In conjunction with the launch of the John Elliott x Nike LeBron Icon collection, Nike has curated a special exhibition for Shanghai’s basketball fans. Located at NikeLab X158, the upper floor of the specialty retailer was transformed into an interactive gallery space. Combining the work of artists and local fans, the exhibition is a testament to LeBron’s global influence, proving why he is regarded as more than an athlete.
At the center of the exhibition, the Icon collection is suspended mid-air, hanging inside of an LED-lit frame. Although James has had a Nike collection for some time now, the Icon collection combines the efforts of fashion designer, John Elliott. As a friend, and longtime fan, Elliott had a strong concept in his approach to designing the collection. Basing it on the multifaceted talents of LeBron, Elliott wanted the design to match LBJ’s versatility — for situations on and off the court. One of his main inspirations was the famed block against Iguodala from Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, where he describes James’ energy as “water released by a dam.” The theme of water would go on to inspire the translucent layers of the shoe. When asked about the 7-piece collection, Elliott reveals this is some of his best work to-date, working with some of Nike’s newest fabric technology throughout the design process.
The suspended collection hovers above a small basketball court, featuring hoops made with stained-glass backboards and Swarovski crystal netting. Created by sculptor Victor Solomon, the artist’s work comments on how the sport has been elevated by athletes such as LeBron James. Part of Solomon’s installation included a practice rack containing porcelain basketballs that had been broken and reconstructed with the Japanese method of Kintsugi, or the “golden repair.” The work reflects how LBJ was able to break the mold of a professional athlete in the modern era.
In Wu Chi-Tsung’s “Wheel of Life” installation, the artist allows viewers to see themselves from new vantage points. Showing the viewer they are more than what they see in the mirror, the space helps to push boundaries of an individual’s perception of the self. For LeBron, his endeavors off the court solidified why he is fit for the title of a king. While he’s no stranger to philanthropy, his latest goal is to provide an updated learning environment for underprivileged youth. To support this, Nike has enlisted the help of Chinese-artist Liu Bolin the “The Invisible Man,” whose work involves painting himself to blend into backgrounds. In “The Dream of Saint Etienne,” Bolin and a group of kids from Saint Etienne appear invisible against a mural that illustrates the economic depression that followed a ban on coal mining. Whether he’s hooping with kids out in China, or talking with young athletes on his new HBO show, The Shop, James understands the importance of the next generation. These are the many reasons why LeBron James is more than an athlete.
So you two have known each other for a while now, how did a collaboration finally come together?
LBJ: Just mutual respect I think. Obviously I had my line with Nike for quite a while, and I love what he’s done on his signature pieces. So I think it was an easy connection when we were seeking someone to make some pieces. Either for footwear or apparel — and we ended up doing both with JE. I think it’s just the mutual respect of what we do in our own worlds, and bringing both worlds together. It just fit perfectly.
John, why was the LeBron 8 important to use as a canvas for the Icon?
JE: Well I wanted to try and have something that was immediately identifiable as LeBron DNA, and the full airbag was something I’ve always loved. I had the South Beach editions and those are at the top of my personal collection. So it seemed like a natural fit to start there as a base and build on top of that.
LBJ: Listen, when I heard he wanted to start with the silhouette of the 8, I was like “yeah let’s do that.” That full-length airbag is something that has always defined my signature sneakers. For him to take that, and run with it was great.
“If you have a love for a craft and say,“I’m going to tackle no matter what,” then you can get to that superstar status.”
Athletes have always served as important role models, how would you encourage other athletes or celebrities to responsibly use their platform of influence?
LBJ: At the end of the day, it’s what you’re comfortable with. We all advise each other, but if you are passionate about something and you feel like its right for you, then you should speak up on it. If not, you have the right not to speak. We know what we do. What we stand for.. That’s all we can control.
Nowadays new product launches are seeded straight to rappers and sports stars, do you feel it’s important to keep up with the latest style trends?
JE: I think for me personally, when an athlete or an entertainer has a sense of personal style, that’s when it’s strongest. Look at LeBron, he has his own lane. His own personal style. It’s authentic. When something is authentic and it comes natural, people gravitate to that the most.
LBJ: To piggyback on what John said, if you look at his line over the years, he’s never trying to stay up with the curve or with what others are doing. He stays in his lane, and I think that’s what makes it so authentic. No matter what’s going on in the marketplace or what people think is newest wave. He stays true to him and that’s why we’re working on this great project.
LeBron, so many factors make or break a player, what do you think constitutes a sports superstar in 2018?
LBJ: I mean, you have to own your craft and have passion for that craft to get better and better. A lot of people get misconstrued and think it’s what you do off the floor that makes you a superstar… What makes you a superstar is being great at playing basketball, and the rest will take care of itself. I’m able to do other things now because I honed my skills for the game of basketball. If you have love for a craft and say, “I’m going to tackle that no matter what,’ then you can get to that superstar status.
Did you learn anything new from each other in this process?
LBJ: Probably how much we fuck with each other. We like each others product, and as people — We’re down to earth guys.
“It’s crazy for me to say this, but I’m homies with LBJ”
JE: We’re homies man. As crazy as it is for me to say that, that I’m homies with LBJ. I look up to him, but I’m friends with him at the same time. It’s such an honor. He has a saying, “strive for greatness.” And when we were putting the shoe together — full transparency — it took a long time to get the shoe perfect, but during that process I was just trying to do right by him. It’s just such an honor.
Walking through the space today, what stands out to you?
LBJ: I mean just the fact that people can use us as inspiration and make pieces this. I mean you can look at the pieces behind us right here — our collection, people making art to help showcase our collection. The basketball hoops with the Swarovski crystals, the basketballs that been shattered and put back together. We didn’t think that if we had collab’ed on a shoe and couple pieces of apparel that it would turn into a full art gallery.
JE: Yeah the gallery, and the fact there’s thousands of kids outside chanting LBJ. To be in Shanghai and see how fast and big the city is, it’s a tremendous honor for both of us. We appreciate it and are humbled by it.