LeBron James is hands-down the most anticipated player of all time to come into the league. In the midst of a high school basketball career that was nationally televised during his senior year, Nike executives wrapped him up in the middle of that season with a 7-year, $90 million deal that Adidas tried to low-ball him.
LeBron had worn Adidas sneakers all through his reign of terror on the Ohio basketball scenario at St. Vincent-St. Mary's High School. Adidas's executives changed their offer from $100 million to $70 million at the last minute, allowing Nike to swoop in with a $90 million offer that would otherwise not have been made.
This signing enabled Nike to maintain its competitive edge over rivals in the shoe market and add another truly global basketball superstar to its ranks. Barring the Air Jordans, the LeBron's have been Nike's biggest sneaker cash cows, helping them accumulate billions of dollars in sales over the years.
Let's take a look back at each custom shoe Nike has released for LeBron over the past 15 years:
#1 Nike Air Zoom Generation - 2003/04 season
The Nike Air Zoom Generation, also known as just the Nike LeBron 1s
Designer Eric Avar drew the inspiration for the shape and the cut of the shoe from James' famous Hummer H2. The wide base and body of the shoe have been ever-present on every LeBron sneaker released ever since. The upper is composed of nylon and leather, while the shoe used the Nike Air Zoom system - a feature of the first six LeBron signature shoes.
These shoes came in both home/away color schemes. Nike released the Air Zoom Generations in the white/red-blue, as well as black/white-red colorway for away games. They also released a Christmas edition, all-white with a patterned body.
#2 Nike Zoom LeBron II - 2004/05 season
A modern-day makeover of the original LeBron IIs
These were Nike's first LeBron shoes to be marketed under The King's name. The Nike Zoom LeBron IIs was released in November 2004, and they were Nike's most anticipated shoes for the 2004-05 NBA season. James had garnered an ever-increasing bandwagon by the end of his first season, and sneaker fans were excited to discover Nike's direction with the LeBron line by that point.
The LeBron IIs were released predominantly in white/navy blue colours - the classic Chamber of Fear line springs to mind immediately. The most-vaunted release from this shoe edition is the all-black 'Birthday' edition, celebrating James' 30th December, 1984 birth date. The standard Black/White-Red colourway themselves have aged quite well on collectors' shelves over the years.
#3 Nike Zoom LeBron III
A re-released purple-and-white colorway for the LeBron III
By the time the LeBron IIIs were released for the general market, James had surpassed scouts' projected ceiling for his career. He finished the season 2nd in the MVP voting and was heralded as one of the league's elite players for the first time in his career right at the start of the year following his stellar second season which saw him play at the All-Star game.
The primary evolution between the IIs and the IIIs was how the strap was slimmed down. The boot-like look of the shoe used those straps and color blocking to give the III a uniform feel, while the sole was also made uniformly big in depth. The exaggerated lace-fasteners on the IIIs help it retain its noughties feel even today.
#4 Nike Zoom LeBron IV
The classic Nike LeBron IV Blue/White-Red; Image courtesy Nike Inc
The LeBron IVs were the first LeBron signatures to make use of a Foamposite material. The new construction went to a completely new grooved sole, inner mesh sock liner and plenty of Foamposite, which had successfully been used on a variety of other Nike shoes.
A number of iconic versions of the LeBron IV have been on display in sneakerhead cabinets for a long while. Bron wore the 'NYC Graffiti' kicks in a game at the Madison Square Garden. He knotted the laces up on LeBron IV 'Away' against the Timberwolves and the 'Fruity Pebbles' against the Hawks.
The LeBron IV 'China' was the first shoe in the LeBron series to be sold exclusively in China, although these kicks later made their way to the United States following high demand for the dominant crimson red coloring.
#5 Nike Zoom LeBron V
Nike brought the exaggerated strap from the LeBron IIs back with the release of the LeBron Vs in late 2007. They did away with the ribbed sole which was so prominent in the LeBron IVs, and they changed the positioning of the Swoosh to the front of the shoe while including one on the strap.
The standard white/red colorway on the LeBron Vs provides a much better and satisfying color scheme than previous LeBron's (with the possible exception of the first shoes in the line). Special releases include the 'Hardwood Classics', 'China', 'Away' black/red alternates, 'Yankees' and the 'Soldier' white/gold kicks.
In terms of pure basketball applicability, the LeBron Vs rank quite high up the all-time sneaker ranks.
#6 Nike Zoom LeBron VI
Strap or not? That's the question to which designer Ken Link could not provide a definitive answer - Link was the designer for all LeBrons from II to VI. He did away with the strap for the Zoom VIs, instead incorporating a mid-foot strap which acted only to accentuate the wider look of the shoe from the middle.
The LeBron VIs were the kicks LeBron graced on the way to his first MVP trophy in 2008-09, in what was one of the most statistically dominant regular season campaigns for any player in NBA history. Special releases of the LeBron VI include 'Chalk', the kicks that he laced up for the Christmas Day game. 'Big Apple' was a part of the 'Tale of 3 cities' pack, and the red LeBrons are my personal favorite LeBrons of all time.
#7 Nike Air Max LeBron VII
Another inline colorway of the Air Max LeBron VII, this NFW lived up to the extra letters by not having Flywire construction like most LeBron VII pairs, instead going with a woven, white leather upper. As the name suggests, this series featured a significant technological pivot on the manufacture of the LeBron, featuring the Air Max cushioning unit on a basketball shoe for the first time.
The Air Max offered 80 percent more air and was designed for multi-directional movements. Being thinner in the forefoot and deeper in the heel helped stabilize LeBron. Designed by Jason Petrie, these kicks also had words and stripes detailed to include key moments from LeBron's journey right up to the bottom of basketball pyramid to being recognized as the best player in the world.
#8 Nike LeBron VIII
It made sense for much of the technological revamps introduced in the VII to make a return in the LeBron 8s. Again we see Air Max and Flywire, along with a mesh inner sleeve, LeBron-specific herringbone pattern on the sole and deep-cut flex grooves. The high use of leather defined the aesthetic. The Nike swoosh was moved once more to the side of the side of the shoe, while there were no straps to use on this version of the shoes.
LeBron 8s marked James' move from Ohio to South Beach on many of their special editions. The Black/White PE shoes consist of handwritten messages: one on the front of the right boot and another at the rear of the left boot. 'South Beach', 'China', 'Aqua' PE, 'Un-China' and 'Miami Nights' are some of the limited edition sneakers that collectors have actively looked for.
#9 Nike LeBron IX
The 2011 release designed by Jason Petrie uses Air Max in the heel, but returned to Zoom Air for the forefoot. The Flywire returned for the third straight year, but combined with Hyperfuse—a composite of three different layers of material fused together for a lighter weight upper that still has strength—for the first time in a basketball shoe. Other new additions included adding padding to the inner collar, engineered textile wings, asymmetrical lacing, a heel pull tab and a ventilated tongue.
The LeBron 9 'Christmas' PE is one of the best-designed Christmas Day shoes of all time, not just from the LeBron line but every single sneaker designed for games that day. Special edition releases include an all-black 'Black' shoe, the introductory shoe from the 'Elite' line of LeBron sneakers, 'MVP', 'Fairfax', 'Floridian', 'Black History Month' and the like.
#10 Nike LeBron X
Nike LeBron X 'Prism'
The main aesthetic on the tenth anniversary of LeBron’s signature line includes diamond-inspired detailing on the upper and molded diamond shapes on the tongue. The X went back to a full-length Zoom Air unit—eliminating the experimentation with the Air Max—and continued the use of Hyperfuse, Flywire and a Phylon midsole for lightweight cushioning. The sole undergoes a change in design as well, with criss-crossing lines.
The special edition kicks from the LeBron X lines took on a whole new level following LeBron's maiden NBA title with the Heat in 2012. 'EXT - Red Suede', 'Pressure', 'MVP', 'Elite', 'Peppermint' and 'Prism' were some of the best-selling limited edition kicks that sneakerheads keep right at the front of their drawers today.
#11 Nike LeBron XI
By the time his 11th NBA season began in late 2013, LeBron's place in the list of all-time greats had been cemented. He was the double-defending NBA champion who had prevented the likes of Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan from adding to their championship rings, and he'd done that in a manner so dominant that the perception of LeBron as the world's best player had become universal.
Nike built the LEBRON 11 with all those accomplishments in mind, creating a shoe that had Lunarlon cushioning an state-of-the-art Hyperposite upper. The sneaker was armor-made to protect the Chosen One in his final season with the Heat. The diamond-like angularity first introduced in the 10s continued in the 11th signature LeBron shoe. The less bulk and less weight made the 11 the lightest LeBron shoe ever.
#12 Nike LeBron XII
LeBron XII blue-and-red
One of the key features introduced in the LeBron XII was the induction of five Zoom Air bags close to the onsole at the Achilles. This helps the wearer gain a wee bit in verticality while providing further support to the ankle. Incidentally, the placement of these Zoom Air bags has been done after testing LeBron for which spots on his foot bear the most stress - making it tailor-made for him to avoid foot injuries.
LeBron XIIs marked the return of The King to The Land, and thus the colourways and sneakers released in this series reflected this transition in his career. Some of the best special editions of this sneaker line include 'What The' - a veritable patchwork of a multitude of sneakers across the shoe; 'Halloween', 'Christmas', 'USA', 'Easter' and 'Heart of a Lion'.
#13 Nike LeBron XIII
The LeBron XIII sneakers were a wild craze at the 2016 NCAA championships
The 13s brought back the Hyperposite upper from the design for the 11s. The hexagonal Nike Zoom Air bags on the outsole that were first featured on the 12 found favor with a number of admirers and were thus brought back by designer Jason Petrie. It was rounded out with every Cavaliers-themed colorway imaginable, and the 13s were the kicks LeBron wore en route to his 3rd NBA title and his first in Cleveland.
The traction of the soles on these boots, while unimpressive to the naked eye, comes off really well on the hardwood. Some of the best-limited edition LeBron 13s include 'On-Court', 'LBJ25K', 'Horror Flick', 'Camo', 'Blue Lagoon', 'Freegums' and 'Akronite Philosophy'.
#14 Nike LeBron XIV
The LeBron 14s featured 3 Hex Zoom units on the soles beneath the balls of the foot and the midsection. Flex grooves along the outsole make it much more comfortable, wearable for average-sized people. The shoe is made of foam and mesh overlays but is generally composed of non-expensive materials. A flap added on top of the laces helps the boot fit into people's feet much better than the laces themselves.
The swoosh added on the strap in some versions looks much better there. LeBron 14s rolled off the shelves as soon as they hit the stores since this marks possibly the height of LeBron's popularity and fame through his career so far (that might change depending on the results of this year's championship series). Some of the best special editions of the LeBron 14s are 'Agimat', 'All Star', 'BHM', 'Out of Nowhere', 'What The' and 'Low Zen'.
#15 Nike LeBron XV
LeBron wore the 'I'm King' Players' Edition in his penultimate regular season game
The foam blend used in the 14s returned in the LeBron 15s, giving it more of a comfy look than the rugged demeanor of the earlier LeBron versions. This was achieved by Nike in the form of the Battlefit stitching across the length of the shoe. This compromises with ankle support, however, as the material is not rigid unlike the materials used in the LeBron 11 and 12.
The LeBron 15s have been released in several special editions of the course of this season. 'Equality', 'I'm King', 'SVSM', 'Fruity Pebbles', 'Mamba Mentality', 'Ghost' and 'Ashes' are some of the best from this line.