by Zac Dubasik
The 2015 NBA Finals matchup is now set. There’s no more guessing. The Cavaliers and Warriors will face off for the title, beginning on June 4. But from a sneaker standpoint, there is one lingering question.
That question doesn’t have anything to do with the newly crowned NBA MVP. Steph Curry has worn his first signature model, Under Armour’s Curry One, since its January introduction. The question relates to the four-time MVP, LeBron James.
In contrast to last season, when he routinely ditched the LeBron 11 in favor of the Soldier 7, LeBron has worn the LeBron 12 almost exclusively this year. Things got interesting when the Elite edition of the 12 launched leading into the postseason.
James wore the 12 Elite for three of the Cavs four wins in their Round 1 sweep of the Celtics. He also wore it for the Cavs Game 1 loss to the Bulls in the second round. But ever since then, it’s been back to player exclusive editions of the standard Nike LeBron 12.
Following his admitted issues with the 11, it would be fair to assume that James just doesn’t like the Elite version of the Nike LeBron 12. However, according a source close to James, this may have more to do with superstition than not being happy with the shoe. There’s some evidence to support this theory.
James’ current switch out of the shoe didn’t come until the Cavs lost their first game of the playoffs. In that game, James went for just 19 points. While that’s certainly a respectable number, it’s far below his current average of 26.6 points this postseason.
That’s not the only seemingly performance-based change James has made either during these Playoffs. James began Game 3 against the Hawks by going 0-10 from the field. When he returned to the court for the second quarter, he’d swapped sneakers once again. Not from the 12 to a different model, but from one PE colorway to another PE colorway. He’d go on to land an all-time impressive stat line of 37 points, 13 assists, and 18 rebounds. That’s not to say that the change of sneakers changed the game, but it could perpetuate any superstitious thoughts regarding the situation.
Sneakers aren’t the only evidence of superstition either. Following that Game 1 loss to the Bulls, LeBron brought back his much-debated headband, which had been MIA for months. It only stuck around for two games though. The headband hasn’t been seen again since the Cavs dropped Game 3 in Chicago.
Regardless of the reasoning, one thing's for sure – this year’s crop of Elite signature models has seen little to no on-court action, to say the least. James was the only player with an Elite model to even make it to the postseason. While KD could very well be on his way back to the NBA Playoffs next year, nothing is a lock in the top-heavy Western Conference. With Kobe’s best days behind him and the Lakers still in the beginning stages of a rebuild, the chances of the next Kobe signature being around for the 2016 Playoffs seems like a longshot at best.
There’s also the simple question of habit. Even if a player isn’t superstitious, changing shoes for the most important time of the season is a bit of a risky proposition. Sticking with what's familliar doesn't necessarily make one superstitious. Also, if the Elite edition is supposedly superior, why not give these players the luxury of playing in the “best” all season long?
Nike’s Elite line has produced some of the most expensive hoops footwear ever. But since LeBron wore the 9 Elite during his first championship run, it hasn’t produced a whole lot of memorable moments.