cleveland would have been power forward Tristan Thompson, a favorite of LeBron. The Cavaliers apparently decided against making that trade, which is how we wound up with Anthony heading to play with Russell Westbrook and Paul George.

Via Cleveland.com:

The Knicks wanted Thompson, 26, a center who like James is represented by Rich Paul. The Cavs told them no. Thompson is under contract for three more seasons, beginning at $16.4 million this year. Cleveland was willing to do a deal that would’ve cleared some contracts off the books, such as sending Iman Shumpert ($11 million this year) and others.

New York also asked about one of Cleveland’s two first-round choices for 2018, and the Cavs weren’t about to part with either.

The Cavs view the Brooklyn pick they own for 2018 as invaluable for multiple reasons. Trading the Knicks their own first-round pick would prevent them from being able to move the Brooklyn pick later this season.

Obviously an important backstory here is how much LeBron likes Thompson, and that they share the same agent. Thompson remains a somewhat underrated part of the Cavaliers overall success during the regular season.

Thompson played much of the year at center for the Cavaliers last year, apparently making it his permanent position. Cleveland’s roster without Thompson but with both Kevin Love and Carmelo would have been an odd mix, forcing Love to likely be the person to play the 5.

It makes sense that the Knicks would want to Thompson, and it also makes sense that the Cavaliers refused.

Steve Kerr to Trump: “Isn’t it you who must honor the White House, Mr. President?”

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There was much discussion this week about whether the Golden State Warriors would accept a potential invitation to visit the White House. However, when asked about a visit, Stephen Curry said that he would vote no. That prompted Donald Trump to preemptively rescind an invitation.

Then the weekend came, along with the backlash against Trump.

Trump rescinded the invitation for the Warriors in a speech in which he also called NFL players silently protesting police brutality, “sons of bitches”.

The Warriors organization responded to Trump’s comments, as did some players.

Now, Golden State head coach Steve Kerr has written about his own feelings on the matter on SI.com.

In an impassioned article, Kerr said that it was not possible for the team to visit the White House and have a typical visit. Kerr, whose father was the President of the American University of Beruit, said that he had met with several presidents in the past even if his personal views had differed. However, Kerr said he felt that Trump’s comments were “childish” and that he felt the real estate magnate was unable to absorb criticism — something former Trump supporter Mark Cuban agreed recently echoed.

Via SI:

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet President Reagan, both Bushes, Clinton, and Obama. I didn’t agree with all of them, but it was easy to set politics aside because each possessed an inherent respect for the office, as well as the humility that comes with being a public servant in an incredible position of power, representing 300 million people. And that’s the problem now. In his tweet to Steph, Trump talked about honoring the White House but, really, isn’t it you who must honor the White House, Mr. President? And the way to do that is through compassion and dignity and being above the fray. Not causing the fray.

..

Instead, we get Trump’s comments over the weekend about NFL players, calling them ‘sons of bitches’ for kneeling during the anthem. Those just crushed me. Crushed me. Just think about what those players are protesting. They’re protesting excessive police violence and racial inequality. Those are really good things to fight against. And they’re doing it in a nonviolent way. Which is everything that Martin Luther King preached, right? A lot of American military members will tell you that the right to free speech is exactly what they fight for. And it’s just really, really upsetting that the leader of our country is calling for these players to be ‘fired.’

Remember, the president works for us, not vice versa. We elected him. He doesn’t just work for his constituents and his base. He works for every citizen. Once you take that office, you have to do what’s best for the entire country. Sure, you’re going to have policies that align with your party, but that’s not the point. Respectfully, Mr. Trump, the point is this: You’re the president. You represent all of us. Don’t divide us.

The comments from Kerr are also especially timely given that on Sunday many NFL teams and players either locked arms, knelt, or stayed inside the locker room in a display of solidarity. Unfortunately, given that this mass showing comes following Trump’s comments, many have mistakenly come to understand the meaning of kneeling itself to be some kind of protest against Trump.

However, whether it be Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the anthem or LeBron James and company wearing “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts, the message has always been against police brutality and racial inequity — not against the nation, flag, or military, or Trump as many have incorrectly equated it to mean.

That Kerr has come out and explicitly stated that fact in his reaction — as the coach of the current NBA champions and perhaps the most popular team in the league right now — is an important thing.