Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving blasted Nike Wednesday after leaked photos of his upcoming shoe, the Kyrie8, surfaced online. The shots fired by Irving at the brand are a sharp difference from the feedback Nike received when LeBron James had an issue with his signature shoe in 2013.
Irving wrote: “I have nothing to do with the design or marketing of the #Kyrie8, (in my opinion) these are trash. I have absolutely nothing to do with them! Nike plans to release it without my okay regardless of what I say, so I apologize in advance to all of my sneaker heads and true supports of the #KAI11 brand.”
A representative for Nike did not respond to a request for comment.
“He is Nike’s most successful current player,” said Matt Powell, an analyst at market research firm NPD Group. “We’re starting to see celebrity endorsers whether they’re athletes or artists stepping up and be more vocal about their relationship with the brands. [But] the reason most kids buy a player’s shoe is because they like the player and they want to be like that player. And if the player says don’t buy this shoe, that’s a problem.”
Nike and Irving began their relationship a decade ago in July 2011. Three years into the deal, Irving had a signature shoe with the company. Nike has released seven editions of Irving’s shoe which traditionally debut in the fall. Outside of his Instagram statement, Irving hasn’t explained what exactly his problem is with the shoe.
When LeBron was having issues with his LeBron 11 shoe in 2013 his approach was much more friendly. “I could wear them, but they don’t feel as great as I want them to feel,” said James when speaking to ESPN in 2013. “It has been a frustrating process. But obviously, I know that Nike wants to do what’s best. They’re not going to put me out there in harm’s way. So we’re redefining the shoe to fit what’s best for my foot. So we’re redefining them.”
Nike responded: “The LeBron 11 is one of the most innovative Nike basketball shoes to date, and we look forward to LeBron stepping back on the court in his latest signature shoe soon.”
“Apparently the toe box was constricting and it hurt LeBron’s toe to run in that shoe,” said Powell. “Ultimately they were able to fix the shoe that he was wearing, and he didn’t have the pain any longer. This seems much more ego, design and who’s got the final say on product.”
Outside of James and Irving, the Kobe Bryant estate—run by the late Laker’s widow, Vanessa Bryant—also has clashed with the sportwear giant, choosing not to renew their partnership. According to ESPN, the estate had grown frustrated with Nike for limiting the product count of Bryant’s products after his retirement and death. The Bryant estate was hoping to receive a contract similar to Michael Jordan’s and LeBron James’ but were disappointed when the offer did not match their expectations.
Irving and Bryant collaborated to bring forth a classic colorway from the Kobe Bryant line to Irving’s line in 2017. Different renditions of the colorway have been released on Irving’s sneaker line since then. It remains to be seen if Irving and Nike will settle their differences.
“There’s no time to change anything, that shoe is probably already on a boat. They’re out of time in terms of changing the shoe,” Powell said. “Does it get resolved? Who knows. At the end of the day the design belongs to the brand, and the brand can do whatever they want with it.”
Nike’s other athletes with signature shoes are Kevin Durant, Paul George and Giannis Antetokounmpo.