EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Devin Booker talks paying homage with release of Nike Book 1 shoe

Feb 12, 2024, 5:22 PM | Updated: 7:12 pm

PHOENIX — All the details were there. And for those really paying attention, the easter eggs were, too.

The first commercial for the release of Devin Booker’s first signature shoe with Nike wasn’t going to come any other way. Through the limited lens of a professional athlete trying to express himself, this would be both his magnum opus and introduction. The last line is “welcome to the world of Book.” The video had to be on point.

But it just didn’t sound right.

Booker and the marketing team for the Phoenix Suns guard saw a cut of the video shortly before its release and long after filming, feeling the music wasn’t there. That can make or break everything, and shifting the tone as viewers get their first look at the Nike Book 1 “Mirage” over halfway into the video was crucial.

The tweak was in. Now, as the camera takes us inside the shoe and its own world, the aggressive, thumping beat off De La Soul’s 2004 release “Rock Co.Kane Flow” featuring MF Doom takes the ride home via hip-hop legends that span decades.

That’s more like it.

It is a minor difference in the grand scheme of things. That is also a difference Booker wants to nail and a mindset he has always had, and primarily why combining forces with “the swoosh” on a project of this scale was surely going to produce something bold, pure and unique.

Ding, ding, ding to all three.

Booker spoke with Arizona Sports about the two-year creative process coming to fruition with the release of the Nike Book 1 “Mirage” on Feb. 17.

DEVIN BOOKER’S NIKE BOOK 1 SHOES ARE FUTURE CLASSIC

The Nike Book 1 was always going to be a distinctive basketball shoe, while at the same time using simplicity that has made other Nike shoes timeless.

The inspiration from Nike’s Air Force 1, Blazer and Jordan 1 models was intentional from the jump, a reference point from Booker to Nike’s designers early in the process. There is a performance aspect lacking in those two casual shoes and archaic Jordan 1s, which is where the blend of a modern basketball shoe can come into play.

It does not look like a basketball shoe at first glance. That was by design.

There is a multidimensional sweet spot on the spectrum Booker is going for with this shoe. He is someone in his own right who has a vast knowledge of what makes a great basketball shoe. Versatility is rare to find in a signature line, a shoe built for basketball that can also not feel like one (in a good way) when worn casually. On the court and off the court was the Venn diagram Booker wanted his shoe to land somewhere in the middle of.

It was obviously going to start with the structural integrity, which made it no surprise to hear Booker say that is the part of the shoe he is the proudest of.

“I’d say just the midsole of the shoe,” Booker said. “I think that’s the gamechanger, making the midsole clean. … I know it seems simple, but the cleanness of it.”

Most shoes at Nike go above and beyond with performance and tech inside the anatomy of the shoe, but the balance he wanted is there, as is the immediate broken-in feeling. The zoom material in that midsole has indirectly turned into a perfect fit for of all things, skaters. Booker got the shoe in a bunch of different places away from the hardwood and that foot feel is one he was told is “ahead of its game” on a deck with wheels attached to it.

It is a basketball shoe at the end of the day, and Booker’s teammates as well as friends across the league have been rocking them. And they can’t get enough.

“It’s only been super positive,” he said of the feedback from other NBA players. “Everybody has made it a point to re-let me know and re-let me know that they need pairs and they want to wear them.”

The hard part for many is branding. That, however, proved to be rather effortless with the Book 1.

“It writes itself, no pun intended,” Booker said. “I think right when they told me that I’d be a signature athlete, I started thinking of all the guys’s names that have been one. And the one that sticks with me most is Penny (Hardaway). I always thought that the name Penny was the craziest as a signature athlete.

“In my humble opinion, shoes are about storytelling, so the name Book was perfect.”

Booker remembered early stages of the shoes’s development when focus groups were trying them on around different parts of the country. He thought that was a good idea.

“Once they told me that was their process, I was like, I’d like to do focus groups of myself,” he said.

In September, Booker released three different videos over the course of five days. Leaks of the shoe had arrived at that point, so Booker took back control of where the discourse had ventured off. Known for his collection of camcorders that surely by now has a vault of footage stretching all across his life like those boxes of tapes parents from 30 years ago compiled, Booker and others filmed a day-in-the-life style week of footage.

The first began with him scrolling comments on Instagram, liking a few comments on it looking like a skater shoe or “basketball Air Forces.” He then takes them on the court with former Suns teammate, Jamal Crawford, someone Booker has credited in the past for helping shape the player he became today.

Then, you know, came the casual stuff. Going to the Drake show, getting a shoutout from him on the jumbotron and having his name dropped in the song. Whatever. No biggie.

Next was more run on the court at UCLA and USC with his current Suns teammates, this time offering a peek at the original Chapter Ones in that identifiable orange.

Other names got a peek too, like J.Cole and tattoo artist Mister Cartoon before Drake walked out with Booker at a concert and performed on stage in the shoes.

“I wanted all my homies, all the people that have been a part of this process to have early looks at it and feel a part of the story,” Booker said of it.

This achieved what some signature lines fail at: connecting the fans to who they are. Yes, ultimately it’s about the shoe. But not in the traditional line of thinking.

The defined success of the shoe and its marketing thus far has been how easily it identifies to Booker himself. We’re talking about a signature shoe after all. Any long-time supporters of Booker here in the Valley or elsewhere in the world should be able to look at the shoe and get a visual representation of his personality.

It’s all there, especially when it comes to the colorways.

PAYING HOMAGE

To go back to the commercial and its shoutouts, his story is reflected in what the viewer is being told and by whom.

His dad throws him a pass, with Booker’s dog Haven looking on, proud as can be of pops. Mom was a little camera shy so Booker was able to have her narrate. His brother holds up a sign taking us to the conclusion. Even the transition to the world of Book includes Booker crossing up a defender in a No. 72 Gutierrez jersey, a nod he said is both to mom and his grandpa.

“It’s important, man. It’s my first one and if you’re gonna tell my story you gotta start with my family so I wanted them involved,” Booker said.

A Kentucky Wildcat lingers in the background. He got a teammate in there with Kevin Durant. Two more Phoenix basketball icons in Shawn Marion and Diana Taurasi helped out, too. There’s a high five to “Lil’ Penny,” a nod to one of Nike’s most successful signature shoes and ad campaigns, one Booker was a fan of growing up. Then there’s the man in the beginning, grabbing the book of the Book 1. That’s Wilson Smith III, a legend of shoe design.

He was Nike’s first Black shoe designer and just reached four decades with the company. Smith is the mind behind Charles Barkley’s signature shoe and was the first dedicated designer for the Jordan Brand, working on the Jordan XVI and Jordan XVII shoes Michael Jordan would don during his last hurrah with the Washington Wizards.

“That’s a kind of ‘if you know, you know’ in the shoe culture and obviously everybody at Nike knows him,” Booker said of Smith. “These are the types of people I feel should be put on the big stage for their contributions to the brand. That’s just me saying they deserve that. In no way did they give me that energy that they want people to know they are behind the scenes.”

When Booker was on the Nike campus and went to the “DNA” location where the shoe archives exist, Smith was his historian and storyteller through that world.

The inspiration must have been overflowing and the potential for the shoe has been the perfect canvas for expressing that.

Booker has worn 11 different versions of the shoe prior to its availability (you can see in the slideshow above), including different player editions (PEs) to bring more exposure.

“A lot of the colors I’ve been wearing, it’s something they haven’t done before, release that many PE’s before somebody releases a shoe,” Booker said.

There was a level of respect that had to be there.

“It was always about paying homage to me, especially for the first one,” Booker said. “The Air Force One was inspiration, Blazer was inspiration. To transcend the court and make it a lifestyle shoe.”

The “Cool Grey” is a Jordan 1 look that surprised Booker when it arrived from Nike: “Jordan used the greys. It wasn’t intended for that to be a cool grey. That’s actually one that of the colors that I had no say-so on that popped up in one of my packages and I was like, ‘This is a dope, simple (shoe), this is every day right here.'”

“Metallic Purple,” one Suns fans are clamoring for in particular, is another: “AJ1! Air Jordan 1, my favorite Jordan sneaker. It changed the shoe culture forever.”

Another favorite that has emerged is the orange-and-black “Shattered Backboard” shoes that serve as both a rewind and nod: “If you don’t know the story, Jordan (is) playing in Italy in the summertime and wearing that colorway, breaking the glass on a dunk. Shoe that I always sought for and could never get.”

The color scheme is conveniently one of Italian side Stefanel Trieste, making for a great match with the Suns.

Booker’s path to get here is covered, as expected.

The “Detroit Stomper” got its design because the concept shoe needed a little more self-added pizazz: “That was a fit and feel shoe. That was one of the ones they sent me early on and it was just all black, no logos on it and I went myself to put the Detroit old English ‘D’ on there. I’ve been repping it for a long time and those are obviously all my sports teams.”

Booker was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and reps the Detroit Lions, Red Wings and Tigers as much as possible.

He moved to Moss Point, Mississippi, when he was a teenager to play basketball where his dad lived. The light blue shoe is a sequel to his 2019 Air Force 1 PE:”People should know that story by now. If you don’t, look into it. That’s high school inspired.”

The original “Chapter Ones” are all about the Valley: “Oh, that’s just completely Phoenix. Phoenix inspired. I wanted to find an orange that hasn’t been used before. So that clay orange is kind of a sunburn. I just wanted it to be team colors. I think we’ve gotten away from that first drop being like MJ’s, the breds, the black and reds — it was always team color back in the day. Every since the NBA took the ban off of having to match your team, it went so far away from that.”

In Phoenix, there have been defining segments of Booker’s career. The shoes tell that tale as well.

A white-and-orange pair of Kobe’s was Booker’s go-to in the bubble, cementing a legacy when Booker’s game-winner in the bubble against the Los Angeles Clippers was the birth of his pose laying down on the ground: “We call them the Bubble Book’s! I started rocking them in the bubble and I wore them a lot last season also.”

The 2020-21 season that ended in an NBA Finals appearance was a lot of the purple Kobe’s he wrote the phrase on that is now tattooed onto his arm: “Be legendary, be legendary. Finals run, yeah, that speaks for itself.”

There are a few that jump out from the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mold Booker usually sticks by.

Booker, who is just 27 years old and still quite hip, found himself during this process sensing the generational gap between what he likes and what those darned kids are into these days. But coming from the guy with the classic cars that has always come across as an old soul, it does track.

“I didn’t want all the colors to be so vibrant,” Booker said. “But it’s kind of opposite of what the kids want nowadays. You go into an AAU gym and you see the Kobe Grinch’s, all the highlighted colors, which is kind of different than my usual speed but just wanted to switch it up and hit all lanes, all avenues with it.”

There was the bright “Orange” iteration of the Nike Book 1: “That was trying to get the kids’s attention. I got it right around Halloween this year.”

And a mix of that plus what Booker wanted the colorways to be was the “Neon” edition, a tribute to a pair of Air Max 95’s that share a sentimental aspect for the kid born in ’96: “That’s my dad’s favorite shoe. He always told me I was born a year late because of that shoe. Yeah, 95 Air Max, that’s a staple where I’m from.”

The unveiling through the regular season has allowed Booker to flex his creative muscles. If he hadn’t earned the everyday sneaker-head’s attention yet, surely this round of PEs did the trick. The consumers and Nike itself now know what Booker literally has in store for them over the coming years (By the way, Booker said a PE could be sold at some point but noted it’s not something usually done).

“Pay homage to the classic sneakers that were a part of our story when I was collecting, things that I never had access to or I could get my hands on that I can show that appreciation in a way and show those colors that people have seen before and fell in love with,” Booker said.

ON AND OFF

“Mirage” is up first, the Nike Book 1 pair that will be available on SNKRS and select retailers Feb. 17. It is a comfortable aesthetic that doesn’t jump off the page, a laid-back tone of colors synonymous with what we’ve gotten to know about Booker’s sense of style.

When you look at the shoe, “basketball” is not the first thing the synapses in your noggin start firing off. Once again, it is intentional.

“That was the goal,” Booker said. “The first color that is going to the masses.”

The decision to go with something pronounced as opposed to a traditional basketball-looking shoe completes the objective. The expectation of differentiation is set.

And this is just the start.

This point in the journey represents the kid who grew up dreaming of having access to everything Nike, let alone something with his name on it and a signature shoe like all of his idols. It also represents the man, who is of course a businessman who wants to see this become a success but more so succeed because it shares his artistic and imaginative headspace.

Booker confirmed the ideas are already swirling around in that noggin for more “chapters” in the future, the contents within a storybook coming to life.

“Yep, yep. Hey, hopefully we keep going,” he said. “I don’t know how many there’s gonna be. It’d be nice to stagger it 2, 3, 4 but there’s also a play on it always being chapter one.

“The story is still being written and there’s a lot more to do.”

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