Lebron James has had a pretty damn good run as far as sneakers go. Signed by Nike when he was fresh out of high school for the insane total of $90 million dollars, he has consistently put out new pairs of sneakers every year. Here we’ll take a walk down memory lane to see his shoe release history, and what’s changed along the way.
Lebron James first shoe was the Nike Zoom Generation, which debuted in 2003. When designer Aaron Cooper first met with the young star he asked him what he was looking for most in his debut shoe and James responded, “Comfort.” This prospect excited Cooper, and he promised him he would design him the most comfortable basketball shoe in the world. After putting it on for the first time Lebron jumped up and down a few times and proclaimed that Cooper had succeeded.
The Zoom Generation had a unique field boot styling, wheel-like eyelets and flash mirror coatings on reflective panels with concealed logos. The sole pattern was based on the idea of a lion digging its claws into the ground while hunting prey, due to Lebron’s infatuation with the felines throughout his early school days. A full length Zoom Air, double-stacked at the heel, satisfied his original request for luxury.
2004 saw the second installment of LeBron’s footwear legacy with the Zoom LeBron II. Many still feel that these are the finest of all his shoes, so to say there was a vast improvement seems like a bit of an understatement. This time around the Zoom Air unit was double-stacked throughout the entire shoe, and the new stiffer sole offered far more support than the last kicks could.
Visually the shoe changed a lot as well, featuring a midfoot strap with a swoosh on one foot and a bold Nike lettering on the other. It also featured a lasered on LJ23 logo and the King James lion logo on top of other accenting, making it a pretty busy affair throughout. A low cut version was released as well, becoming a huge success.
The Zoom LeBron 3 came the following year and again upped the ante with comfort, but also focused on some key performance specs as well. The design is similar to the Jordan XI, but the straps are not stitched so as to offer greater flexibility. These straps go around the upper and connect to the lace loops, making the shoe almost appear to be inside out. The grip was strongly enhanced for his third model, especially designed for basketball hardwood floors. It contained a sturdy support shell in the back of the shoe, as well as a reinforcing TPU clip so as to prevent ankle rolls while playing ball. Lateral support is also dealt with in the form of a carbon fiber shank plate in the middle of the sole.
Like we said, comfort was still a big deal, and large volume full length Zoom Air units were of course a priority. They also added a Nike Sphere lining for the inside, adding even further to its luxurious feel. This release pioneered the idea of a “foot bucket.” The hype around this shoe was extremely heavy, with the initial sample pictures garnering a huge following unlike the previous two pairs.
The Zoom LeBron IV was released in 2006 amidst even more hype than last time. These are known as the shoe that made the crossover to streetwear culture much easier, aided by a fan friendly design and a wide palette of colorways. Many of his previous logos made appearances again as well, adding a small amount of familiarity to this totally different shoe. This was LeBron’s first shoe to feature Foamposite, which was the material used to construct the upper.
This was actually the first Nike in general to feature it since 2003, due to the cost. The shoe features a “no midsole” design, due to the lack of a visible conventional one. On-court feel was focused on by adding a grooved sole, Foamposite stability, and an inner mesh sockliner. These kicks actually led Lebron’s and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers into their first ever NBA Finals appearance.
A new year, and again, a new shoe from Nike and Lebron, this time the star’s fifth release; the aptly named Zoom LeBron V. Fully embracing his “King James” title, they set out to design a shoe fit for royalty this time. They also set out to add numerous personal touches for this release. The ankle strap features the same pattern as a milk crate, representing Lebron’s humble beginnings and shouting out the one he used to practice with as a little guy. The diamond-quilted tongue was adorned with maps of his hometown, which again make an appearance at the bottom of the sole. The golden square emblem on the side also adds a monarchal tone to the overall feel of the shoe.
Gone was the hit inducing Foamposite of the last year, and in was a Phyposite endoskeleton, which was actually a mixture of Phylon with the former material. The “foot bucket” idea which had surfaced on the third shoe was the inspiration behind the new Phyposite bucket which was designed to offer maximum stabilization for a player no matter how big he may be. The grip was revamped yet again with intersecting grooves on the outsole, making this the grippiest version yet. As he did with his first shoe, the full length Zoom Air unit was double-stacked at the heel.
Seeing that despite some crossover success, his shoes were mostly just basketball mainstays. He wasn’t seeing the same success in the streetwear circle that Jordan’s were. In 2008 he decided to make a shoe was meant for the court but perfect for the streets as well, to escape what he felt was “one dimensionality.”
This release was the Air Max LeBron VI, which borrowed its silhouette from the Air Force One High. Unlike his previous efforts, this one appears to be very simple from afar although there are some hidden things going on. Upon release it was deemed “street worthy” due to accenting like a triple stitched midsole and ant-sized crowns dotted on the heel.
The “foot bucket” idea was dropped this time around in favor of a more traditional cupsole construction, but you know he kept the double stacked full length Zoom Air unit. This is considered the loosest fitting model due to the change of sockliner and lack of pre-formed cage, but the lightest due to the shedding of such materials.
The Air Max LeBron VII was released in 2009, and was mostly the brainchild of Jason Petrie. “We delivered a shoe that is a perfect combination of superior performance and luxurious style, embodying LeBron himself,” the designer remarked. Although these were the same goals as before, the advent of newer technology again made this pair a standout. Air Max 360 cushioning and Flywire were the two new big additions.
Cushioning wise these excelled beyond expectations, managing to keep the sole thin but still pack 80% more air within it. Flywire made sure the shoe kept up with its predecessor in the lightness department, due the fact that although it weighed slightly more, it had way more bells and whistles and should have been closer in weight to the older models.
In fact, it was the lightest shoe to feature a full-length Air Max unit, even beating out the Nike Hypermax. Aside from weight issues, the Flywire helped return the series to a snug and secure fit, this time using the new technology to actually wrap around the foot’s upper. Stylistically the shoe features a diamond pattern on the upper, a specific request from the man himself. Again these found him a little more crossover success as well.
Nike released the Air Max LeBron 8 in 2010, just as King James signed a new seven year contract with the brand. This model features a few of the key changes from last year’s release, not making too large of a style change. The 360 Air Max cushioning returned for supreme comfort and a mixed nubuck and Flywire-embedded carbon fiber upper came back again for that snug feel everyone raved about last time.
A new leather pattern ran the length of the eyelets for somewhat of a visual switch up. A speckled midsole housed the visible air unit, and intricate tongue tag embroidery made sure the inside was looking fresh. The outside of the tongue featured a very detailed lion staring menacingly out at the world, again referencing James’ fascination with the animal.
One thing that underwent a huge change-up for the AML8 was the totally redesigned traction pattern, improving again upon an already solid run of grippy shoes.
Finally Nike decided it was time to ditch the Air Max moniker that had titled the star’s signature series for the past few years and name 2011’s release simply the LeBron 9. This was the third model to be designed by Jason Petrie, after the success he brought the series over the previous years. One major switch up for this shoe was the combination of cushioning systems; a forefoot Zoom Air unit and a heel Max Air 180 unit. This was the first installment to bring the two together after Air Max took over in 2008, leaving Zoom Air behind, seemingly forever.
As with all previous releases with the exception of the IV, the 9 was released in a low top version, and a very wide array of colorways, all which seemed to sell very well and represented a huge streetwear presence. Despite a few style changes to the upper, the overall silhouette remained the same, as Petrie’s influence oozed out of these things. Again we saw a composite upper design with midfoot wing support and Flywire construction to keep players firmly in their kicks at all times.
The LeBron X was released amidst a very successful 2012 for King James. It is very significant as the first Nike to feature Nike+ Basketball technology. This is embedded in the Phylon midsole, and offers the user an interactive experience that allows them to track in-game activity and later review, analyze, and share that information using the same-named app.
Another standout feature is the first-time-ever full-length visible Nike Zoom unit, something which previous models have come close to but never achieved. Flywire again made a comeback for that dynamic and lightweight feel and lockdown through the midfoot. The upper utilizes Hyperfuse construction, which is a composite of synthetic materials and mesh that are fused together to create a nearly seamless, one-piece upper that is strong in both ventilation and durability. Traction was again a key focus, using a modified herringbone pattern that can help with multidirectional traction.
After eleven successful years in the league King James’ latest offering, the LeBron XI, hit the shelves in October 2013. The debut colorway is nicknamed the “King’s Pride,” and explores LeBron’s on-court personality while introducing us to a new slew of technical features. The Dark Loden upper is placed against a floral collar print to represent the dangerous lion and his surrounding wild life, and the designers at Nike loaded the rest of the shoe with an unprecedented amount of intricate details. The aforementioned upper is comprised using Hyperposite, which is a mixture of their trademark Foamposite and Hyperfuse technologies. This allows the LeBron XI to offer unbridled durability and ventilation, while allowing your foot to move freer than ever before.
Flywire makes another appearance here, using its long Vectran threads to add strength to key areas while cutting back on useless weight. Down below they’ve placed Lunarlon* overtop two Zoom Air units, and while we’ve seen the latter in countless LeBron models, the former is a new addition.
The LeBron 11 is tailored to James’s game and is lightweight, sleek and strong. It represents an evolution of the LeBron line, now with a lower cut and new articulated external cage to keep him contained. The Hyperposite protection and dynamic Flywire in the upper combine with Lunarlon and a Nike Zoom unit in the midsole to maximize performance. Lebron’s physique and powerful play require a shoe that can withstand extreme torque and pressure, while maintaining breathability and a lightweight feel.
*Inspired by astronauts in space, Lunarlon is Nike’s spring-like cushion system that has been made its way into more and more models since 2008. It is 30% lighter than standard Phylon foam, and even more effective. Needless to say, this low-cut and performance driven installment in Lebron’s line saw many more colorways and versions in the recent past, cementing a legendary status like all its predecessors.
The LeBron 12 embodies pinnacle performance and indisputable strength, much like James himself. The LeBron 12 leverages high-quality Megafuse construction with mesh and composite for structure and features new vertical wings wrapping the foot for lockdown and stability. The show now features six visible, independent Nike Zoom Air units that provide low profile, responsive cushioning.
The Soldier 12 is extremely targeted on how to protect and innovate for LeBron in the playoff timeframe. One important feedback Lebron gave to Nike is reducing bulk. The Men’s LeBron 12 Low shoes was a result of him talking about bringing the height down to that of the LeBron VII for taking some of the bulk off.
The Soldier is Lebron’s weapon of choice, preparing him for battle with a precisely engineered upper, plush ride, and continuously responsive Zoom Air technology that returns his fast, fearless energy step for step. The engineered, jacquard-knit upper delivers targeted breathability and support. Dual dynamic straps crisscross the mid foot and ankle to lock you in when playing ball on the court. Zoom Air units provide continuous responsiveness.
The straps on the shoe are truly dynamic for playing basketball. They stretch as much as they need to stretch but then when they get to a certain point, they actually lock the foot down and make sure it doesn’t move. Working back and forth with LeBron’s trainer, the development team and the design team made sure that the stretch in the shoe is just enough to manage micro movements. But then when they get that certain point they lock out and they make sure the foot is locked down in the platform.
Throughout his career LeBron James has been nothing less than a beast. Without a doubt James will go down in history as one of the all-time greats. Part of the reason for this is the fact that the NBA’s reigning “King” has the stats to back it up. While the data right now places him slightly below Jordan, it’s not far-fetched to believe that one day Lebron could be on equal footing as the greatest. When the LeBron 12’s were officially announced Nike described Lebron James as, “arguably the most dominant player in the game today, with the statistics to support that claim.” With the release of the new LeBron’s the next chapter in James’ storied career can truly begin.