Defection is considered one of society’s most notorious actions. While not particularly life-threatening, swapping brand allegiances is considered by some sneakerheads to be a particularly heinous crime. Defections within the sneaker industry have entirely changed the trajectory of brands, and even spawned new ones. Brand loyalty can slowly crumble, or disappear overnight. Drake, who famously rapped ‘Checks over Stripes, that’s what I like’, allegedly had intent to rep adidas after a long Nike endorsement. Despite his attempt at jumping ship being foiled, others have made massive waves with their movements. These are some of the sneaker industry’s biggest defections.
Rudolf and Adolf Dassler – Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik to PUMA and adidas
Forming Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory) in 1919, the Dasslers experienced early success with their athletic footwear netting gold medals and world records. Despite their literal track record, by 1949 the two brothers fell out, ultimately breaking away to form their own companies: PUMA and adidas. Since then, major moments in sporting and political history – oftentimes both – have been attributed to both brands. Modern lore may pit Swoosh versus Stripes, but the Big Cat made the first strike.
Rob Strasser and Peter Moore – Nike to adidas
Ex-Nike vice president Rob Strasser and former creative director, Peter Moore, were instrumental in luring Michael Jordan to the Swoosh. Jordan became the face of his own signature line, with Moore as lead designer on the sneaker soon to be known as the Air Jordan 1. However, the honeymoon period of this monumental deal faded quickly. In 1987, Strasser left Nike and headed to adidas, followed just weeks later by Moore. In his memoir, Shoe Dog, Nike co-founder Phil Knight, described Strasser’s defection as an ‘intolerable betrayal’, and sadly didn’t have the opportunity to make peace before Strasser passed away in 1993. Retrospectively, had Tinker Hatfield not stepped in and created the now-legendary Air Jordan 3, MJ very well could have joined Strasser and Moore at the Three Stripes. Talk about a sliding doors moment.
Andre Agassi – Nike to adidas, then back to Nike
Those of a certain age will remember the exciting combination of flamboyant playing and fashion style that Andre Agassi brought to the tennis court in the early 1990s. Remembered best for his luscious mullet, bleached denim short shorts, and neon Nike Air Tech Challenge sneakers, Agassi spent 17 years with Nike. Swapping sides to adidas in 2005, the International Tennis Hall of Fame recipient said the Three Stripes were particularly willing to financially support his charitable foundation. However, to the relief of many sneakerheads, Agassi returned to the Swoosh in 2013, and the retro cycle continued. However, like his infamous wig, the Air Alarm has not returned.
Denis Dekovic, Mark Miner and Marc Dolce – Nike to adidas
Three Nike designers dared to leave the company in late 2014… and were met with a $10 million lawsuit. After considerable amounts of courtroom drama, the trio were free to begin their tenure at adidas in 2016, tackling ambitious projects out of the Brooklyn Creator Farm. It was a large blow to Nike, as each designer was involved in some of the company’s biggest innovations across football, basketball, running and sportswear. For example, Dekovic worked on the successful Magista line, Miner refreshed the Free Run+ series, and Dolce was responsible for the Lunar Force 1. In particular, Dolce has some big shoes to fill (pardon the pun) as the current Vice President and Creative Director of adidas Advanced Concepts.
Kobe Bryant – adidas to Nike
While most defectors on this list have gone from Nike to adidas, Kobe Bryant’s trajectory goes the other way. The NBA star began his playing career with adidas, spawning a signature sneaker line that was fairly interesting during the FYW era, but ultimately ended up being quite underwhelming. During his 2002–03 sneaker ‘free agency’, Kobe had footwear flirtations with just about every major sneaker brand: AND1, Converse, Reebok, Jordan Brand and, of course, Nike. Contractual stipulations meant he couldn’t ink any deals until 2003, but it’s safe to say everybody knew what sneakers he’d eventually be wearing. The rest is history, including an unmatchable palmarès, and over a dozen Swoosh-branded styles to his name.
Kanye West – Nike to adidas
Before ‘Yeezy [Yeezy] just jumped over Jumpman’, Kanye West was trying to be like the Michael Jordan of the collectible sneaker game. Adding to his impressive catalogue of collaborations with BAPE and Reebok, having the distinction of being behind Nike’s first-ever non-athlete signature sneakers was a boon for Yeezy. Of course, the line would be known as the Air Yeezy. The publicised fallout with the Swoosh was followed by an incumbent deal with adidas in late 2013. In the six years since, West has proclaimed everything from ‘Everybody who wants to get Yeezys will get Yeezys!’, growing algae to produce sneakers, and moving Yeezy production to America. And, what seems like dozens of Yeezy BOOST 350 colourways.