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Adidas Basketball’s Radical Reinvention

Boardroom sat down with Three Stripes executives, designers, and athletes to hear the influence behind the brand’s new vision.

This summer, Adidas Basketball has a little extra juice.

Attached to the most mentioned NBA All-Stars in trade talks, numerous playmakers in the W, and a slew of NIL athletes, the Three Stripes have entered the chat in the modern hoops conversation.

Still, the juice this summer is less about the who and more about the what.

Eliciting engagement for the most compelling product they’ve put out in years, the brand’s basketball reset has consumers raising their eyebrows and turning their heads.

The lightning rod for much of this pre-autumn heat is the Crazy Iiinfinity: a sculpted silo that merges genres, eras, and intentions for something refreshingly forward, yet nostalgically nuanced.

via Packer Shoes

Pulling pages from the Y2K experimentation of Kobe Bryant, Audi, and Peter Moore, the Iiinfinty speaks to the modern hooper — or what Adidas calls the discerning athlete.

This player prototype exudes a pronounced presence, standing out in the tunnel and slicing through the lane alike.

“We set off on this journey about two and a half years ago,” Eric Wise, Global GM of Basketball at Adidas, told Boardroom. “Bringing Originals and Performance under one umbrella for the first time.”

Fusing fashion and function, the distinct design language is a bold blur for the German juggernaut that’s had moments of momentum in hoops from Jabbar to McGrady, yet failed to culturally conquer American hoops since the Superstar scored courts and cardboard.

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By defying trends and time, Adidas looks to redefine the spirit of the game at a cadence all its own. It’s a new narrative they began crafting for quite some time, hammering home with this week’s footwear and apparel launches that speak to the discerning athlete in a tone all their own.

“Telling consistent stories to the modern hooper that are holistic — on the court and off the court — is our ambition,” Wise said.

Ambition is integral. Appearing unlike anything else on the market, the Three Stripes are pulling up from beyond the timeline.

On the heels of the brand’s Chapter 3 launch, learn how Adidas Basketball looked ahead and within to create a defiant design language that speaks to today’s hooper while acknowledging the brand’s storied past.

Turn the Page

Last NBA season, Adidas Basketball proved it was moving on its own time.

Ahead of the winter holidays, the hoop category unveiled its Chapter 1 collection: a series of oversized sweats, shorts, and shirts in muted palettes and plush materials.

From mock neck tees to over-the-shoulder sleeveless shirts, the aesthetic conjured comparisons to Fear of God‘s Essentials line mixed with streetball steeze seen at the turn of the millennium.

Upon arrival, it was a record-scratch moment for fans used to seeing highlighter hues and over-the-top branding.

In essence, the redefinition of Adidas Basketball was less about selling flavor-of-the-month moments and more about feeling the consistent current they were creating.

“We’re taking a new focus around reuniting the passion and beauty of the game,” Global VP of Design at Adidas, Josefine Aberg, told Boardroom. “Blurring the lines between performance and lifestyle to a new place that feels fresh and modern.”

At the time of unveiling, Adidas Basketball’s Chapter 1 collection and its Remember the Why campaign turned heads but didn’t immediately resonate at retail.

From sizing to styling, it was a drastic departure from the compression cuts often worn on the court or the runway attire tracked in the tunnel.

“None of the Chapter fits are standard Adidas fits,” Aberg said. “They’re all completely reworked. We’re creating a new aesthetic, a new silhouette, that’s bold simplicity. It’s reminiscing the ’90s but putting a filter of the future on it, a modern proposition.”

Staying strong, Adidas looked ahead all season, propelling the proposition ahead of unloading inventory.

This steadfast strategy was best seen at the 2023 NBA All-Star Weekend in Salt Lake City, where Adidas amplified the new language through events rather than pushing product as a cash grab.

“We always follow the rhythm of the game,” Wise said. “Being brand-led and not just focusing on the commercial engine was always part of our plan. It’s a long-term road and this is just another step.”

While footwear brands typically use pro basketball’s midseason classic to sell shoes through energy launches, the Three Stripes zagged by hosting a posh party in Utah that was industrial in setting and eye-opening in attendance.

photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Adidas Basketball

Top-tier partners like Damian Lillard, Candace Parker, and Anthony Edwards mingled in the warehouse setup. Other attendees ranged from NBA executives to Hollywood actors.

While the who was captivating it was the what that was compelling.

At the party, an array of upcoming Adidas Basketball footwear and apparel that would not be available for months sat on display, including signature shoes for Donovan Mitchell, retro releases akin to Kobe, and modernized tunnel takes inspired by Tracy McGrady.

Just as the party presented an elevated and forward-thinking mix of influence, so did the previewed product.

“We’re looking into the past, the present, and also the future,” Aberg said. “The lines between the [court] and lifestyle are almost not there. It’s as important how they show up as in the game.”

Describing the range as “premium in a sophisticated, modern way,” the upcoming attire was intended to blur lines and turn heads.

Thankfully, the brand’s newest ambassadors align perfectly with the product.

Compelling Characters

When the NBA announced its 2023 All-Rookie First Team, a common thread appeared.

Of the league’s list of freshman phenoms, four of the five were Adidas ambassadors, ranging from Bennedict Mathurin to Keegan Murray.

“We look into the modern athlete today and what’s important to them,” Aberg said. “Their ambition, their goals, and where they want to take things.”

When it comes to modern athletes, few break the mold like the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Jalen Williams.

photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

Unique in aesthetic and approach to the game, the multifaceted hooper grew up with the brand before blossoming into a Rookie of the Year finalist and League Fits favorite.

“I feel like no other brand is doing the colors or shoes they’ve been putting out,” Williams told Boardroom in February.

In his first season out of Santa Clara, Williams cracked the Thunder’s starting rotation while rotating the best of the best from his brand sponsor.

From retro revamps tied to Gilbert Arenas and Derrick Rose all the way up to mismatched Harden 7s in the Rising Stars Challenge, Williams has become the poster child for Adidas Basketball’s ability to transcend era and energy.

“I’m always excited to debut whatever,” Williams said. “A lot of it is tough. They’re bringing back a lot of old-school stuff that I didn’t think they’d bring back.”

On the court, J Dub’s diverse rotation mirrors his versatile game. He considers Lillard’s signature range the most comfortable and James Harden’s latest launch the best in his line.

photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Adidas Basketball

Off the court, he’s been a purveyor of the brand’s apparel reset, rocking Chapter 1 and 2 pieces prominently.

“A lot of it is comfortable which is big because I don’t like getting too dressed up when I don’t have to,” Williams said. “The baggy stuff is coming back and I’ve been a big fan of that wave.”

From sweats to sneakers, Adidas aims to communicate to consumers through shapes and sentiments. The intent is to inspire in a way that references their rich past without simply rebooting it.

“How do we tell the history of our brand without giving a history lesson? Kids don’t want that,” Wise said. “They want to know the history but not be talked at.”

Such is personified on the Kobe conjuring Crazy Iiinfinity, but not singular to that silo.

In Salt Lake City, the Three Stripes previewed the upcoming Super Team 2000 S: a model meant to modify Tracy McGrady’s turn-of-the-century Mad Handle sneaker through a tech-forward lifestyle lens.

While this rework is not intended for pro play, it’s likely to appear in countless tunnel fits throughout the course of next season.

photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Adidas Basketball

“Today’s hooper is about the game and the culture that surrounds it,” Wise said. “The blurring of those lines happens all the time within their life and that’s the opportunity that we saw.”

An opportunity already in motion.

Courtside at 2023 NBA Summer League, Williams debuted the Crazy Iiinfinity on foot, turning heads and catching cameras. The fashion moment was a big one for Adidas Basketball, but still spoke to the brand’s intimate intention to be ingrained in basketball culture.

Showing up to support your teammates on the sideline is one common thread of loving the game with the product meant to match that feeling. Whether retro-inspired or athlete engineered, all initiatives for Adidas Basketball will continue to blur eras, function, and fashion.

“With everything under one umbrella we can touch everything from our archive,” Wise said. “Blending performance and lifestyle is something we’re doing with product but also in how we speak to the consumer because that’s their life. They don’t look at it as two different things, they’re one in the same.”

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The Next Chapter

In recent decades, Adidas Basketball has seen a plethora of plot twists.

In the early ’00s, the brand pivoted from the avant-grade Kobe collection to the sleek signatures of T-Mac. Soon after, Believe in Five elevated the idea of Team Signature before giving way to the brand’s bulky Bounce tooling.

By the 2010s, they’d reset once again, going all in on Derrick Rose and ushering in Crazy Light. Injuries plagued the promotion of each with the rise of Originals and the arrival of Kanye West taking all eyes off the court. The brand became best known for its high-profile collaborators and less for innovative products.

Last summer, Adidas Basketball returned to its essence, finding its stride with the Harden Vol. 7.

photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Worn by the bearded All-Star, the shoe’s bold design conjured comparisons to T-Mac models and Kobe signatures of the past, still appearing futuristic and proving fully functional.

Looking less like anything else on the market, the big swing resonated with hoopers inside and outside the brand.

“Harden 7 is a huge highlight for us being named signature of the season by SLAM,” Wise said. “James has loved the shoe and been a part of it from the beginning in a different way. When you have a partner that’s super excited about a model? He’s going to rock it and be proud of it.”

Wise went on to call the Harden 7 a “stepping stone for more to come.” It seems true, given pairs previewed at All-Star and leaked sketches surrounding other signature stars on their reloaded roster.

While models made for Harden, Candace Parker, or Anthony Edwards all capture enough intrigue to be proudly promoted by the player that wears them, they all carry a distinct design DNA which is clearly Adidas.

photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Adidas Basketball

Once again, it exemplifies that the what and why is just as important as the who.

“At the end of the day, we want to be the best version of us,” Wise said. “We’re not trying to be anybody else or follow. We want to be the best — no doubt, and we have to be the most aspirational.”

In market and markets, Adidas is picking its spots.

Whether overseas at EuroCamp or in the heart of LA at Drew League, Adidas Basketball is showing up in big ways and they’re showing up as themselves. It’s a slow build back to not just court credibility but design leadership that is rooted in risk. This bodes true with breaking new looks, though it’s all informed by basketball in its purest form.

“What we want the consumer to feel is that we get them,” Wise said. “The product that we build for on court? It’s the best performing and we’re serving their needs. If you look at it from an overall aesthetic? It feels like us. As a brand, our history is pushing the boundaries.”

The push started behind the scenes almost three years ago but began resonating at retail this past season, setting the stage for progressive product to come.

“Once they start to see a handwriting that looks distinctively Adidas and it’s different? Harden 7 looks different on court but you can spot it a mile away as Adidas,” Wise said. “When we’re at our best, we’re a brand of the people.”

Heading into the 2023-24 NBA season, the brand’s elite athletes will don new designs for Adidas, allowing rising talent on its roster to pick and choose their favorite flavors throughout the year.

by Getty Images

“It’s gonna be heat every game,” Williams said. “I usually try to rotate and only wear the same shoe one or two times. I’m not on PJ Tucker‘s level yet but I’ll be wearing some stuff for sure.”

In the tunnel and on social media, Williams and the rest of his brand brethren will appear in various apparel pieces from the Chapter collections. In cut, it’s a stark contrast from the Tech Fleece pieces Nike makes for NBA teams, adding identity to Adidas athletes and the fans constantly checking on them.

“Repetition is recognition,” Aberg said. “The hoody or crewneck that you love you can come back and find in a new, beautiful material. I do believe this is something that can take a new, huge swing for the brand from where we’ve been.”

From a talent standpoint, Adidas has invested in new signees such as Gradey Dick and Aliyah Boston. In the lab, they’ve brought on designer Nathan Van Hook of Nike and Moncler fame, joining Jalal Enayah, who penned previous hits like the recent Harden and Trae Young signatures.

Additionally, the Adidas Basketball brand will receive a halo glow from Jerry Lorenzo, who will finally release his Fear of God collaboration with the Three Stripes. It’s all aligned energy that finally feels like one big push in the same direction.

“Whether it’s design or other parts of our team, we want to bring in talent that can take our category to a different level,” Wise said. “People that are really tapped into sports and the culture that surrounds it is something that we look for.”

Ask Adidas executives, designers, or athletes and they’ve found both their people and their pulse.

photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Adidas Basketball

The basketball brand’s blurred ethos and bold zag in design language is a big risk aesthetically but one it truly believes in.

Operating in a market where hoopers plan 82 tunnel outfits a season and competitor companies drop dozens of colorways of the same signature, Adidas is operating on distinct discipline and quiet confidence.

“If you cut away the noise, the silence gets really loud,” Aberg said. “In this case, it’s the cutline, the silhouette, the shape, the fabrication, the details. It’s a new elevated proposition to the athletes but also the brand.”

A proposition already elevated by Chapter 3 and set to ascend with each new collection.

“What we have coming down the pipe is only better,” Wise said.

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