Ja Morant and Nike Are Ready to Leap Over the Competition With the Ja 1

Nike’s design team breaks down the process of making Ja’s first signature sneaker.

Footwear 
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Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant is a walking highlight reel. He’s one of the NBA’s brightest new stars, and now his stardom is set to increase thanks to his first signature shoe with Nike, the Ja 1. Announced on Christmas Day of last year, the Ja 1 encapsulates Morant’s ferocity on-court, inviting fans around the world to bring that same energy to their game.

Before exploding onto the scene in the 2019-20 NBA season, Morant was an overlooked talent. In high school, it took an unlikely encounter with a Murray State coach to give him the chance he needed to shine. Then, as his college highlights went viral, he began to garner more attention — and his biggest moment in college was a statement performance in the 2019 NCAA Tournament against Marquette that torpedoed him into top prospect considerations. This determination and grit demonstrated throughout Morant’s climb to greatness has paid off with the debut of his signature line with Nike.

While undergoing the 18-month-long design journey with Nike to bring his vision to life, Morant received numerous accolades and has played a key role in transforming the Grizzlies from a lottery team to a squad prepared to make another deep playoff run. At the same time, he’s been hands-on with the design team to ensure that the Ja 1 launches him – and players around the world – to new heights.

Nike Basketball designer Ben Nethongkome — the man responsible for some of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant’s most notable signature models — aimed to capture Morant’s relentless intensity and lively personality with the Ja 1’s design and his signature logo, which features a sharply-shaped “JA” written above a chevron. Nethongkome shared that the logo symbolizes Morant’s ability to overcome obstacles and emphasizes the verticality of his game, while the slick nature of its form nods to the speedy guard’s quickness on the court as well.

When it came time to select performance features tailored to Morant, three key benefits were desired: dynamic lockdown, a responsive forefoot and support for landing. Initially, Nethongkome and Morant shared stories and discussed their favorite basketball sneakers, developing a mutual understanding of what makes a shoe special. Following this, Nethongkome went on to study film, analyzing Morant’s movement – especially the cuts and leaps that he’s known for.

“Our meeting with Ja must have been 6 hours long, and he had his samples on from start to finish.” – Ben Nethongkome

It was during a trip to Nike’s World Headquarters that Morant finally saw his dream come true, as he was presented with an all-black wear test sample of his sneaker. “Our meeting with Ja must have been 6 hours long, and he had his samples on from start to finish,” says Nethongkome, also noting that Morant wasted no time in taking his shoes to the court and brutally crossing up one of his trainers.

In its final form, the Ja 1’s targeted benefits were realized through subtle design decisions. The forefoot’s overlay offers stability and a snug fit to support Morant’s striking cuts. Another key part of his game is taking flight with – as Nethongkome cleverly described it – “Ja-dropping” plays. For lift off, Air Zoom bags were placed in the forefoot, enhancing elevation while the slightly raised midsole, foam padding in the collar and zonal cushioning provide stabilization upon landing.

From a looks standpoint, Morant’s signature line begins with the “Midnight Series,” said to be the first of three series on the way. Playing off his #12 jersey, the “Midnight Series” is inspired by the clock striking midnight. “Ja feels like he’s always putting in the work while people are asleep,” noted Nethongkome. Nike VP of men’s basketball Scott Munson describes the Ja 1 as “one of the richest number of drops that we’ve done for the launch of a shoe,” and he’s not speaking in hyperbole: Ja fans will have a cornucopia of choices.

During an early preview of the shoe in Memphis, five colorways were officially revealed. First was a colorful “Day One” pair, shown off in Nike’s announcement of the shoe. The “Day One” showcases Morant’s signature Grizzlies-esque light blue across the upper and speaks to his hardworking, blue-collar mentality. It’s joined by a soft sunrise pink that reminds him to put in work each day.

The color scheme is flipped by a complementary “Day One PE” that sees pink outfitting the upper while blue covers the sole, including at its icy translucent outsole. This outsole includes a handwritten tribute to everyone who’s been with him since day one, including his supporters, doubters and most of all, his daughter Kaari. For Morant, he was prompted to choose which of these two would hit shelves – leaving the other to be a PE – and he ultimately chose the light blue pair as the general launch colorway.

Mixing things up, a purple “Chimney” look – as seen on-foot during Morant’s Christmas Day game – carries unique text on its heel. The left shoe reads “CLIMB UP THE CHIMNEY” while the right exclaims “WE AIN’T DUCKING NO SMOKE,” referencing one of Morant’s triumphant post-game interviews from last season. Both details also come to life with chimney-like brickwork at the heel tabs and a smoky finish on the upper’s leather overlays.

Another shade of purple makes its way onto the Ja 1 with the “Trivia PE” colorway. Its color palette is inspired by board games that Morant and his family enjoy while various questions pertaining to the athlete appear in colorful text. Examples of these include “Where is Ja Morant from?” and “What College [sic] did Ja Morant attend?” putting his fans to the test to see how well they know him.

Lastly, Morant and the Nike Basketball team kicked it back to the Grizzlies’ original colors of turquoise, bronze, red and black with the “Scratch” colorway. Appearing with vicious claw marks inspired by the team’s mascot and Morant’s aggressive style of play, the pair is a fitting tribute. Its turquoise upper sees black scratches embroidered from the mudguard to the toe box while the black Swooshes appear with white markings. The white midsole also sees black tears printed towards the heel while a bronze tag and red trim offer final thematic touches.

 

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As of now, a release date has not yet been announced. However, the Nike Ja 1 is currently expected to launch in April at a price of $110 USD in adult sizes and $90 USD in kid’s sizes, making it the most affordable signature footwear model that will be available from Nike Basketball. Stay tuned for more information as Morant and Nike continue their ascent to the top.

“Ja’s young and excited, like a kid in a candy store,” says Nethongkome “We’re excited to see his line grow.”

If Morant’s shoes continue to be even half as exciting as his on-court theatrics are, basketball fans should be excited too.

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