LeBron James is the best basketball player of his generation. His legacy is one that will stretch beyond sports. Through his legacy, he empowers athletes and uses his platform to address and assist in social change.
James’ story is remarkable. Turning from child of a single mother in the inner-city of Akron to high school phenom to first overall pick of the NBA Draft and Nike’s next golden boy is nothing short of incredible. But of course, that was only the start.
Since Nike took a $90 million chance on an 18-year-old kid, LeBron has somehow superseded the lofty expectations thrown at him at such an early age. He brought a rag-tag team to the NBA Finals in just his fourth year in the league.
He brought Cleveland its first championship in 52 years in the midst of a run of success unprecedented in sports with eight straight trips to the finals. And since entering the league (most profoundly in recent years), LeBron has done even more off the basketball court.
Since the day Nike made a big investment on him, LeBron has proven them right at every turn and still dominates the sports landscape going into year 17 of his career (feel old yet?).
And through every crazy dunk, every accolade reached and record broken, there was a shoe to help tell the story. After LeBron posted a video to his more than 50 million Instagram followers unveiling the new Lebron 17, we decided to take a look at every Nike LeBron shoe released.
Feel the nostalgia, lean into it even, and enjoy the ride.
2003/04: Nike Air Zoom Generation
LeBron entered the league as the self-proclaimed “Chosen One.” Well, Nike pulled out all the stops to do their part in helping him earn his name. Partly inspired by the Hummer H2 Lebron’s mom got him in high school, the Lebron 1’s had exceptional features to highlight his strengths and also keep him safe.
The 1’s had exceptional cushioning and large air ducts in the mid foot area for ventilation and weight reduction. When you’re as big as Lebron and can fly so high, that cushioning, support, and breathing room in your shoes is paramount.
James was the biggest high school basketball star of all time, but of course, there were the people that questioned whether or not he would be able to battle in the NBA with grown men. He proved those haters wrong, and then some.
The Nike Air Zoom Generation had several colorways, including White/Black-Red, White/Red-Blue, Black/White-Red, and “Christmas” coloring. The first shoe to start them all definitely didn’t disappoint.
2004/05: Nike Zoom LeBron 2
Nike’s second shoe for LeBron in some ways embodied early-2000’s fashion. It was bulky, brolic, and honestly from where I sit right now, a bit unsightly.
But it was Nike giving Lebron a true signature shoe, and after winning Rookie of the Year and showing he was the real thing, the King was surely worth it. The naysayers were silenced after LeBron proved he could play against the best talent in the world.
LeBron and his high school sweetheart Savannah James actually had their first child this year, LeBron James Jr. (Bronny). This is a big milestone for any man, but even more for James who had an absent father growing up. LeBron has made it no secret recently that he would love to play with his son (now a freshman in high school) in the NBA.
The 2’s had a thick strap over the top of the laces and a new double stacked zoom that allowed the 260-pound James to jump and land softly. Some of the colorways were Navy “Chamber of Fear,” White/Navy, Red “Chamber of Fear,” and White/Gold PE.
2005/06: Nike Zoom LeBron 3
If there was any doubt before about how good Lebron could be, entering into his third year in the league it was clear LeBron was a superstar, not just in the making, but already. The White/Gold partnership on the 3’s was a flashy pairing, and other hot colorways were Black/Red, White/Navy-Red, and Black/Gold.
These kicks were clean, sleek, and representative of the type of player LeBron was in his third season. It was this year that LeBron averaged 31 points a game. The gold touch on the shoe made sense because crowns are made of gold, and crowns are made for kings.
2006/07: Nike Zoom LeBron 4
This shoe adopted a retro look that was very successful. LeBron’s shoes were already popular at this point, but the 4’s were the first shoes of the king to be a successful crossover off the court. The shoe featured composite which was extremely popular in the 90’s for Nike.
LeBron and Savannah’s second child, Bryce James, was born in 2007, and they already had a toddler at home. LeBron led the Cavs to the Finals that year too, and although they were swept by the dominant San Antonio Spurs, LeBron’s playoff stretch is one historian can salivate over for years to come. This shoe also featured some of the best colorways, like the Fruity Pebbles, NYC Graffiti, Hardwood Classics, and China.
2007/08: Nike Zoom LeBron 5
The 5’s came out after LeBron had reached his first NBA Finals. A team devoid of any other star talent was led by the fourth-year James in a remarkable run that some saw as his “I’m here” moment. Everyone knew about LeBron.
Everyone knew he was one of the best players in the league. But sometimes absurd talent and ability don’t equal success, as we have seen from star NBA players in the past (Tracy McGrady). The 5’s had a clean look like they were actually made for royalty.
Nike reintroduced the strap to these shoes and even added a milk crate pattern on the ankle strap that symbolized the basket played on when he was a kid.
2008/09: Nike Zoom LeBron 6
The LeBron 6’s were a different look than his previous sneakers. They were marketed at the time to be LeBron’s most versatile signature model, shoes that could be worn on the court and off of it. But this idea may have been a bit too audacious, and the sneaker design was changed and then released all within a matter of months.
LeBron was near his physical peak as a player, dominating his competition, but coming up short in the playoffs with a lackluster supporting cast. The Boston Celtics were his main foe in the East, and they would remain as such until a few years down the road. LeBron won his first MVP this year. This shoe did have some fun colorways though, like the Chalk and Big Apple.
2009/10: Nike Air Max LeBron 7
It’s crazy to think that LeBron is still at the top of the league’s player rankings in 2019. A whole decade before in ’09/’10, LeBron won his second MVP in a row. It was clear to every unbiased supporter of the NBA that he was far-and-away the best player in the game.
The LeBron 7’s were the first time Nike used its air max cushioning system in a basketball sneaker. The 7’s also contained 80% more air than the previous full-length unit, and utilized Nike’s Flywire technology. This shoe was different than the previous Lebron’s and had a different designer, Jason Petrie.
Nike was expanding what they were doing with LeBron’s sneakers, and Lebron surely had a bigger say in the outlook of these shoes than in his earlier years.
After reaching the finals in ’07 but coming up short, LeBron must have been growing frustrated with the state of the Cavs and how they couldn’t get him any help. This growing discomfort with carrying the load night in, night out can possibly be seen in these 7’s, with a new design and designer.
2010/11: Nike Air Max LeBron 8
The growing discomfort that LeBron felt in Cleveland was capped off by him taking off his jersey after the Cavs bowed out to the Celtics in the playoffs in 2010. Fans wondered where Lebron was going to go, and whether or not the undressing of his jersey in the tunnel was a sign he would not resign with the Cavs.
Then came the decision. On national television, LeBron announced he was going to go to Miami and join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Heat. Suddenly there were fans burning LeBron’s jersey, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert released a despicable letter to fans that were complete with racial undertones, and the rest of the NBA world not in Miami rooting for the Heat and more specifically LeBron to fail.
So LeBron adopted a villain mentality. If everyone was going to hate him, why not embrace the hate? The LeBron 8’s built upon the 7’s, utilizing Nike’s Air Max technology. The shoe was extremely bulky, and while it had many fun colorways like the South Beach and Miami Nights, it is not among the most revered of LeBron’s massive collection of signature shoes.
2011/12: Nike LeBron 9
LeBron’s second year in Miami. Fresh off losing the finals to the Mavericks, a series they really should have won. LeBron and Wade took a vacation in the summer to reflect, and two important realizations were made: First, Wade realized they couldn’t both coexist as full alpha-males. For the Heat to be the best they could be, LeBron would have to be the bigger player, handle the rock most often at the end of games, and take the last shot.
Secondly, LeBron understood that as a player and a person, he could not act like a villain. He is a jovial, funny guy that enjoys pleasing others. In order to win the final challenge which was a championship, he would have to just be him.
LeBron won his third MVP this year, en route to his first NBA Championship. The 9’s get credit for being the shoes he first won it all with. Designer Jason Petrie put visible Air Max on the heel and Zoom Air in the forefoot. This was a big year for the King, and with Wade’s teaching, LeBron understood all that it took to win.
2012/13: Nike LeBron 10
The LeBron 10’s were huge fan favorites. This was the first signature basketball sneaker to use Nike+ Basketball technology that tracked and measured performance. These shoes were a bit too brolic, but the colors on them made them look really clean, and it isn’t a big surprise why fans love these shoes.
This was also the year that many basketball fans cite as LeBron’s best ever. His efficiency was at an all-time high and his defense was nearly unmatched as he could essentially guard all five positions on the floor.
This was made clear when he shut down Tony Parker of the Spurs for a large section of the NBA Finals and even guarded Tim Duncan when needed. LeBron grabbed his fourth MVP this year, second championship, and second Finals MVP. It was clear he had learned how to win, and was at his physical peak as an athlete.
2013/14: Nike LeBron 11
The 11’s were the lightest and lowest LeBron sneakers at the time. With a new futuristic look, the 11’s are very unique as LeBron shoes go. Jason Petrie really went off on these ones. Dope colorways include Miami Nights and King’s Pride.
LeBron was a monster this year. Capturing his second straight title the previous season, the haters had stopped chirping so much. At the pinnacle of his powers, the 11’s represented Lebron’s unapologetic creativity and devotion to being himself. LeBron’s third and final child, Zhuri, was also born this year, blessing James and Savannah with their first daughter.
2014/15: Nike LeBron 12
When the Heat lost to the Spurs in the 2014 Finals, speculation hit its tipping point again on whether or not LeBron was going to switch teams.
Well, he did, and it was to return to the Cavs. After four years of the fanbase hating on him, they welcomed him with open arms, which just goes to show how foolish all the hate was. LeBron joined a team with budding young star Kyrie Irving, and the Cavs also managed to trade for Kevin Love, a versatile star power forward.
Only because James left and the Cavs were so bad they stockpiled draft picks were the Cavs able to get Irving and Love, so really Cavs fans should have sung LeBron’s praises even more. This was a basketball move, but it also seemed Lebron wanted to return home and solve unfinished business. Cleveland is often the butt of a joke, and with so little success in sports, the “Chosen One” definitely wanted to deliver.
The 12’s were a cool pair of shoes, but perhaps slightly forgettable. Nike did though combine a new “mega fuse” type of technology with the existing flywire that had laced the toes of the king. The Cavs lost both Irving and Love in the playoffs this year, but even still, Lebron had his team two games away from that long-awaited championship.
2015/16: Nike LeBron 13
LeBron himself has mentioned that the few drops before his Lebron 15’s were some of his biggest misses. The 13 seems to embody this. The colorways and overall design of this drop just aren’t too visually pleasing.
It is strange then that this was the Cavs most successful season in franchise history. The team made the finals against the 73-win Warriors and overturned a 3-1 deficit for the first time in NBA history to win Cleveland its first championship in 52 years.
It was a massive moment for LeBron, as in most people’s eyes, capturing a title for Cleveland was equal to winning several titles in Miami. After this LeBron really did not have much left to prove. Maybe he was focused solely on basketball this year, and the shoe designs fell to the wayside. The end of 2015 was also when LeBron signed a lifetime deal with Nike, set to earn over a billion dollars in total.
2016/17: Nike LeBron 14
The LeBron 14 was a fly shoe, but in the grand scope of LeBron sneakers, is it memorable? Probably not.
Some cool colorways were the Red Carpet and Hardwood Classics, and the sneaker had a smooth, stylish appearance to it, but there wasn’t much about the sneaker or the hype surrounding it that lead to people talking about it a few years later.
Lebron just led his team to the greatest comeback in NBA history. Cleveland was a city of champions once again. The shoes could have been bolder, more daring, more epic, but it is understandable why shoes were not at the forefront of James’ mind this year.
2017/18: Nike LeBron 15
Finally, we’re back again to some of the best stuff. The 15’s are fan favorites, LeBron favorites, and my favorites. The 15’s started off by debuting on the KITH fashion show, leading to a complete collection titled, “Long Live the King.”
The 15’s look like they seamlessly transition from the shoe to the sock as if the shoe is just part of an athlete’s foot. Looking very different in appearance and texture than previous Lebron shoes, the sneakers expressed the innovation of Lebron’s game.
It was in 2018 when LeBron added the deep 3-point shot to his arsenal, meaning defenders have to guard him further out and he has a higher chance of blowing by them once they do. The collection pays homage to some of James’ favorite athletes as a kid too, in Ken Griffey Jr., Deion Sanders, and Vince Carter. And what’s better than that?
LeBron opened a public elementary school called I Promise in Akron, Ohio in 2018, specifically aimed at at-risk children. This is an amazing act by James and 2018 was a phenomenal year for him.
2018/19: Nike LeBron 16
The 16’s are hot too. Like the 15’s, they have a unique, modern texture to them that somehow looks rough and smooth at the same time.
The shoes have a strong platform/cushion that allows for LeBron’s still-supreme leaping ability and are light so it’s easier for him to run. Some dope colorways include Fresh Bred, Royal Kings, Buzz Lightyears, and I Promise.
This was LeBron’s first year in Los Angeles playing for the Lakers, and while the season ended in immense disappointment, the shoes aren’t representative of this. Currently, in 2019, expectations are high for the Lakers new season, just as expectations were for LeBron’s new shoe drop.
2019: Nike LeBron 17
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LeBron took a video on his Instagram story recently, opening a special box Nike sent him. Inside was a sheet running through the history of LeBron’s shoe drops, culminating in the reveal of his newest release: the 17’s.
This shoe is rewarding fans who have been there through it all, merging Nike’s vast array of technologies. The Air Zoom and Air Max will be combined with this shoe, and the cushioning looks like it will be new and improved. Lebron showed us the “Future Air” colorway, but we are sure to see a lot of other hot colorways coming.
The Lakers are a franchise with high expectations. LeBron is a player with high expectations for himself. After last year’s disappointment, Lebron and Lakers fans cannot wait for this season to start. With a new shoe drop, and Anthony Davis now suiting up with him, Lebron should be invigorated and looking to prove to the world he is still the best player in the league.
Through the years we have seen changes in Lebron’s life, personality, homes, and efforts outside of basketball. The Nike LeBron’s have helped take us on the ride the whole time. Through every shoe, there was a story, where LeBron was, where the world was at that time. We are hyped to see more of the 17’s, and as a training camp for the NBA season is almost underway, we can’t wait to see what is next in store for LeBron.