The Unstoppable Resurgence of Allen Iverson’s Sneakers
Happy birthday, Bubba Chuck!
Hailing from Georgetown, the perpetual ankle-breaker and scoring savant inked his maiden contract with Reebok in 1996, a deal that would become one of the longest-running basketball lines in history.
Despite his compact 6-foot stature, Allen Iverson and his beloved sneakers still cast a giant shadow over the entire industry. From OG retros to collaborations and PEs on the NBA hardwood, sneakerheads are still thumping to the pulse of AI. To celebrate Iverson’s birthday, we linked up with former Reebok designer Xavier Jones, who designed player PEs and inline colourways from 2016 – 2021. A period that included Iverson’s Hall of Fame induction – a pivotal moment for Reebok and AI’s resurgent signature line.
What did a player like Allen Iverson mean to a kid growing up in Flint, Michigan?
Flint is a big basketball city. As a kid, I watched the Michigan State Spartans and the ‘Flintstones’ in the NCAA. A lot of them were wearing Allen Iverson’s sneakers when they won the national title. AI was such a cultural symbol for inner city kids growing up. Everything from the tattoos, to the durags, to the way he talked and dressed. He was the idol of idols. I remember going to carnivals and seeing the Sports Illustrated cover with the roses in his hand and we’d take pictures next to it. I got the Answer 4 for Christmas. All those moments were really ingrained in my mind growing up. It was such a surreal moment later working with AI and attending the Hall of Fame Induction.
You started at Reebok right before Shaq, Yao Ming and Allen Iverson were all inducted into the Hall of Fame?
All three of them are big Reebok ambassadors, so originally, we were going to do a three pack to celebrate. We were going to do the Pump for Yao, the Shaq Attaq, and the Question for AI. But once everything was baked, we ran out of time. We actually had to use existing leather materials from Pellegrini we already had on hand – to tell that statue story.
Yao ended up dropping off because the molds weren’t open for the Pump. I was like, ‘We have to do something for Yao, he’s a Hall of Famer!’
But it just became Shaq and AI.
So we ended up with leather lining and super premium materials. The messaging on the sockliner was kind of freestyled. I had to make it up, so I was listening to speeches from Shaq and Iverson. I remember FaceTiming with Shaq and asking him, ‘Does this sound like something you would say?’ The same thing happened with AI…
One thing I disliked about those shoes, however, is that the sockliner print rubs off on the full grain cowhide as you wear it. But we couldn't do another iteration because of the deadline. It was a three month turnaround which was pretty crazy.
What does the creative process look like when working with AI?
He’s definitely involved in the creation process, but sometimes I think he gets overwhelmed with being presented full product lines and showing the creative process in corporate settings. He likes to hold the physical product and give feedback during conversations. His whole vibe is, ‘I need to flip as many colours as possible because I want them to match with different outfits.’ There’s probably only two per cent of the colourways he wants that actually come out. They just go for days. Maybe he wants a ,Gucci colourway to match this yellow tee he’s picked up. He just goes and goes. It’s all about as many ‘flavours’ (as he likes to call them) as possible.
Are you surprised by the cultural resurgence of AI and his sneakers in recent years?
No, I’m not surprised by the resurgence of AI. If you think back to 2010-2011, he didn’t have the traditional storybook ending while finishing up his playing career. He didn’t necessarily receivethe same kind of love that he had during his peak, due to negative narratives and the way the media portrayed him. He endured a lot of media pressure during his 20 years of being in the limelight. I think the bad press and naysayers caught up with him over the years.He was bouncing around the league and even ended up playing in Turkey for a little while.
But then you have songs like Post Malone’s ‘White Iverson’ bringing him to a younger audience. Steph Curry and Kevin Durant come out and say Iverson is their favourite player. The Philadelphia 76ers started bringing him around the organisation more. He was sitting courtside during the Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid ‘Trust the Process' era. Dapping up the players in the huddle. There was this perfect storm of energy around AI. The retailers started looking at the product differently.
There was this cultural nucleus bubbling over by the time of the Hall of Fame induction in 2016.
Did this extend to player PEs on the court?
Brandon Jennings was working with us in 2016/17. He shows up to Reebok one day and we did a blue nubuck and suede version. He wanted to wear them at Madison Square Garden for a game but once he laced them he was like, ‘Yo, these shoes are just way too heavy!’
So he never actually wore them on court. He was wearing a size 12.5 or 13 so Montrezl Harrell actually ended up wearing them a few years down the line.
But I did a tonne of PEs for Harrell, Lexie Brown, Josh Richardson, Ty Young and Trey Burke. From 2016 – 2020 I probably did 75 per cent to 80 per cent of the PEs. One of my favourites was Harrell’s Question ‘Sixth Man’ after he won the award. I made a play on the film of the same name.
Montrezl Harrell is constantly lacing the Question!
He’s such a wild dude. He was wearing an InstaPump Fury in one game. I was like, ‘Yo, the brand would not want that out there!’ He could get hurt so bad doing something like that. He’s like, ‘As long as I’ve got my orthotics in there, I’m good.’ He kind of throws caution to the wind. He flips them out so quickly, sometimes he’ll even go through a new pair every quarter. At least every half.
But there’s levels of testing for the product. So for athletes, they’re tested for basketball performance standards, whereas the in-line models are more lifestyle-oriented. And he’s just taking shoes straight out of the box and going to the court! We’ve obviously seen blowouts before like Zion at Duke.
How much of a material overhaul are you looking at when building a shoe from the 1990s for hoops in 2022?
That was one of my central questions at Reebok. I pitched the idea for a Question Pro that was riffing on the Nike Kobe Protro so many times. People really enjoy the aesthetic and look of that 1990s silhouette, but they don’t enjoy the heaviness and clunkiness of the shoes from that era.
It was super interesting hearing AI talking about wearing the Question as a rookie. He was like, ‘Yo, it was hell playing in the Question!’ The seam from the toecap was roughing up his toes. And then he moved onto the Answer 1 and was like, ‘I rolled my ankle 20 times in the shoe because it was so high off the ground!’
Still, Reebok will modify the shoes for the athletes. Iverson’s versions were always slightly different from what came to retail. Similar to Reebok’s player roster now. It was more internal – reinforcing things and adding more support. Maybe using the softer density foam rather than the standard cushioning that made its way to retail. Even modification to the outsoles are done to enhance traction based on the athletes play-style or preferences.
Why do we never see models like the Answer 2 and 3?
I know the Answer 2 and Answer 3 have constantly been brought up internally and by fans. But when we look to start manufacturing and placing orders for those shoes, we just don’t get enough volume. So we’re expecting 200,000 or 150,000 to open tooling but the forecasting sometimes is 50,000. It wouldn’t be profitable for Reebok to produce product at such small volumes. They can’t justify opening up the molds. The last time we took a risk was on the Answer 5. A really dope shoe. It’s really iconic ‘peak AI’ product. But I don’t think the shoe performed well commercially when reintroduced in 2018-2019.
What would you love to see from Allen Iverson’s Reebok range moving forward?
I would love to see the reemergence of the Iverson line in performance basketball. The most pinnacle version. The ‘hyper-car’ Iverson. I’d also love to see a remastered retro collection – comparing a 1996 Question to a 2022 version. A total revamp of the tech – completely re-engineered. Of course I’d love to see the Answer 2, Answer 3, and Answer 6 reemerge!