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The Rise & Return of Nike’s ‘What the’ KD Collection

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
How SB Dunk hype ignited a mainstay motif in Kevin Durant’s decorated signature series from the Swoosh.

In October 2007, 19-year-old Kevin Durant was finding his footing in the NBA.

Reporting to the Seattle Supersonics for their final days of existence, the teenage talent and No. 2 overall draft pick had just signed a massive endorsement deal with Nike.

After a single season at Texas and weeks into professional life, KD was dueling in Denver with Carmelo Anthony and appearing in PE pairs from the Swoosh.

While the future of Nike Basketball was taking shape in Seattle, the past was being reimagined at Nike Skateboarding.

That October, hardware shops around the world and select Nike Town locations were releasing the Nike SB “What the” Dunk: a collectible collage colorway of the fat-tongue favorite.

In major markets like London and Tokyo, fans familiar with kickflips and those that had never touched a board camped out for days on end for a chance to cop the unicorn release.

For five years, the Nike SB Dunk Low had been the toast of sneaker culture when it came to hype, relying on irreverent storytelling, off-kilter collaborations, and limited allocations.

Storied skateboarders such as Danny Supa and Paul Rodriguez were tied to Dunk drops while rising rappers such as Wale and Lupe Fiasco gave the rebranded basketball shoe crossover cache that couldn’t be bought.

“The ‘What The’ Dunk was such a special shoe,” Rodriguez told Boardroom in 2021. “[It] told such a special story about the history of the Dunk.”

What the KD
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Nike

The “What the” Dunks told a special story; it also sold a series of special stories.

Anyone who was infatuated with Dunks pined over a pair of “What the” Dunks not just because of its disruptive design but also because it collided 31 prized pairs ranging from “Pigeon” paneling to laser green “Jedi” lacing.

In a sense, with one moonshot purchase, you had a whole stack of Dunk drops with one pair.

Because of this, the buzz was massive. Moreover, it still is. Limited to less than either a few hundred or a few thousand pairs worldwide depending on who you ask, a recent auction at Sotheby’s sold a Size 11 for $11,000.

While skaters, style savants, and hype beasts chased and salivated over “What the” Dunks for the late ’00s and years far after, Kevin Durant was consumed with conquering his own craft.

The slim standout in Seattle and later Oklahoma City was snatching the souls of defenders and collecting scoring titles along the way.

In that same span, Durant became a signature athlete for Nike with his own catalog of collectible colorways building year over year.

In 2012, the two phenomenons from 2007 collided with the first “What the” KD exclusive.

Finally, in 2023, the transcendent theme is back.

On the heels of Friday’s “What the” Nike KD15 release, Boardroom breaks down the origin and engineering of the collage crossover encapsulating some of Kevin Durant’s most prized pairs.

2012: Nike KD 4 “What the”

In 2012, Kevin Durant was hitting his stride on the court and in the stores.

The Thunder swingman was in the midst of a spectacular season that’d see him win his third straight scoring title, NBA All-Star Game MVP, and take his first trip to the NBA Finals.

That same energy was seen on foot and in shops, as the Nike KD4 crushed at retail thanks to a golden era for Nike Basketball and an accessible price point.

The strapped signature designed by Leo Chang changed the game thanks to its $95 retail rate, countless colorways, and Kevin’s prolific play.

Connecting with core hoopers but also appealing to collector culture, inline variations and premium pairs alike sold in droves and ascertained a chase.

Among the hits were the “NERF” collaboration, a career-day driven “Weatherman” motif, the “Galaxy” All-Star edition, a sentimental “Aunt Pearl” pair, and the Zodiac calendar-inspired “Year of the Dragon” drop.

While finding said shoes all in one’s own size was near impossible, truly unattainable was the “What the” Nike KD4.

Never released and only seen in sample form, the collage colorway brought all the above ideas to life on one shoe, also showing love to the likes of the “Gold Medal” and “Scoring Title” takes.

At the time, said styling was signature to the coveted SB Dunk drop from 2007. In the coming months, Mamba makeups from Kobe, Air Max models, and LeBron looks would all attain the medley motif.

However, who was early on the idea of taking the skate style to the hardwood? Easy Money Sniper himself.

2013 // Nike KD 5 “What the”

The best basketball lines zig and zag.

At the prime of his powers, the Air Jordan series went from flashy and futuristic on the AJ11 to durable and distinguished on the AJ12. When Penny Hardaway had the world waiting on the follow-up to his second signature, he went way out of the box by making Foamposite his own.

Though not close in comparison to its predecessor, the Nike KD5 was a drastic departure from the transcendent KD4.

What the KD
Image via Flight Club

High top in cut and starting at a more elevated price, the model brought visible cushioning to the KD line while also sporting a supportive heel shank similar to the Air Jordan 2.

While many may have preferred the low look and strapped style of the KD4, the KD5 came with its own sense of swagger through continued storytelling. A mambo sauce-inspired iteration brought DMV flavor to Kevin’s fifth signature while a “Black History Month” motif presented the perfect canvas for a pristine pattern.

Though the world had to salivate over leaked shots of the “What the” KD4, the collage colorway of the KD5 was released at retailers in June 2013.

2014: Nike KD6 “What the”

Leo Chang and Kevin Durant were most definitely back in their bag with the Nike KD6.

Zagging once more, the low-profile look introduced an asymmetrical aesthetic that pulled pieces from the past for an entirely new look. Visible Air returned to the heel, shifting shape to a below-ankle cut that was as flat as it was sleek.

What the KD
Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Once again, storytelling was at a premium as tried and true themes like the “Aunt Pearl” returned while revised homages to All-Star Weekend, Black History Month, and meteorology all appeared.

As expected, each iteration collided on June 2014’s “What the” release. Highly coveted, the low-top take plastered multiple motifs atop the over in overlay fashion for a flat yet layered look that was more fluid than previous collage colorways.

2015: Nike KD7 “What the”

Keeping collectors on their toes, the Nike KD7 once again flipped the script.

Foamposite panelling provided a nod to Kevin’s East Coast upbringing while a midfoot strap paid tribute to the sought-after KD4. From a storytelling standpoint, the mixed material upper of the low-cut yet bulky basketball shoe told tales tied to Kevin’s college career at Texas and his alternate professional path of being a weatherman.

What the KD
Image by Nike via Sneaker News

Like clockwork, June 2015 provided the retail rollout for a commemorative “What the” release. Unlike previous pairs, these tipped the scales with a $200 MSRP.

2016: Nike KD8 “What the”

To some, the KD5 came across as a hiking boot. For others, the KD6 channeled a classic skateboard aesthetic.

To all who saw the KD series through the lens of genre-blending, then the Nike KD8 was as routed for running as it was basketball brilliance.

What the KD
Image by Nike via Sole Collector

Bearing full-length visible Zoom Air, the KD8 caught consumers off guard once again by breaking the mold of what a hoop shoe was supposed to look like. A mix of Flyweave on the upper atop the aforementioned cushioning system made the model ultra mobile on the court while appealing to the lifestyle running trend in popular fashion.

The unique threading up top took different to color stories than previous pairs, offering new textures to “Aunt Pearl” and “N7” variations. When it came time for the then-inaugural “What the” release, Nike added even more nuance by bringing a variety of mesh materials and woven overlays to revamp the storied series.

2018: Nike KD10 “What the”

After a brief break, the Nike KD10 returned to the “What the” theme in the spring of 2018.

An April arrival proved well for all involved as the shoes saw regular rotation from Durant during his days with the Golden State Warriors where he won his second straight NBA Championship and second straight NBA Finals MVP award.

What the KD
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Sporting a Flyknit upper as a nod to his affinity for Kobe’s kicks, the “What the” KD10 moved forward in innovation while showing love to the past in styling. A nod to the “Nerf” KD4 appeared on one tongue tag while “Aunt Pearl,” “Weatherman,” and “Multicolor” makeups were also honored.

Launched exclusively at select House of Hoops locations in an extremely limited fashion, the shoes now sell for hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

2023: Nike KD15 “What the”

What the KD
Image via Nike

Restoring the feeling, the Nike KD15 “What the” comes on the heels of a lifetime deal with Nike and a string of hits.

The return to form relishes in an ample array of stories both new and old told on Durant’s incredibly popular 15th signature. Collaborations with the likes of Cardo and Timothy Goodman appear across the mismatched uppers while specific parts of the shoe such as the tongues, lining, and outsoles nod to themes such as “Aunt Pearl,” “Aimbot” and 9th Wonder releases.

As alluded to, the lineage of “What the” drops dates back all the way to Nike SB in 2007 — the same year Kevin signed with the Swoosh — where the coveted theme is concerned. Moreover, the last time a “What the” KD was released was half a decade ago with allocations limited to only three stores.

Launching on May 5, the chase that started over 15 years ago continues in a funky new fashion, pushing the lines of culture, collecting, and performance.

More Nike KD:

About The Author
Ian Stonebrook
Ian Stonebrook
Ian Stonebrook is a Staff Writer covering culture, sports, and fashion for Boardroom. Prior to signing on, Ian spent a decade at Nice Kicks as a writer and editor. Over the course of his career, he's been published by the likes of Complex, Jordan Brand, GOAT, Cali BBQ Media, SoleSavy, and 19Nine. Ian spends all his free time hooping and he's heard on multiple occasions that Drake and Nas have read his work, so that's pretty tight.