words & interview // Nick DePaula
images // Zac Dubasik

For five years now, All-Star Weekend has not only become a time for special edition sneakers, but also for bigger, more deeply thought out full collections from the Nike Basketball team that celebrates their signature athletes and stars playing in the NBA's annual All-Star Game.

With the league's 63rd All-Star Game taking place in New Orleans this weekend, the Nike Basketball team, led by Graphic Designer Erick Goto, looked to layer in elements of the host city's dynamic culture, wildlife and history of music.

We caught up with Goto earlier today for a full breakdown of this year's pairs, which go on sale Sunday morning in New Orleans.

Nick DePaula: Can you walk me through the inspiration behind this year's collection?

Erick Goto: A lot of people tend to think of New Orleans in relation to Mardi Gras and that whole celebration, but when we were doing research, we just found that there's a texture and liveliness to New Orleans that's really about the combination of cultures. The inspiration of gumbo came not from the food, but gumbo is actually a metaphor for the lineage of the different cultures that came to New Orleans. You have inspirations from France, Spain, Italy and Germany, and all of those cultures have influenced the culture of what New Orleans is today. We also wanted to tie into the celebration element of jazz and bring that into one unique expression. Another thing that we wanted to emphasize was the feeling of being hand done. People here would make quilts by hand, and they'd pull together all of these strips of fabrics and materials and combine them to tell their lineage. We wanted to modernize that aesthetic and do something geometric.

NDP: What about the inspiration and details for the LeBron 11?

EG: As it relates to the athletes, for LeBron, we wanted to embody the idea of him being the “Gator King.” He's often looked at as a lion, and that's the king of the jungle. So we looked at what the king of the bayou is, and that's the gator. We thought that was a really cool spin for LeBron, and also layering in the idea of royalty and majesty.

NDP: Within that pattern, what are some elements that are unique to LeBron?

EG: I was taking the initial pattern that we were starting to work with, and just embedding smaller details like the star that's everywhere to represent the weekend. And then along the collar, you can really see the gator there. We wanted it to be pretty subtle, and we didn't want to just do glow by itself. That's been done before. This level of texture was a really cool discovery element though.

NDP: As the graphic designer, what's it been like to work with the LeBron 11? It's the first time he's had Posite on his shoe since the V.

EG: It's challenging. Because there's a lot of testing that we have to adhere to, and we ended up doing certain printing processes where you're supposed to fuse material over it. We've done that differently. You might notice that we actually stopped the graphics just short of the edges, because that would've affected the bonding otherwise. It presents a lot of challenges, but at the same time we're able to work around it and have all kinds of great croc details throughout. Working with Basketball for the past six years, you learn a lot about construction in general, and we're always pushing it to try new things and new constructions.

NDP: What were some of the details throughout the KD?

EG: With KD, we positioned him as the “illusion” part of the pack, and playing around with that idea of him being a magician. There's a lot of history around magic here in New Orleans. We've also been using the tagline “Perform The Unreal,” and a lot of the elements really come to life with the use of glow-in-the-dark. We wanted to really bring all of those details to life. We also have a set of Taro cards that come along with the shoes for each player, and that's inspired by the fact that there are readings you can have done on the streets of the city.

NDP: Something I noticed from the start this year, was that in Orlando and Houston, all of the guys had different base colors. This year, all three shoes are much more closely linked. What went into that decision?

EG: I think we made a conscious effort to tone down the saturated and highlighter colors this time around. We had done that for a couple years now, and I think New Orleans was the appropriate place to go darker and desaturate things. Just looking into all of the inspiration points behind the set, we felt like using the glow in the dark was a good of bringing together all of those elements.

NDP: With the Kobe, the big shift is that it's gone to a high top. How is designing on a high different than his lows in recent years?

EG: When we're representing the athlete, you always want to listen to their feedback, and one of the things that Kobe said was he wanted to tell the different stories of his muses. The Masterpiece edition was kind of the kickoff for the series, and we wanted to take the panel that goes up towards the collar and use that for storytelling. The various colorways will have different levels of graphics and details, and some might not have any. It's great to be able to dial it up and dial it down based on what Kobe wants. It's a big shift to go from a low top to a high like this, and visually it's a big shift for us and it's been interesting to see how consumers are adapting. It's fresh that they took a big swing with it.

With Kobe, we didn't really amp up the gold too much, but we wanted to take these elements of brass and play up the jazz lineage of New Orleans. There's a brushed metal finish on the Swoosh, the mint on the pattern actually glows, and then there's a trumpet graphic that's embedded into the pattern.

NDP: What's the whole process like in terms of time now? I know initially with All-Star shoes it was a couple months of working ahead, and now it's a full year it seems.

EG: We've already started ideating on New York for next year, and this is an event where now we really get out ahead. The normal design process for shoes is around 14-18 months ahead, and for colors, graphics and materials, I can be doing something that's as quick as three months, or I can be doing something like the All-Star collection where now it's a year ahead.

NDP: I remember when you guys first started on collections for All-Star in Phoenix and Dallas, it was four or five months out, and then in Orlando with the Galaxy collection, that seemed like a big trigger for these bigger moments.

EG: It just happened to be that way too, because as we make these more available to consumers and less limited, it also requires a lot more work ahead of time as well. We have a new color designer, Ashley Lowe, and she's been working really closely on this collection too. So we'll start to see new takes on color, materials and graphics for Nike Basketball in the future.

NDP: Is there any particular event you're looking forward to?

EG: I really want to see what they pull out for the Dunk Contest. I'm excited to see Lillard in it, and Paul George of course too. The rest of the field is going to be awesome too. I wasn't really stoked on the performances last year, but this year, I'm really looking forward to it.

NDP: Historically, is there anything that sticks out for you in terms of a great sneaker moment?

EG: I think we always go back to Dallas. That was kind of the first time where we took a swing at doing something unexpected. We did the neon versions that year in that vivid blue and real bright red, and we caught a lot of flak for that, but overall it was an exciting time for us and has led to all of these other great collections since.