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

Celtics’ draftee Robert Williams overslept introductory conference call

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For a guy who slid way down the draft board due to serious concerns about his motor and work ethic, this is not the start Robert Williams wanted with the Celtics.

The Texas A&M center was selected 27th by Boston, but he chose not to go to New York for the draft itself and stayed home in Louisiana to watch it with family. They apparently had a good time, because his introductory conference call with the media started an hour late on Friday, and Williams admitted he overslept.

From Chris Forsberg at ESPN:

“Right after the draft, I actually ran to my aunt’s house and went to sleep because I was so tired from everything,” Williams said Friday afternoon in a call that took place an hour later than originally scheduled. “When I woke up, my sister woke me up, she said, ‘You have a conference call.'”

Williams later noted that it was, “a good night’s sleep after a busy two days.”

The Celtics blamed this on a miscommunication and the one-hour time difference between Boston and Louisiana. They let it slide.

Williams could be the steal of the draft. Could be — if those he can prove all those concerns about his motor and effort level to be false.

Williams has the skills to be an elite NBA defender, and despite his up-and-down efforts in college he was a defensive and rebounding force. His NBA game is going to be as a rim and paint protector on one end and a rim runner finishing alley-oops on the other. Think DeAndre Jordan style of big. The difference: thanks to a lot of work by Jordan (and some smart coaching by Doc Rivers to restore his confidence) Jordan fulfilled his potential. Can Boston get that out of Williams? Will Williams himself to work?

If they do, this is a steal for the Celtics.

If not, well, missing on the No. 27 pick in the draft is not going to set back their contender arc.

Cavaliers GM on LeBron James: ‘We want to respect his space’ during contract decision

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — With one deadline looming on his future in Cleveland, LeBron James has been in contact with the Cavaliers through his representatives.

Following the NBA draft on Thursday night, Cavs general manager Koby Altman said he has had positive discussions with the three-time champion’s group. James has until June 29 to tell the team if he will pick up his $35.6 million option for next season or become a free agent.

“We continue to have good dialogue with his management team,” Altman said. “I think LeBron has more than earned the right to approach his contracts the way he does. He’s done that before, so this is nothing new for us. We want to respect his space during this process and I continue to have really good dialogue with his management team as he goes through that process.

“That’s probably all I can say at this point regarding him, but we don’t take him for granted. We love him, this city loves him. He means the world to us and this franchise.”

James led the Cavs to their fourth straight NBA Finals this season, carrying a team that endured injuries and a roster overhaul at the trading deadline. Cleveland was swept by the Golden State Warriors, and following Game 4 the 33-year-old said he would weight family concerns and his desire to win more titles into his decision.

James has signed several short-term contracts since returning to the Cavs in 2014 after spending four seasons with Miami. After the Cavs won the championship in 2016, James signed a two-year contract with an option for this season.

The Cavs can offer him a five-year, $209 million deal this time. It’s possible James could choose to sign a one-year deal again with a player option and go through the free-agency dance again next summer.

To look more appealing to James, the Cavs need to upgrade their roster and they took a significant step by selecting Alabama point guard Collin Sexton with the No. 8 overall pick. Sexton averaged 19.2 points as a freshman and he addresses the club’s biggest need – a playmaker to fill the void left when the Cavs traded All-Star Kyrie Irving last summer.

Altman hopes Sexton’s arrival will make the Cavs more attractive to James.

The 19-year-old lacks professional experience, but Altman pointed out that James dealt with that issue this season.

“He went through it this year a little bit with some of our young guys, especially in the playoffs,” Altman said. “What’s amazing, he talks about this all the time – the best teacher is experience. And our young guys got some really good experience this year. And while it wasn’t consistent throughout the playoffs, each guy had their moments. And we went through two Game 7s and got to a Finals, and that experience is a huge teacher for those guys.

“So that experience is amazing for them and their confidence level as they approach next year. And then Collin, we got to get there with experience as well. But like he (James) says, experience is the best teacher, and we gave those guys a great experience over 30 games and into the playoffs and into the Finals, and what does that mean for us moving forward, I think it’s all really positive.”

Report: Lakers tell LiAngelo Ball he will not be invited to Summer League team

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LiAngelo Ball was never going to get drafted Thursday night. He simply is not that good (something I heard from every scout I talked to that saw him play).

He did get invited to work out for some teams before the draft (including the Warriors and Lakers). Impress there and the next step is an invite to play on a Summer League team. I don’t know if the middle Ball son impressed enough in workouts to earn an invite, but I do know he had an extra hurdle to climb — and a big one to most teams — because organizations do not want to deal with LaVar Ball and that circus.

That includes the Lakers, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

It will be interesting to see if another team is willing to give LiAngelo Ball a roster spot in Las Vegas. I would be shocked if a G-League team or two does not make him an offer for next season — for them, the marketing and publicity would be worth the hassle. How well he plays is secondary.

If a player is as talented and has the potential of Lonzo Ball, teams will put up with a lot. The Lakers organization has its frustrations with LaVar (to put it kindly), but they like Lonzo and what he could become (the team just played better with him on the court last season). Yes, Lonzo has trade value, too, but they’re not opposed to keeping him, depending upon how this summer shakes out. They can ignore the dad for him.

LiAngelo simply isn’t the level of talent where teams will tolerate the circus around him.

The big question for me is LaMelo Ball, the youngest of the three brothers, who was considered a top prospect for colleges a couple of years ago (and had committed to UCLA). How has being pulled out of his high school and playing low-level European competition in exhibitions in Lithuania impacted his standing? Something to watch over the next few years.

Just know LaVar Ball is never giving up the dream.

In surprise to nobody, Carmelo Anthony reportedly will not opt out of $27.9 million

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Carmelo Anthony is going to take the money. Who could have seen that coming?

Not that we should blame the man — anybody else in his shoes (including you, dear reader) would do the same thing. Anthony is contractually owed $27.9 million next seasons, and while he can opt out he knows if he did the open market would not pay near that much. So the man is going to take the cash, which was expected but Marc Stein of the New York Times is making it official.

Carmelo Anthony does not intend to opt out of his current contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder, according to a person familiar with Anthony’s decision.

Anthony has until Saturday at midnight (Eastern) to exercise the option that would make him a free agent July 1 — provided he were willing to walk away from the $27.9 million he is owed next season. But he is planning to let the deadline pass quietly and keep his current contract in effect, according to the person, who was not authorized to discuss the situation publicly.

The Thunder are in a bind.

It became clear in the playoffs that at this point in his career, Anthony’s defense and ball-stopping offense are just not a fit with this Oklahoma City roster. He played 194 playoff minutes with the Thunder and had two assists. Last regular season, 32.5 percent of Anthony’s offense came from isolations or post ups, and he scored less than 0.9 points per possessions on those — his numbers aren’t awful, but they’re not good enough to  make up for his poor defense. (Stats via Synergy Sports.)

That’s why Anthony saw his minutes and role shrink in the postseason — but he said after the Thunder were eliminated (in the first round) he did not want to accept that role and fewer touches next season. He said he wants to get back to playing his way. (Stop laughing, Knicks’ fans, it’s not polite.)

The Thunder may try to trade him. Good luck with that. There is going to be limited to no market. With that salary they are going to have to throw in a serious sweetener to get other teams to bite (and/or take on a worse, longer contract in return).

Anthony is not likely to take less in a buyout to get out of town.

Nobody should blame Anthony here — he is taking the money is is contractually owed. The Knicks gave him this contract, the Thunder traded for it. But OKC is backed into a corner with this move and has few options.