Westbrook was too unique for the Air Jordan

The footwear industry didn’t need just another signature sneaker. Russell Westbrook, who reinvented the arena walk-in with his daring fashion, didn’t want just any other shoe with his name attached.

The starting point for his newest signature sneaker, the Jordan Why Not Zer0.2, was simple: Be anything but simple.

“To have my own line, and to be creative in building it, is taking a step in an impossible zone,” Westbrook said. “I’m going to keep trying to create distinction while doing it.”

With quirky cues, nontraditional color accents and sloping contours, the shoe is unmistakably created through the lens of Russ. He’ll debut the lead OKC-themed colorway in front of childhood friends and family members Wednesday against the Los Angeles Lakers.

After beginning his NBA career with a Nike shoe deal, Westbrook signed to the company’s Jordan Brand in 2012, becoming the headliner for the annual Air Jordan model. Starting with the $250 Air Jordan XX8, he followed Dwyane Wade and Michael Jordan himself as faces of the Air Jordan.

“When the opportunity presented itself a long time ago to be a part of the brand, it was a no-brainer for me — it’s MJ,” Westbrook said.

While the Air Jordan checked the box on performance, the shoe is still about Michael and driven by insights and input from the brand’s namesake. Westbrook had largely outgrown the simple designs, especially when the Air Jordan 31 began a run of shoes that hearkened back to design language from each model’s 30-year predecessor, building on nostalgia rather than looking forward.

Westbrook’s size-15 player-exclusive pairs featured loud graphics, wild prints and custom “Why Not?” phrasing, but there was still another level for him to reach.

Elevating into the signature space placed him amongst just a handful of Jordan endorsers in the brand’s 20-year history to have their own series. He’s the first to have two distinct footwear silos, a low-key Westbrook 0 off-court line and the highly sculpted and performance-driven Why Not Zer0 on-court series. The Why Not Zer0.2 will retail for $130, about half the cost of the first Air Jordan model Westbrook headlined.

Given the quick timeline to turn around his first model, Westbrook’s signature line began with a re-badged and updated inline Jordan sneaker. For the second go, the seven-time All-Star and rising Jordan designer Jalal Enayah started from scratch, putting together a multi-material, purposefully funky, mashed-up design.

“From the first design meeting we had, my No. 1 priority was making the best performance basketball shoe possible,” Westbrook said.

The result is a shoe with multiple Westbrook signature touches, from the traction pattern designed solely with his jersey number 0 to the “RW” logo stamps along the heel, subtle negative-space Ws throughout, handwritten “Why Not?” lettering at the toe tips and the overt tagging and labeling approach. Rather than being hidden on the inside of the shoe, the size tag is stamped into the bottom of the heel.

“It’s fun. I love designing,” Westbrook said. “I love sitting down and going through a bunch of swatches and picking materials. It’s a joy, and I embrace it.”

The inner collar label features the color palette incorporated along with the nickname for each colorway. The “Future History,” inspired by the uniform shades of every team Westbrook has played on since high school, will kick things off.

“The moment I saw an early prototype of the ‘Future History,’ I tossed a previous version across the room and told the design team, ‘This is the one,'” Westbrook said.

The phrase tells the story of his journey to the heights of basketball, as a means of inspiring his three children and young fans.

“I know that one day, [my son,] my daughters and all the other kids out there will become the leaders and legends of tomorrow — our ‘Future History,’ as I like to call it,” he said.

Westbrook also layered in several nods to his family and friends, with a crest icon taking up the empty real estate behind the shoe’s tongue. His parents, brother, wife and son are each incorporated, along with a “KB3” tribute to his late high school teammate, Khelcey Barrs III. He’ll add his own hand-scribed lettering along the shoe’s midsole before taking the court.

“Each colorway will have a designated area for me to write that on,” Westbrook said. “I want people who wear my shoe to understand that playing with a purpose bigger than yourself is important.”

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