A lot of people always ask what it’s like designing for an athlete? I have designed for a few NBA, NFL, and WNBA stars but one of my favorites of all time beside Stephen Jackson had to be two of the Lakers’ big men: Shaquille O’Neal and Andrew Bynum. In part one of “Shaq vs. Bynum” I will tell you the process of designing for one of the greatest big men in the history of the game. In part two, I will tell you about designing for one of the next generation of championship Lakers big men, Andrew Bynum. Continue reading Stokes Life With Dallas Stokes: Shaq Vs. Bynum Part 1…
In the shoe game there is a unwritten rule that, “Big men don’t sell shoes.” Many companies have tried and failed, however I think that is a debatable rule due to the success of Shaq, and Patrick Ewing, two big men who have done solid numbers in the shoe game. Often times companies are faced with trying to create and market a product suitable for the size of a human being most people will never be. Ewing was more of a inner city cult vibe and by far the most dominant big man to wear a Knicks jersey since Willis Reed and next season’s twin tower combination of “Double A”, Amare and Anthony. However Shaq was a marketing monster. The commercials were great and the shoes were not all that bad. One of my favorite shoes of all time was the first Reebok Shaq shoe. They actually created a shoe that fit the needs of an athlete like Shaq and was able to stay true to Reebok’s story at the same time to create an amazing shoe. That shoe, besides Tinker’s Air Jordan line, was one of the inspirations that triggered the fire inside of me to become a shoe designer. Later, the underrated Shaqnosis pretty much was the last Shaq Rebook shoe I purchased before Reebok ended the relationship with Shaq.
I remember I was sitting at home winding down my And1 career and got a phone call…IT WAS SHAQ!!! Now you have to understand that before I was a friend of Shaq I was a huge fan. Shaq called with my mentors Chris Christmas and Rob Purvy (now the head man in charge at And1) and asked,” Do you want to come work with us on Dunk.Net?” He didn’t have to ask twice. I knew Shaq was traded to the Lakers and that whatever I did would be seen on a world stage. I could not turn this down and immediately after getting And1’s permission I began thinking of what it would take to create a shoe for the NBA’s most dominant force.
I flew out to L.A. and was immediately immersed in the Shaq Life. I mean we went out to the hottest club in town with Latrell Sprewell and a host of music and video stars the first night I arrived!!! The city belonged to Shaq at that time so whoever was with him was treated like a V.I.P. Shaq is not like most basketball stars – if you’re a part of his crew, you are family and he, his people, Chris and Rob made sure I was always cool. We partied ’til the place closed and I headed back to the hotel to get ready for the next morning design session.
The next morning I woke up six hours before the meeting and began to prepare my notes and drawings. I looked at all my drawings and went through my presentation and mapped out my strategy. The thing about meeting with most athletes is that they really don’t have much input on what they want. Nine times out of ten they just say I like this Jordan and that Huarache. As a designer you have to be able to pull what you need to make a statement for them. In your presentation you have to give them a base from a performance side and create the rest of the shoe to fit their personality and the companies goals. With the ill fated Dunk.Net project, the door was wide open.
The first thing we did was look at the condition of Shaq’s feet. They were pretty banged up and his arch had dropped so we went with making the shoe flat. We then looked at the height of the shoe and decided to go with a much lower collar because Shaq had been playing in high tops his whole career and wanted a change. Next we sat and looked at materials to help enhance the ride of the shoe but also keep the EVA as strong as possible. Often times a player thinks by making the EVA midsole softer, it will make the shoe more comfortable. Rob Purvy had to explain that we could make the sock liner nice and keep the integrity of the shoe so that his knees, feet, hips, and back would not get so much return and keep him healthy. Then came the exact fit of the shoe which we had a cast of his foot done so we could make a last that fit him perfectly.
Athletes can be very difficult to work with when they are at different levels of their career. I didnt really know what to expect from Shaq as far as input. I remember he came in the room and the meeting started and he sat in the chair next to me in the back of the room. He slumped down in the chair so that he would be eye level with me and began just talking about any and everything. He made jokes and talked about girls and cars and it really gave me a better understanding of him as a person and what he wanted. He had just gotten into the rim business so we decided to dub the shoe the Chromz as in chrome wheels. Shaq was also into technology and wanted to do things like have heat sensitive mesh that changed color to let him know when he had run too long. There were a million ideas he had like memory foam which at the time was hard to do but nowadays is easy.
After the meeting we listened to his latest album, checked out his car, and walked the streets of Santa Monica to get food. He was very cool with everyone who came into contact with him as if he was just another guy walking down the street. We headed back to the office and he left leaving the team to finalize the direction we would take. Once I had the direction, I flew back home and started putting together my basic tech pack.
In a tech package you have to give the footwear developers as much information as possible to help them create the shoe. The problem I faced was generally when you do a tech pack you’re working on a size 9.5 shoe. I was not sure how my vision would look as a size 22.5. I went to Kinkos and blew the drawing up from 9.5 to 22.5 and was then comfortable proceeding. I began where I always do which is the outsole. You have to basically draw the midsole from every angle then chop it in half to show thickness and dimensions. They don’t use inches in China so you have to use the metric system to tell heights and thickness. Once that’s done you move on to giving measurements for the height and dimension of the upper pattern. You have to let the pattern maker know from the floor to the top of the shoe how high you want the shoe to be. You also have to tell little things like the length of toe from the tip of the shoe or you can get back a shoe that looks like a drawing. If your proportions are off because you’re trying to impress a room full of people with a pretty drawing, that can be a nightmare for the factory. Designers have to keep that in mind when drawing shoes that look like race cars and not a shoe. I then put together material specs and Pantone colors for the upper. With a guy like Shaq you have to use materials that look good and are strong in the right areas due to his size and game. I package that all together and send it off to China and wait about four weeks to see a sample. Between that time they send you a wooden model of the midsole and outsole and a pullover of the upper to approve the pattern.
The final shoe came in a few weeks later and it was time to fly out to L.A. and meet with Shaq and hope he approved both models we had for him. I was so nervous because we dual developed his shoe in 9.5 and 22.5 so I would actually be seeing and trying the shoe at the same time as him. He came in and after bench pressing a few of us and made jokes, he grabbed the shoes and began to inspect them. He was quiet for a second, then in a Scarface voice he says,”Dees are okay maine.” He put them on and walked out happy in a first round sample. We were happy because we knew we made a solid shoe for him and he liked it. Shaq went on to win his first NBA championship wearing the two models we made for him. He broke my version out for the playoffs all the way to the Finals. The shoe also ended up on NBA Live for like the next two years so I was goin bananas!!! Dunk.Net died slowly after that I think due to the fact that they started off only trying to sell online which was too far ahead of its time.
Some shoes mean more to you not just because of who wears them but also the experience. I got to hang out with Shaq, his boys and family who to this day I still hang with. I also got a chance to become cool with a ton of people who, now that I live in L.A., are still good friends. Also meeting so many athletes and getting the reputation of a being the “Shoeman” was helpful for my career’s future. So next week I will tell you about the much more intricate and less personal drama of creating a shoe for the new Lakers championship center Andrew Bynum. Two totally different guys with similar problems.
Dallas Stokes is a two-decades footwear industry veteran. His current shoe design projects include Peak, Protege, Sean John, Rim Rocka, Van Grack, Militia Project, and The Dallas Stokes Collection. Read his interviews here and here.
Check out previous “Stokes Life With Dallas Stokes” posts: