Giannis Antetokounmpo spends his off day at Nike WHQ for a crash course in signature footwear. The meetings serve as a starting point for the Nike Air Zoom Freak 1, Antetokounmpo’s debut signature shoe, and come sandwiched between nights he scored 32 points in Sacramento and 20 in Portland.
Toward the end of the sessions, sitting with a pile of Zoom Air units in front of him, Antetokounmpo smiles wide and says, “I didn’t know anything about this process before today.”
The meetings were devised not simply for the creation of the Greek star’s first signature shoe, but also for the making of the Antetokounmpo brand; this set in motion a series of work streams, inclusive of apparel, footwear and logo design. Each audience with Antetokounmpo follows Nike’s driving ethos — listen to the voice of the athlete — and combines for the full range of product in the 6′ 11″ forward’s initial Nike line.
“I thought we were going to talk with five people about what I like in a shoe,” he noted then. “It was much deeper than that. I was surprised by how many people are involved — the size of the team and the level of input they want from me on the product and what I want to represent.”
Listening to the voice of the athlete has levels of nuance. Direct conversations, of course, are integral to the process. So, too, is observation — Nike designers and engineers are interested in all the subtleties of a particular athlete’s play and personality. Their job is to solve for the unique problems that investigation reveals. The defining features of the Air Zoom Freak 1 combine both elements of “listening” to create a shoe that encapsulates Antetokounmpo’s physical, personal and cultural being.
Brass tacks? The Nike Air Zoom Freak 1 is an exercise in solving for Antetokounmpo’s rangy movement. “He’s using space with great efficiency,” says Ross Klein, Senior Creative Director, Basketball Footwear. “He uses length to take defender’s off of their position. In a euro step, for example, he can pull a defender one way and because his left step — the lethal step — is so long, he cuts a huge, almost two-step, advantage.”
The footwork associated with Antetokounmpo’s game is met with a multidirectional traction pattern that aids positioning at the extremes of his lateral strides — the big toe and pinkie toe — as well as meeting more traditional needs of a sound defensive stance. All this is buttressed by an internal containment system helping to keep the foot in place, and lateral support in the form of a rubber clip that extends from the outsole up through the midsole.
These subtle elements are fundamental to serving Antetokounmpo’s play. What gives the Air Zoom Freak 1 a visual character of its own is employment of double-stacked Zoom Air units under the heel, offering an explosive balance of responsiveness and cushioning.
Some of this design honors Antetokounmpo’s love of another signature footwear line. “Since I was little, I have been wearing KOBE shoes,” he says. “The fit, feel and function has always been comfortable for me.”
It also takes it to a new level. “We wanted to heighten the sensation Antetokounmpo has loved in the KOBE,” says Klein.
A double-stack Zoom Air unit is one way of translating personal attachment into a design. Another is the formation of a full-on brand identity system.
“In a logo, you can put a lot of things together and talk about your life — represent family, represent Nigeria and Greece. That is exciting,” says Antetokounmpo.
Doing that is the responsibility of Nike’s Global Identity Group (GIG), which worked parallel to the footwear team to create a full range of logos, patterns and typography that evoke the athlete’s story. For them, logo design is an art. “Our aim is to create visual forms that quickly identify an athlete’s values,” says Sean Butterly, Art Director, Global Identity Group.
For Antetokounmpo, this meant balancing his family story and the mythical qualities of his sporting rise in a single icon. To do this, the Graphic Identity Group looked to Ancient Greece for inspiration and found a useful form in Greek fret patterns.
In historical art terms, the pattern is known as a meander and symbolizes an eternal flow. For Antetokounmpo, this serves a double purpose. On the surface, there is clear connection to the aesthetic of ancient Athens, his hometown. More deeply, it represents his family’s path from Nigeria to Greece, and then from Athens to Milwaukee.
Footwear colorways are another way Antetokounmpo can share his personal story. The All Bros colorway is one example of how he’ll honor his family with the Air Zoom Freak 1.
The pattern is built from a repeat of the Antetokounmpo primary logo, an interlocked “G” and “A” that gives hierarchical privilege to the family name. Negative space is used to reflect the meandering path of the hero’s journey, while the clipped corner of the “G” references Antetokounmpo anomalous athletic talents. He is, after all, nicknamed the “Greek Freak” for all that comes with his singular combination of length and agility.
Complementing the key logo is an expanded identity system giving Antetokounmpo his own unique typography as well as a trio of tertiary logos — included a “34” that plays off the Greek Flag, which features on the Air Zoom Freak 1 heel.
The Antetokounmpo logo sets a premise for the values of the Antetokounmpo brand. It also sets a foundation for how Nike’s apparel team considers signature garment lines. Led by Samuel Shipley, Senior Creative Director, Basketball Apparel, and apparel designer Dustin Mangan, this effort is a challenge of filtering the staples of basketball culture — shorts, hoodies, etc. — through Antetokounmpo’s history and heritage in both life and sport.
“Antetokounmpo has an incredible story,” says Mangan. “His love for Greece and reverence for his family’s journey is all great fuel for designing something unique for him. We can bridge ideas of European luxury and comfort that embody him as a person.”
Initial products under the Antetokounmpo banner range from the simplistic — direct celebrations of the Greek Freak with a play on the classic Nike Futura logo — to designs that honor the blend of stylistic influences he gained from engagement in sport and life in the streets of Sepolia, a rough Athens neighborhood that formed the Antetokounmpo brothers.
In his signature short, Antetokounmpo’s primary logo becomes fodder for an elegant, emotive trim that channels the most exuberant of European luxury sportswear. His tank uses the primary logo as an emboss motif across the back, and the Greek flag “34” is used to punctuate the pockets of his track jacket.
One might think gaining entry into Nike’s exclusive signature club (an honor reserved for a small number of Nike’s most elite players) would complicate Antetokounmpo’s humility. Not so. “To be honest with you, I never dreamed of having a signature shoe. Growing up, the goal was making the NBA; playing hard and helping your team win. This is a bonus,” he says.
The Air Zoom Freak 1 and Antetokounmpo’s initial apparel line release June 29.