As an NBA player, signing a contract with Jordan Brand means entry into an exclusive club. Unlike the other big names in the sneaker industry, the Jordan roster is on the smaller side, with a select number of elite players chosen (often, it’s said, by MJ himself) to serve as the brand’s ambassadors. These days you can spot young stars like Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum lacing up the Air Jordan 35. The number of players who get their own signature Jordan is even smaller—in 20 years Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook are the only players to have been granted that unique honor. As far as Jordan’s concerned, it’s superstars only.
That club just got a little bigger. When Zion Williamson signed an unprecedented five-year $75 million deal with Jordan Brand before even making his NBA debut, there were no doubts he’d been anointed the company’s next signature star. Zion played most of his first two seasons with the New Orleans Pelicans in some eye-catching Air Jordan 34 and 35 PEs (his debut “Bayou Boys” kicks easily being the standout) but it’s now official: he’ll be finishing his breakout second season wearing the long-anticipated Jordan Zion 1.
Sneakers are often designed well over a year in advance of their release. They’re subjected to seemingly endless concept meetings, design analysis, and player testing. It can all be a little corporate. But Zion is one of the most charismatic players the league has seen in a while—so it was only fitting that his design process, already affected by the pandemic, look a little different. While quarantining with his family, he eagerly involved them in the design process. One Jordan Brand team member recalls Zion and his mother showing up to an early Zoom meeting with a homemade cut-and-paste mood board. They’d included pictures of Zion’s favorite Jordans, inspirational quotes, and even some of his favorite superheroes and anime to give the team an idea of where he wanted to go with the shoe. Accordingly, the first batch of releases includes a multicolored number inspired by drawings Zion’s younger brother Noah sketched on a white Jordan 1 Low when he tagged along on a visit to Nike HQ.
That’s largely indicative of the ethic Zion brought to the table. Despite carrying the weight of the basketball world’s expectations on his massive shoulders since high school, he remains by their accounts a quiet, humble kid who lights up around his family. His first sneaker reflects that. It’s a timeless, simple silhouette with killer performance specs. It’s not without flair, but every accent and flourish is ultimately rooted in sentiment.
Hoopers who plan on lacing up the Jordan Zion 1 for their next on-court session will likely first notice the ample forefoot band. It provides extra lockdown and prevents the possibility of a sneaker blowing out—a necessity, given Zion’s notorious Nike blowout minutes into a crucial March Madness game during his time at Duke. The Zion 1 also features a full-length strobel—padding between the shoe’s sole and sock liner—for balanced cushioning and a forefoot Zoom bubble. It might not get you dunking like Zion, but it certainly packs some bounce.
The team also put a lot of effort into the tongue, of all things. Zion recounted to them how he’d often pick a pair of shoes out of his closet based on how the tongue looked and felt, often gravitating towards chunky silhouettes like the Jordan 3 and 5. Playing into this, the Zion 1 has a prominent tongue made of a lightweight material and accented with geometric padding, intended to call to mind the costumes worn by some of Zion’s favorite superheroes.
When it came time to select colorways, Zion kept it simple, first requesting a classic black and white number. Dubbed the “Gen Zion,” it’ll be the first colorway to hit shelves this week. In addition to that and the aforementioned Jordan Zion 1 “Noah,” there’s a flashy pink and maroon colorway paying tribute to his hometown of Marion, SC and the “ZNA,
which plays with deep blues and violets.
The shoe is tied together with a final detail, one that’s both eye-catching and deceptively simple: the outer side of each sneaker features a gigantic ‘Z’ stitching. It’s not without its performance advantages (it connects the lightweight mesh of the forefoot to the more substantial heel and ankle). But it’s also the sort of instantly recognizable touch that makes a powerful statement on an athlete’s first signature shoe.
Jordan Brand ushers in “Generation Zion” this week. The first colorway will hit stores and the SNKRS app on April 23rd, with the others soon to follow.