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Jayson Tatum: The Face & Future of Jordan Brand

Last Updated: January 22, 2024
With an unmistakable second signature shoe, the Celtics star is looking to lead the way for Jordan’s selective signatures throughout the 2020s. 

When Jayson Tatum got a phone call from his agent in early 2019 about potentially signing with Jordan Brand, he remembers first feeling overwhelmed by the concept. 

“I was like, ‘Jordan knows who I am?’” he told me at the time. 

Five years later, Tatum is kicking off 2024 in the new Jordan Tatum 2s, a polarizing and podular design he’s donned since debuting them on Christmas.

Tatum Jordan
(Erin Clark / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

“I still can’t believe I got my first signature shoe, and now that I’m on my second signature shoe, the inner kid in me comes out because I’m living out my dream in real time,” Tatum told Boardroom. 

Along with Luka Dončić, Tatum is the hand-picked face of Jordan Brand’s performance basketball category for this decade ahead. The two headlining signature series have been the best-selling performance models from Jordan of the last year, representing a more affordable price point than the often-$200 Retro models and annual Air Jordan, selling in the $125-130 range.

Following up on the technical and sculpted look of the first shoe, which he has tattooed on his back, the brand took a noted shift to a look more reminiscent of the wavy and podular designs of the mid-to-late ’90s (Tatum was born in 1998). 

While Jordan Brand’s signature shoes of eras past looked to launch in clean and approachable silhouettes, the Tatum series is clearly taking a different approach. I’ve always called it the “5/50 read” — where a shoe can be recognizable from 5 feet away on the wall at Foot Locker or 50 feet away from the stands in an arena. The Jordan team agrees that a defined read is crucial for establishing a signature series early on.

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“On the first silhouette, you really want to be distinct and create a silhouette that’s memorable,” described Derek Foster, Senior Product Line Manager at Jordan Brand. “The Tatum 1 was more of a futuristic funk. The Tatum 2 is more of a familiar funk. They might give you memories of some of the iconic ’90s models.”

Shoes like the Zoom Flight 95 and Zoom Flight 5 come to mind, Jason Kidd’s models from the Flight silo of Nike Basketball that stood for speed, lightweight and distinctive design. Foster says their “goal with the Tatum franchise is to be the lightest model in the Jordan sport category.”

Tatum Jordan
(Jeff Haynes / NBAE via Getty Images)

Like his first shoe, the high-contrast color-blocking options have made for an easy-to-spot design. The hero elements of the dual pods can either be dialed up or balanced in.

So far, we’ve seen Tatum lace up the initial “Vortex” edition, a “Momma’s Boy” pair inspired by his mother’s favorite flower, and a swirling brown pair inspired by the notion of putting defenders in a blender.

For Tatum, there’s a sense of disbelief when hearing about just how far he’s come.

A kid from St. Louis who quite literally idolized Kobe Bryant throughout the 2000s until his retirement in 2016. His moves. His shoes. All of it. 

Now, being on the other side, Tatum wants kids to build a similar intimacy with his shoe that he had with Kobe’s kicks growing up.

“Whenever a kid sees my shoe on a shelf or online or slides them on their feet, I want them to feel connected to me. I want them to feel a bond,” Tatum said. “This is so important to me because I remember getting the shoes of my favorite player that I always used to watch on TV.” 

While every player is different online, one noticeable consistency of Tatum’s is that he’ll often post screenshots on Snapchat of different social media posts of his shoes that he’s spotted on different platforms — game shots of his shoes from SLAM, posts from the NBA’s accounts highlighting he and his son’s pre-game interactions, tagged posts from young players wearing his shoes, or screenshots of people buying their pairs online. 

“Every now and then, I go on a website or look at a store to see my first shoe because I still can’t believe it,” said Tatum. “To see kids buying my shoe, wearing them on their feet, and tagging me on Instagram, I’m just very grateful for it. This feeling doesn’t get old for me, and there is no better feeling in the world.”

Tatum Jordan
Image courtesy of Jordan Brand

From a performance standpoint, the Tatum 2 is crafted for Tatum’s shifty and all-around game first but is also meant to accommodate players of all positions. While the first shoe boasted a forefoot Zoom Air unit, the franchise switched to a full-length Air Strobel tech approach for a smoother transition and consistent ride on the Tatum 2s. The padded pods provide additional comfort.

“We wanted to deliver the idea of letting players feel no pressure,” details designer Bryant Klug. “We wanted to design with points of relief and no pressure … that had this great, broken-in feel. That was the genesis of these big, soft pods.”

If you’ve watched the Celtics play this season, it’s no surprise that Tatum ranks among the highest All-NBA level players in minutes played. He’s the A1 option in Boston and is relied upon every night on offense, especially in the fourth quarter when games are on the line.

Tatum Jordan
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)

As a result, Tatum has often relayed to the Jordan team that he wants a shoe that doesn’t allow for any distractions while also feeling just as energized as when he begins the game in them.

The first things that come to mind when I look at my shoe are stability, comfort, and trust,” Tatum outlined to Boardroom. “I want my shoes to keep me locked in, to be comfortable, and to know that it can enable me to do what I do on the court.”

While at the newly unveiled LeBron James Innovation Center in 2021, Tatum was testing out the Tatum 1s for the very first time. During that same session, the Jordan team showed him early round samples of his second signature shoe, also for the first time.

But things happen quickly at Jordan Brand. Fast forward to the end of the following season, and Tatum was already playing in a size 14 wear-test version of the Tatum 2.

“I can’t stress how amazing it is to see it come to life after months of meetings and trial and error to get it right,” he now says. “I absolutely love it. There’s no better feeling.”

While tech and performance are primary priorities that go into the shoes under the hood, ever since signing on with Jordan, Tatum has also been known for leading the way in storytelling and themed colorways. 

Over the years, he’s debuted sneakers touting his love of different foods, channeled inspiration from his favorite cars, highlighted his relationship with his son Deuce, and paid tribute to his beloved Duke Blue Devils.

Tatum Jordan
(Brian Babineau / NBAE via Getty Images)

After years of touching on more than a dozen themes atop the Air Jordan 34, 35, 36, and 37 models, Jordan Brand wanted to involve Tatum’s mom in the process. 

As described by Jordan color designer Kelsey Amy, who has worked with Tatum since he signed on with the brand in 2019, she relayed a simple request for color ideas during a meeting with the Tatum family. 

“Brandy, it’s been years,” joked Amy. “It’s finally time for you to get your own colorway.” 

Last year, the “Momma’s Boy” Tatum 1 was one of the most well-received editions, as the white-and-black base colorway accented by neon hues featured a graphic depiction of his mom’s favorite flower, a Calla Lily.

This year, the “Momma’s Boy” Tatum 2 will be the first to release at retail, dropping two days after Jayson’s 26th birthday on March 5. Part of this strategy centers around responding to social media and fan feedback from the prior season, along with the simple planning lead time required of the 14-18 month product process.

The “Momma’s Boy” and “Blueprint” editions of the Tatum 1 were far and away the most requested of the PEs that never made it to retail. 

Tatum Jordan
(Image courtesy of Jordan Brand)

“While we can’t capitalize on it in that moment, what we’re able to do is take that knowledge and apply it to the next model with the 2,” Amy added. 

As Tatum looks ahead to a season in which the Celtics once again have deep playoff aspirations, he knows and grasps the rarity behind having a Jordan signature shoe. Just the seventh signature athlete in brand history — following up on a lineage that officially includes Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook, Zion Williamson, and Dončić — Tatum is appreciating this realized dream. 

“I didn’t just want to make it to the NBA,” he said. “I had dreams of being the best player in the world and having my own signature shoe. Coming from where I come from, that was unheard of.”

There’s a phrase that has resonated with Tatum throughout his life and young career: “Find a Way.” Continuing his storytelling theme through his shoes, he decided to imprint the phrase into the foam of his shoe on the inner edge of the midsole, just below the second pod.

“’Find A Way’ is a motto that I live by,” Tatum reiterated. “I always told myself in any situation that I was going to find a way and find a way to make my dreams come true.”

Tatum’s signature shoe series is beginning to take shape, and just as he found inspiration channeling the mentality of his favorite player growing up, he hopes to have a similar impact on the next generation of hoopers.

“Whether that athlete knew it or not, there was a different energy I had as a kid when I put those shoes on,” he said. “I hope kids feel something special when they put mine on.”

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About The Author
Nick DePaula
Nick DePaula
Nick DePaula covers the footwear industry and endorsement deals surrounding the sporting landscape, with an emphasis on athlete and executive interviews. The Sacramento, California, native has been based in Portland, Oregon, for the last decade, a main hub of sneaker company headquarters. He’ll often argue that How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days is actually an underrated movie, largely because it’s the only time his Sacramento Kings have made the NBA Finals.