SNEAKERS & FASHION

The “Nerf” Nike KD 4: An Oral History

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of an extra-special edition of Kevin Durant’s fourth signature shoe — and the snapshot in time it’s come to represent

10 years ago, the game of basketball just looked different.

As the 2011 holiday season started, the NBA season had not. With the league paralyzed by a lockout, All-Star hoopers like Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James popped up at pro-ams and charity games around the country just for a chance to get some run.

And while the ballers were busy keeping their game tight, the creatives at Nike were making sure fans had enough holiday heat to stay warm through the winter.

On Dec. 17, 2011 — 10 years ago today — the Beaverton brand delivered exactly that with the release of the thematic Nike KD IV “Nerf,” a shoe brought to life by a baller beginning to peak, a signature line that leveraged accessibility, and a story increasingly oozing with nostalgia.

The night before the launch, Kevin Durant’s alma mater, the University of Texas, wore the playful pair on-court in a home win over the Temple Owls. Ultimately, only 300 pairs were made, with allocations limited to select sneaker stores and rap royalty.

Celebrating the 10 year anniversary of the Nerf KD IV’s launch, we’ve compiled quotes from the athletes, designers, and retailers that were around when it all went down.

Nike KD IV “Nerf” ( (photo by Nick DePaula)

A portion of the following interviews were originally conducted by Nick DePaula in 2011. Each speaker is referred to using their title at time.

Kevin Durant with the Nike KD IV “Nerf” at the OKC Boys & Girls Club (photo via Nike)
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“For months, he’d been asking when he could wear the IVs.”

Leo Chang (Nike Basketball Footwear Design Director): We met Kevin in Chicago [over the summer] for his Skills Academy. That was the first time he got to try the [final version of the] IV on. He didn’t even bring another pair of shoes. He was sitting there in his flip flops and socks waiting to try his shoes on.

Kevin Durant in the Nike KD IV “Nerf” (photo via Nike)

For months, he’d been asking when he could wear the IVs. We showed him a bunch of colorways and he was just going crazy. Then we got into what he wanted from a storytelling standpoint.

Kevin Durant (NBA superstar): I just wanted everything to be authentic. This line was so personal to me. I always dreamt of having my own shoe. That meant something to me as a kid.

Erick Goto (Nike Basketball graphic designer): We worked with Hasbro on the GI Joe and Transformers pack. Somehow, our Promo Product Line Manager ended up having a bunch of Nerf guns sent to him. He had all of these different Nerf things lying around.

Leo Chang: I had been mulling over in my head how I could take the KD line further.

Erick Goto: KD was the guy we had in mind for it and he was definitely on board.

Kevin Durant: Playing on Nerf hoops was a thing around the house. Even if we didn’t have a Nerf hoop, it was a hamper and a sock.

“We were all freaking out with how the box turned out.”

Erick Goto: We ended up getting some hoops sent out to us and started checking out the different materials. We always try and do something that’s related to basketball, so we started to talk about a theme we could do.

Hasbro was a dream to work with. They didn’t want to do anything typical or dictate the process. They just said, “Go crazy!”

Kevin Durant: I wanted to partner with somebody like Nerf that could create that for me.

Erick Goto: We decided to go with a vintage look and one of their first Nerf hoops. The hoop and the ball are definitely one of the first things that people think of when you talk about Nerf.

We were all freaking out with how the box turned out. The cool thing is, the backboard even integrates to the bottom of the lid, so there’s some sweet discovery details.

Nike KD IV “Nerf” packaging (Photo via Nike, Inc.)
“This was the first time I saw people camping out in tents.”

Greg Grovey (Kickin’ It ATX Founder / Nice Kicks shop manager): People were really gunning for the “Nerf” IVs. They released at Nice Kicks in Austin on a Saturday. People started lining up on Tuesday.

Alexis Wangmene (University of Texas forward / Austin Spurs): Random people were sending us Facebook messages asking if we were going to have special access to the shoes and if they could give us money to buy them. People were definitely talking about them around campus, asking us if we knew the time and date they would come out.

Greg Grovey: A group of guys who were camping out brought a couch, a TV, and a PlayStation.

Dan “Mache” Gamache (Sneaker designer & leading customizer): I was working at a consignment shop then and I couldn’t get the KDs. So I decided to make my own version.

I went down to Foot Locker, grabbed the LeBron 9s and transformed that theme. It blew up. I sold 12 custom pairs of “Nerf” LeBron 9s and the highest bid was $4,000. That was like, ‘Oh shit, we could really make money doing this.’ It was a lightbulb moment for other customizers, too.

Greg Grovey: The people who camped out for days for the “Nerf” IVs got their pairs, but it was a super limited release. We had maybe 15 pairs. This was the first time I saw people camping out in tents.

We had the “China” LeBron 9s and the “Last Shot” Jordan 14s that day, too. That LeBron had a lot of hype around it, too, but the hype around the “Nerfs” was so much. It’s crazy to think about a “Last Shot” 14 as a consolation prize.

PJ Tucker wearing the “Nerf” KD IV

Alexis Wangmene: Our equipment manager Rob Lazare told us we were going to have a gift from KD, so we were all waiting for it. We were all joking, ‘If KD sent us a Rolex, that’d be really dope!’

We finished practice and everybody headed to the locker room. We saw the boxes sitting in each chair and rushed in. Everyone was going crazy, making plans about how they were going to keep them as a treasure. It was like Christmas.

We played one game in them, and after that, we all took them home, they weren’t gonna hang around the locker room!

Greg Grovey: The guys at Texas are so well taken care of by Nike. The basketball players had so much exclusive KD stuff it was ridiculous.

Alexis Wangmene: The big men were starting to wear lows. Before, we had to wear high tops, but when those came in I realized I could move more in those.

Leo Chang: A conventional way of doing a strap wasn’t what Kevin wanted, but he saw something compelling here that was exciting.

Alexis Wangmene: It was a great feeling, it was probably the first shoes that were brand new and felt great on my foot. It was just easy to cut in and it was the one shoe I didn’t have to break in.

Dolores Thompson (Nike Basketball footwear developer): Through every round of testing, multiple testers commented that it was the first strap that they could actually feel working.

Photo by Nick DePaula

Alexis Wangmene: We played in the “Nerfs” with the grey uniforms at home. We had J’Covan Brown, Clint Chapman, and Myck Kabongo, those were the guys. J’Covan took over the game in the last five minutes and we ended up winning.

Erick Goto: This is one of those shoes where you have to be one of those guys that likes to wear aggressive-looking shoes.

PJ Tucker (NBA sneaker champ): KD’s my brother, so everything that comes out I get a little early. I rock it all. I’d gotten called from the NBA a few times [before the color rules changed] saying, ‘You can’t wear those no more, the color combination is a little too crazy.’

Alexis Wangmene: We were so excited, it got us so hype for the game. We won that game by a lot because of the shoes. Everyone was so fresh and had so much swag on the court. ‘We got those shoes from KD. Let’s not disappoint him.’

Chris Webber was at the game. At one point, we weren’t supposed to make the tournament. I remember telling the guys, ‘We have a special gift from KD, let’s not be the group that doesn’t make it to the tournament.’ It was a tough year but we rallied and ended up making it. I was tempted to play in them again, but they were too nice.

“All I wanted to do was go hoop.”

Leo Chang: That lockout was so different from the last lockout. All of these players get along and want to help each other and the League. They want the fans to enjoy the game.

And that’s why KD, being the uber basketball guy that he is, made an effort to go to every basketball game he possibly could. The ones he was invited to, he would just show up anywhere.

Kevin Durant: All I wanted to do was go hoop. It happened to become a whole thing throughout that time. From the summer, and leading into when we started back up again on Dec. 25, I played games all over the country, from LA to Portland to Miami to Oklahoma City and Memphis. Instagram was just starting to take off. Ballislife was taking off.

It was a special time and that shoe was incredible.

“We may need to drop one of these again.”

Greg Grovey: People still regard the KD IV as the best KD. The “Nerf” hype allowed that model to hold its place in history. It’s the best signature KD shoe to ever come out.

Mache: The packaging ushered in the showmanship for the brands and how important the presentation is.

Kevin Durant: It staged a lot for my shoes coming after that.

Alexis Wangmene: I think I gave the [Nerf] ball to one of my nephews. I’ve worn mine only a handful of times. They’re so rare to find even now. Every time I put those on, people are like, ‘Dude, you’re walking around with a $5,000 shoe!’

Kevin Durant: That’s the most iconic shoe of the whole [KD] brand. When it dropped, that kind of pushed my brand to the next level.

Nike KD IV “Nerf” via Nike, Inc

I’ve seen Derrick Jones wear the IVs. Ja Morant, Tyrese Haliburton, John Wall, and James Ennis wore ‘em. [LaMelo] Ball wore ‘em when he was hooping over in Australia.

Alexis Wangmene: I want people to have them, but also I don’t. [Laughs] I like how they’re still rare. I personally feel like it’s a special connection to KD. As a Texas alumni, he’s part of the family and we have this connection through this shoe.

If they release them again, I’d like to have another pair for sure. I just don’t want too many out there because there’s no other shoe like it. It’s truly iconic. Personally, I think that’s the best KD.

Kevin Durant: To see guys in the league look at those as Retros makes me feel old. [Laughs] At the same time, it makes me realize that we may need to drop these again.

PJ Tucker: I’ve been begging KD to Retro one of his shoes already.

Kevin Durant: I think I want to keep the old stories and re-live those if we’re going to do a Retro. The “Weatherman” IVs, the “Galaxy” IVs – those are a must. The “Chinese New Year” IVs, the “Christmas” IVs, the “Nerf” IVs? Those for sure got to drop.

Being able to look the same way it did 10 years ago, but play like we play now — that’s the challenge. And I’m looking forward to seeing what that looks like.

But Retro is on the way.

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