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In the world of sneakers, Kyrie Irving reigns supreme

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Brooklyn Nets v Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

On Saturday, Kyrie Irving posted a video on his social media, offering his thoughts on his latest sneaker, the Kyrie 6. It wasn’t a sales pitch as much as it was an explanation of what he feels the shoe represents.

Listen up.

To say Irving puts a lot into his Nike brand sneakers would be an understatement. So would saying his line has been a success.

As Alex Schiffer pointed out in a feature this week, Irving is leading designer and sneaker guru. And it’s working. His latest is being worn by some of the league’s top players: stars like Luka Doncic, Ja Morant and Jrue Holiday as well as players with lesser followings, like Bobby Portis.

It’s a lucrative business as well, as Schiffer wrote...

Irving is quickly becoming a cult hero in the sneaker world for players and sneakerheads alike. He made $11 million from the company during the last fiscal year, according to Forbes. At the end of the 2017-18 season, Irving was the NBA’s second-leading sneaker salesman behind only LeBron James, according to the NPD Group, which tracks retail industry trends.

“He’s in the absolute epicenter of basketball culture,” said Matt Powell, a sports retail analyst for NPD Group. “And LeBron, who would have been the leader, is now (playing) in a market that doesn’t care about basketball shoes.”

The road to success began in 2016 when the then 24-year-old won an NBA championship and Olympic gold medal in the space of a few months. He wanted Nike to help him grace a Wheaties Cereal ... the Breakfast of Champions. Nike did more than that. It made a deal with General Mills, the maker of Wheaties and by 2018, Irving could be seen on Kix, Lucky Charms and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, as Schiffer noted. And not one to leave any opportunity unseized, the sneakers were released in conjunction with his “Uncle Drew”

Next up was his arrangement with Nickelodeon, owner of the Sponge Bob brand. Like being on a Wheaties box with a Wheaties-themed shoe, Irving’s desire to be associated with a childhood memory wouldn’t be denied, despite Nick’s initial concerns about being linked to a sneaker campaign. Of course, that worked too.

Ben Nethongkome, his design partner, thought Sponge Bob would be big lure across all demographics, or at least enough to make it a big seller.

“We felt like SpongeBob transcended beyond just one age group,” Nethongkome said. “It wasn’t just your generation or my generation. I feel like SpongeBob is so iconic. It’s like ‘The Simpsons’ or ‘South Park’ where you don’t have to be a certain age limit to appreciate it. It’s for everyone. It was less about cartoons and the relevance of SpongeBob now.”

Irving saw a bit of himself in Sponge Bob as he said last August.

“I love SpongeBob because he’s a hero who doesn’t want to be a hero and learn from yourself or learn from your friends,” Irving said then. “He embodies the essence of going out and just being free.”

Now, that he’s back in the New York area, look for more creative designs based on his experiences in New Jersey and now Brooklyn. Mason Plumlee who played with Irving at Duke and knows something about the city, thinks the combination of New York and Kyrie’s creativity will work, big time.

Plumlee told Schiffer that he’s always thought Irving has had a great pulse for culture. The more he sees of Irving’s shoes, the more he’s convinced Irving’s feel has only improved.

“He’s a kid with a shoe deal.”