The provocative point guard is back on the court, but what did we see on Kyrie Irving’s feet?
When the 2021-22 NBA schedule rolled out, few fans had a January game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse circled on their calendars. But on Wednesday, Kyrie Irving played his first game for the Brooklyn Nets in over six months, putting up 22 points in a road win over the Indiana Pacers.
From a play perspective, Irving’s arrival was a treat for hoopers of all abilities, as experts consider Kyrie the most skilled player in the modern game.
Dubbed the best ball-handler ever by the likes of Jamal Crawford and Jason Williams, all while coming off a 50-40-90 shooting season that Ray Allen never reached, Irving has the ball on a string while turning efficiency into an art.
Because of this, all eyes (both ocular and third) were on Kyrie as he returned to the court with photos snapped from tunnel arrival to post-game press conference.
While all expected the stylistic slew of combo crossovers and jelly roll finishes at the rim, no one knew what would be on his feet.
“The absolute epicenter of basketball culture”
Since receiving his own signature shoe in 2014, modern basketball footwear has orbited around the Nike Kyrie brand.
“He’s in the absolute epicenter of basketball culture,” NPD Group retail analyst Matt Powell shared in 2019.
Registering as Air Penny in personality and Zoom Kobe in performance, all while accessible in price point, the blacktop artist known as Uncle Drew has maintained mass appeal from playground to peer, outfitting all ages, walks of life, and ability in both his flagship models and ultra-successful diffusion lines.
Because of this, many assumed Irving would return to the court in the Nike Kyrie Infinity— the superstar’s latest signature model from the Swoosh.
However, after publicly panning leaks this summer and sitting out the entire fall, the shoe once known as the Kyrie 8 has been put on the back burner in regard to promotion, currently only available in youth sizing in the US.
Going left, Irving returned to action on Wednesday night in his Nike Kyrie 3 signature model from the 2016-17 season.
Rotating two pairs between shoot-around and tip-off, the subtext was spirited as the warm-up pair paid tribute to his late mother, while the comeback kicks were inspired by both Bruce Lee and Kobe Bryant.
Both limited launches speak volumes about just how deep the Nike Kyrie Well is in regard to modern classics and heartfelt storytelling. They also allude to defiance in the form of footwear, wearing what he personally feels best in rather than promoting a model currently on the market.
This sentiment even extends to his socks, as Irving is one of (if not the only) players in the NBA to not wear the league mandated hosiery, also made by Nike.
Dating back to his days in Boston, Kyrie has regularly rotated his own Kyrie branded Nike socks into his on-court wardrobe. Wednesday night, he appeared in unbranded black socks while the rest of the Nets wore white Nike NBA socks, as assigned by the league laws of uniformity.
While all of this bodes as bothersome for a league leveraging control and a brand looking to sell sneakers (and socks), it continues to keep the detail-driven Kyrie in the conversation as the most interesting signature athlete in modern day sports.
This season there is no telling what Kyrie will wear on-court — a rarity for an athlete with their own namesake model on the market.
Because of this, if and when he does decide to play in the Kyrie Infinity, the model will matter even more.
All Eyes on Kai
Due to Irving’s vaccination status and New York City’s current mandates, the prolific point guard will not play again until the Brooklyn Nets return to the road on Jan. 10.
Funny enough, this will take place in Beaverton-based Nike’s backyard as the Nets visit the Portland Trailblazers.
The next few weeks carry an interesting narrative for the Nets as a team and Kyrie as an endorser.
Protocol permitting, January will see Kyrie take his talents from coast to coast as the Nets look to regain their top seed in the East. The storylines regarding Kyrie’s game and footwear will remain at a fever pitch as the Nets close the month against the league-best Golden State Warriors.
Even more interesting, Irving still stands an outside chance at making the All-Star Game set in his first NBA home of Cleveland, should he command the necessary fan votes for a starting slot.
From tunnel to television, talking heads to Twitter, the spotlight will remain on the return of the New Jersey native with the best bag in ball.
Just the same, the curiosity around Kyrie will continue to call upon not just what he’s doing, but his philosophy regarding the games of hoops and life. Initial signs suggest this intrigue will trickle all the way down to his feet for sneaker collectors and hardcore hoopers alike.
After all, Kyrie didn’t get to having the best brand in basketball by thinking conventionally.