This year's NBA Finals was played on the court and on the feet.
Sitting on my couch, tuning in to ESPN 3 to watch Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals, I was more than excited to watch the epic match up between both teams, especially the star duel between Nikola Jokic vs. Jimmy Butler. The Denver Nuggets had been on a roll of dominating performances, but despite that, the performances of the Miami Heat, especially after their Game 7 performance of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics, meant that they were sure to bring the heat (no pun intended) to this year's finals. A consistent feature, however, that had always been bringing the heat (pun intended) all through the NBA playoffs series had been the choice of sneakers the stars had been rocking all season long.
It had been a bugging idea, ringing in my mind to pay closer attention to the game of styles happening on their feet. But when Jamal Murray hit his first three of the game, my eyes went straight to his kicks. And my reaction? You guessed right, they were – "Goddamn, those kicks are fire 🔥!"
It turns out the 6' 4" point guard was wearing a new, custom-made, New Balance sneaker with an Aimé Leon Dore-ified spin on it. And while the Ball Arena in Denver is one colorful place to play basketball, it almost felt like these colorful sneakers donned by these superstars, lit up the place entirely.
And then I thought, "how about going in-depth on these sneakers and review what's really up with them?" These sneakers come with the perfect blend of fit, technology, traction, and quality (with a sprinkle of style and zest). I wondered why my eye couldn't get off of them all through Game 1 and throughout the series.
1. Jamal Murray - Aimé Leon Dore x New Balance TWO WXY v3
For a sneaker that had never been seen before, this one made a grand entry. The New Balance and Aimé Leon Dore partnership has been one for the ages. If you had said a few years back that a New Balance kick would be the one to make an early shout-out for the "Sneakers MVP Award" of the NBA Finals, you would have been branded a complete idiot by Nike fanboys and probably the laugh of the town on some Nike forum on Discord.
But here we are in the year 2023, and you wouldn't be called out one bit If you uttered that statement today. Aimé Leon Dore and New Balance share a rich history, mostly in basketball. Ever since its debut as a brand in 2014, Aimé Leon Dore has always been one of the best shots for a streetwear fan to obtain the same wardrobe as high-profile celebs. Teddy Santis (ALD's founder), has always been one to stay true to his #NewYork roots despite the allure of the big lights his brand has commanded all across the globe. When they did revive the 550 (an iconic 80's hoops model) and became one of the hottest names for #sneakerheads in 2020 and 2021, there was no hiding place for the Greek-American designer and his brand.
His partnership with New Balance was one of the may fruits he was able to pick off his brand's "urban-preppy" (but still outstanding) style. While many of those were still in the periphery, it was finally brought back to center stage when the TWO WXY v3's debuted on Ojamal Murray's feet. His distinctive cream-green palette meant that the collab was the catalyst behind New Balance making serious strides in going toe-to-toe with the other big dogs of the yard; Nike and Adidas.
Keeping in lock-step with their name, Aimé (which is an amalgamation of the French word for "loved"), this collaboration between the two brands has finally brought the much-deserved love that was lone overdue from the casual fan. Hardcore New Balance sneakerheads will already know the influential power of the brand but some question why it took another brand to bring New Balance the mainstream love. But that's a question for another time.
But now thanks to Jamal's star-studded performance throughout the playoffs, we might be in for the "Summer of New Balance" as we could see a huge spike in sales. This could be a gigantic domino that falls and becomes the spark plug for New Balance to take off.
2. Jimmy Butler - Li Ning's J.B. 1
Young cats have probably been digging some of Jimmy Butler's hair choices in recent months, but his choice of what to do with his hair hasn't been the only unorthodox thing about Jimmy Buckets. It's common to see stars of his caliber ride with the likes of the Nike and Adidas of this world, but with his history, you would understand why he has ventured out from the conventional this time.
Butler reportedly took a 75% pay cut to secure a deal with Jordan Brand back in 2015, but left the company in 2020 after failing to get a signature shoe. Three years down the line, he chose to pitch his tent with Chinese brand Li-Ning, as Li-Ning caters to his footwear needs with their JB 1 sneaker. Jimmy has deep connections outside the United States with European football stars frequently coming to Miami to watch games exclusively because of Jimmy. In fact, fútbol star Neymar defied a scheduled ankle treatment procedure in Brazil to watch Jimmy court side, followed by fellow stars Vini Jr. and Paul Pogba. That's brotherood right there.
And with Li-Ning designing color ways that pay tribute to Butler's collegiate career, coffee business, and clutch performances, amongst others, you can tell it's truly a signature series.
Li-Ning is steadily climbing up the basketball sneaker ecosystem, and their first work in the Jimmy Butler signature line is a statement. The Li-Ning JB 1 is light, responsive, bouncy, and grippy. The only downside of this shoe is its traction performance and durability on an outdoor court – but no shoe is perfect, right?
The Li-Ning JB 1's hefty price tag could be a dealbreaker for some, but it has premium materials and a comfortable build. And, if Jimmy is riding with them, you can too. Don't be surprised to see Li-Ning make some strides here in the United States, as not only is Jimmy Butler a part of their sports portfolio, but current players CJ McCollum, Evan Turner, Glenn Robinson III are sponsored by the Chinese company. On top of that, having past deals with Shaquille O'Neal, Damon Jones, José Calderón and a lifetime contract with Dwyane Wade doesn't hurt either.
3. Nikola Jokic - Nike Air Zoom G.T. and Nike G.T Jump 2
You would think the man who won the Bill Russell Finals MVP trophy in this year's NBA Finals, who is on track to be one of the greatest in the game would definitely have a signature series to his name, but in a move that is probably in line with Jokic's simplistic way of viewing life, that's yet to happen.
Despite not having his own signature series (yet), Jokic got his color game on point adding in a personal touch, with his wedding ring a constant feature on his laces.
However, now that the Nuggets have won the 'chip this year, I'd bet the house that his signature series comes out and goes in HARD on the market. I have my eyes peeled on that one for sure – it's a must-cop. Till then, Jokic had to have something on his feet, and all through the finals, his choices have been good.
The Nuggets star wears the Nike Air Zoom G.T., with his wedding ring tied around the laces during every game. The Nike Air Zoom G.T. Jump features the brand's most responsive cushioning systems ever created, while the full-length Air Zoom Strobel unit is double-stacked with Zoom Air in the heel and forefoot.
It's also made from PEBAX® that's lightweight, springy, and strong, and a pair of them retails for around $180. And while that has been his in-game choice, he debuted a very fancy and colorful Nike G.T. Jump 2 in practice that got sneaker faithfuls licking their lips In anticipation of what could be a new set of "Nikolas" on the market very soon.
These sneakers caught my eye and falls in line with some of the best footwear we have seen all season long. This summer is set to be a big one in terms of releases and even more signature series rolling out.
The stardust spread across the NBA gets more glitzy by the day and you would expect, like I do, that these stars will be in the best kicks out there moving forward.
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