When LeBron James makes his Los Angeles Lakers regular-season debut Thursday night in Portland, Oregon, his jersey hues might be entirely new, but the colors of his shoes will be all too familiar, celebrating one of the first iconic moments of his Nike career.
Styled in a burgundy knit upper, the detail on the new LeBron 16 “King” hearkens back to Nike’s grandiose declaration just as its $90 million rookie entered the league.
“We think he’s the athlete that will define the next generation,” a Nike Basketball exec said in 2003.
The company backed up that belief by putting a then-18-year-old “King James” at the center of a regal poster sitting atop a custom throne and flanked by three massive lions.
“The luxurious burgundy tones, the gold detailing, his original [LJ23] logo and the animal fur — a combination of the lions and the animal pelt he had draped over the throne — are all there as nods to that poster,” said Jason Petrie, designer of the LeBron 16.
Soon after the poster was released, the lion became a symbolic element incorporated often into the LeBron line, representing strength and courage. It first debuted in a laser-etched design on his second shoe, then was featured on the tongue of several of his ensuing models. On most colorways of the 16, the lion icon dominates the heel panel. Here, it’s spotted along the tongue, with the original poster