When Adidas announced that James Harden was joining its basketball roster over a year ago, it was all but certain that the Houston Rocket was going to get his own signature line. Signing with Adidas for a reported $200 million long-term deal, Harden was immediately looked at as the new face of the Three Stripes in the NBA.
The bold move was both exciting and daunting for Adidas designers. In his seven years in the NBA and six years with Nike, Harden has never had a signature sneaker.
“From the very beginning, there was a lot of pressure to already have that signature shoe for James and have something on the table to get to retail,” said Brian Foresta, Adidas VP of global design for basketball. “One thing that we wanted to focus on first was getting to know James and really understand how his style works, how his mind works, how he dresses himself, and really start co-creating.”
The Harden project was in danger of being killed by the internet before it even started after images of an early blacked-out product sample leaked, causing social media users to pan the sneaker. Foresta said the designers took the jabs very personally.
“It’s tough because you know all the hard work that goes into it. It’s like asking someone to come in to see all the raw ingredients of a meal without knowing what you’re cooking,” Foresta said. “When you do something progressive, it's great when people come pat you on the back. But it also hurts like hell when it comes the other way because it is a real personal thing as a brand. To do something new in such a big sport is not easy.”
The aesthetic of the debut signature sneaker, the Harden Vol. 1, wasn't the only thing that was important in the creation process. Performance was also built to the standards of the eponymous player.
Here, Adidas’ VP of global design for basketball breaks down how the brand kicked off its signature line for James Harden.