From The Court to the Field: NJR x Jordans

We may not look like we’re big fans of soccer, but there is no denying our passion for… well, fashion. Nike sneakers are both as nostalgic as the Backstreet Boys, and are current as pop-culture is to us. Pushing for better quality and more innovative design, we met up with Nathan VanHook, the Nike Football Senior Design Director to discuss one of the most recent releases: the NJR x Jordans.

We all have icons from our childhood that almost none of us get a chance to design for…! What is that feeling like?

Working at Nike has allowed me to meet and work closely with many athletes who I admire, but this one was particularly special. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Neymar on his Hypervenom boots, and Michael Jordan is a huge source of inspiration for him. That insight sparked the project and ultimately led to this collaboration. We dug deeper and learned that Neymar’s admiration for Jordan is really about greatness. Come to find out that Jordan is also a fan of Neymar’s, clearly greatness recognizes greatness. Needless to say, being in the presence of both Neymar and Jordan, and their combined greatness is pretty amazing!”

Both soccer and basketball have a lot of common athletic requirements, yet they also differ immensely. How was the creation process like of NJR x Jordans? What did you have to pay attention to the most when designing these shoes?

Both sports involve hard lateral cuts. Football, however, is the one sport where your shoe comes in contact with the ball. This contact necessitates an emphasis on touch. Football boots are also designed to be closer to the ground, whereas basketball shoes incorporate significant cushioning between the foot and the court.

The actual creation process has been really amazing because it started back in 2014 in a truly organic way. As a massive fan of Jordan, Neymar was always wearing Jordan caps when we met, and I asked about it. From then on, we’d talk to Neymar about his favorite Jordans – he identified the Jordan V as his favorite (you can see that insight came to life in the iconic fighter jet shark teeth on the front of the Jordan V) and the idea just grew from there.

This process was special and challenging because we had so much great material to take inspiration from. We had our own thoughts and ideas from knowing and working with both Neymar and Jordan – their styles of play, what makes them iconic on the pitch and court. It was really great when we showed Neymar the first prototype, and he asked whether we could put Jordan’s number on it, which we thought was a brilliant idea. That is why you will see Neymar Jr.’s Brasil number, 10, on the lateral side of the left boot and per Neymar Jr.’s request, the number 23 is on the right boot paying homage to Jordan.

How do you manage the designing process as a designer? How do you inspire yourself to start the designing process and how does it continue in general?

At Nike, design is really about ‘listening to the voice of the athlete’, and that’s my biggest inspiration and guiding principle. I also find inspiration in spaces, modern architecture and I look at manufacturing processes in other industries. On this project specifically, it was all about doing something special for both athletes, and we really kept that at the heart. We wanted to take it to a new place and do something special that really spoke to the things that both athletes admire about each other.”

“It was really great when we showed Neymar the first prototype, and he asked whether we could put Jordan’s number on it, which we thought was a brilliant idea.”

What makes Nike iconic to you?

In one word, I would say, INNOVATION. We innovate to make athletes better, and our iconic advancements – Nike Air, Fly- knit, the Dynamic Fit Collar – all stemmed from athlete insights around performance.

What does street style sneaker culture represent to you? How would describe your role/participation as a designer?

It has to start with performance innovation and looking at how we can make athletes better. Our boots have to perform at the highest levels, but we also believe in bringing style to the pitch. The sweet spot is where style and innovation come together. This collaboration as well as the recent “What the Merc” boot and the Camo Pack highlight this concept quite well….and there’s more to come.

How do you work with athletes? How do you find working with them?

Whether it’s a collaboration with an elite athlete, or working with every day athletes, I’m always looking for insights and feedback. Sometimes players don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s really what we do as design- ers at Nike – take the smallest athlete insight and turn into something game changing. That’s why I love working here.