An inside look at KD’s newest signature sneaker from Nike, which features a low-cut design for a broader range of motion in a supportive fit and feel.
As one of just two players in league history to have a namesake sneaker series extend to a 15th consecutive model while playing, Kevin Durant is a bit familiar with the design process that goes into creating his annual KD shoes.
When he met with a team of Nike designers nearly two years ago to begin laying out the direction and starting points for his upcoming Nike KD15, he first wanted to start with the silhouette.
“I wanted a lower shoe,” he said. “I wanted to go back to that style I had with the 6, the 4, and the 3. I wanted to feel like I was lower to the ground. The last few shoes were high tops, and I wanted to just change it up.”
After Kevin worked with designer Leo Chang on his first dozen shoes, Nike designer Ben Nethongkome took over the series beginning with last year’s KD14. While the 14 featured a full multi-layer mesh upper and supportive midfoot strap across the upper, the sleeker look of the low-cut 15 is designed to provide broader range of motion in a supportive fit and feel.
“I also wanted to have some more detail within the shoe,” continued Durant. “Even though we went low, I didn’t want it to be too basic. We have different layers and different textures from the front to the back of the shoe. It looks like a walk-around shoe, but it plays like a basketball shoe.”
During that first brainstorm meeting with Nike, the group also dove into the company archives, browsing together to look for points of inspiration from both past favorites and cult classics alike, that could add to the design details of the 15.
“He wanted to make sure that his shoe felt really iconic and referenced retro models, so that was something that we worked really closely with him and his team on,” explained Risa Beck, Nike Basketball Footwear Color Designer. “They wanted to emulate that feeling and vibe of retro, and our team took what they found and updated it to feel more modern.”
For KD, that included drafting off of nuances from the classic Uptempo and Flight models of the 1990s, along with a hoop favorite from the early 2000s that was headlined by his current head coach.
“I know you remember the low top joints that Luke Ridnour and Steve Nash used to wear, the Jet Flights,” said KD. “That was one of the first shoes that I [saw] as a basketball player coming up that was super low and looked almost like a trainer. That was interesting to me and I wanted to bring that feel back.”
The key to the Jet Flight – a 2001 release that dropped during Kevin’s middle school days – was the clean mesh toe design that allowed for a flexible yet secure feel, along with a rubberized midfoot containment system that locked you in for any array of movements on the court. Nash loved them to death, wearing the shoe for nearly three seasons in Dallas.
To lock in that same level of heel containment and midfoot support, the Nike KD15 utilizes a 3D molded heel counter and 3D-molded midfoot cage. The laces serve as the harness to engage the “distraction-free fit” that Nike’s team of designers and developers was looking to nail.
“Kevin is really versatile as a player, so you really have to try and check off all of the boxes when it comes to a performance basketball shoe for him,” said Kreig Hozalski, Nike Basketball Footwear Technical Developer.
Along with providing a secure fit and feel in a lightweight package, the Nike team keyed in on maximizing the cushioning and ride.
“We noticed that last year, he played in the Conference Finals every second for a full game,” Beck said of KD’s 49 point, 17 rebound, and 10 assist performance in Game 6 against Milwaukee. “We saw that, and we wanted to make sure that whatever the sensation underfoot was, that it would last four quarters and an overtime for him.”
Since the KD 12, Nike has loaded Durant’s signature shoe with its full-length Zoom Strobel technology, placing an articulated Zoom cushioning unit just under the insole for explosive responsiveness from heel to toe. For the KD15, the overall setup has been upgraded yet again, with the Zoom Strobel system housed within a full-length Cushlon midsole for an even more plush ride.
“The underfoot cushioning is really special on the KD,” said Hozalski. “It’s one of the only models in our line that has full underfoot cushioning that is directly under the foot.”
The TPU wedge reading “Air Zoom” on the sidewall is a nod to the full-length Zoom Strobel unit, which you can actually see through the bottom when the shoe is turned over.
Along the outsole, a computer-generated traction pattern provides multi-directional grip for any jab, stepback or defensive slide. The straightforward collar entry of the shoe and traditional tongue setup should also work for a variety of players at all levels of the game.
“We want you to get into the shoe, get out on the court and play,” Hozalski outlined.
After virtual meetings guided the KD 14 process, the ability to meet in person while working on the 15 allowed for a more familiar signature shoe creative environment.
“It was way easier to feel the product and get in front of the team to let them know how I feel and bounce ideas off of everybody,” said Durant.
With the performance boxes checked during the process, once KD was able to weartest his size 18 pair, the team was looking to also layer in more storytelling and design details to be discovered up close. The gesture of the midfoot cage in particular was styled after a direct insight from Durant.
“He wanted to emulate the serenity and calm that you feel when you’re next to the ocean,” said Beck. “You can start to see how that influences the form language.”
With the midfoot cage featuring a flowing and wavy shape, Kevin channeled inspiration from Bruce Lee and his “Be like water” approach to adapting to your circumstances as they change.
“That’s how I feel like I play,” added KD.
Throughout the design, a series of construction elements and added touches combine to convey that extra layer of “more detail” that Kevin was looking to inject.
Along the heel, stitching and molding cues drew inspiration from design details seen in Drake’s NOCTA line. The Swoosh logo can be seen facing each direction, a nod to KD’s insistence on being a two-way player that can impact the game in a variety of ways.
His jersey number is featured along the edge of the outsole, with a “Quality inspired by Kevin Durant” tagline recessed into the rubber just under the “07” badge.
“I like how we incorporated the ‘Easy Money’ logo in on the heel too,” said KD. “We incorporated some more symbols and different references of my game within the shoe.”
From a big picture standpoint, the extra touches throughout speak to the elevated storytelling Nike and Durant are looking to bring to his series, pulling from the daily inspirations of his life.
“If you’ve ever had a chance to be invited to his house, like we did, as soon as you walk in the front door, you’re immediately greeted with art all on the wall,” said designer Ben Nethongkome. “It’s almost like a modern art museum walking into the crib.”
Earlier this season, KD laced up pairs featuring Ron English’s artwork across the upper. Going forward, he’ll look to add even more themes and colorways, pulling from some of his favorite artists across genres.
“It plays a huge part,” he said. “Music, art, and basketball, to me, I feel like it’s all the same art form. Last shoe, I did a lot of art stuff. This shoe, we’re doing more with music and trying to combine the three. It’s something that resonates with me and I try to incorporate it in my shoe.”
For Nethongkome and the Nike design team’s sake, treating the sneaker like a canvas for expression will allow for KD to take a variety of looks and executions of the 15 to the hardwood.
“That’s where his product is going,” added the designer. “A lot more refined. A lot more catered to his style and the things that he’s into.”
As the color designer, Beck is looking forward to continuing to work with KD to create a range of pairs representing all facets of his interests.
“The stories that we tell about KD have shifted quite a bit. He’s given us a ton of material to work with,” she said. “We’re working on expanding his storytelling beyond the game. As a person, he’s expanding beyond the game. We’re talking about his digital endeavors, his business endeavors, and everything in between.”
For most of the last decade, the KD series has been featured as an early Summer launch within Nike Basketball’s release calendar. For KD, that’s made for memorable playoff debuts of his newest shoe and unveils on the game’s biggest stage.
“You can tell that the season is turning outside, it’s getting warmer, and the basketball season is changing from the regular season to the playoffs,” said Durant. “The AAU season is starting around this time. I feel like it’s the perfect time for basketball. This is like the peak of the basketball season, so it’s perfect timing to drop some new stuff.”
Since the 14s launched last spring, a total of 104 players across all positions in both the NBA and WNBA – 34 guards, 52 forwards, and 18 centers, according to KixStats, to be exact — have laced them up for a game.
With a blend of versatility, top-tier cushioning, and lockdown all fueled into the new KD15, Kevin expects hoopers of all levels to appreciate once again the performance and design of his newest signature shoe.
“That’s what I really want at the end of the day, for people to really look at those as my ball sneaks, ” Durant said. “[I want people to say], ‘When I go out to hoop, I’m gonna pick these KDs up every time.’”