LeBron's crowd a bad fit with Nike designer

Tinker Hatfield is the Michael Jordan of designers at Nike, a legend in the shoe design field and the guy who runs the company’s “Innovation Kitchen.” He also, apparently, is not a fan of LeBron James’ associates.

Hatfield rarely does interviews and guards his secrets closely. But he did a private appearance at a Miami shoe store last week in which he took some questions from customers. During the session, which was recorded and posted on YouTube, Hatfield said he stopped personally developing James’ signature shoes because he didn’t like dealing with those around James.

“I don’t like working with LeBron’s entourage,” Hatfield said. “It’s too many people, too many ideas, too many opinions.”

It is the second time in the last six months Hatfield has publicly taken a shot at James various friends and managers. During a similar event last October in Santa Monica, Calif., Hatfield told a group of listeners at a shoe store that “I used to work on LeBron’s, until his entourage kind of pissed me off.”

Hatfield was the main designer on the first generations of James’ shoes, starting in 2003. But according to sources, in 2008 he stopped working with him to focus working on Kobe Bryant’s shoes and the Jordan Brand. In the meantime, Hatfield said last week that James’ products have “suffered a little bit” and “hasn’t done as well as the Kobe stuff.”

“[Working with Bryant] one guy comes into the room with him and he has ideas and is very forward thinking and is smart about what he needs to do, what he thinks he needs to do to be a better player,” Hatfield said last week.

“LeBron is a great guy, I really like him, but when he comes into the room and he’s got like eight other guys saying things. That is one reason why the LeBron stuff, even though it does OK, it isn’t quite as exciting to me as the Kobe stuff or what we’ve done with the Jordan Brand.”

Hatfield also said he enjoys working more with Carmelo Anthony, who works with the Jordan Brand, than James’ advisors. He said Carmelo Anthony is “kind of quiet, which is all right because he doesn’t have a big entourage that gets in the way and we can actually sit down and talk to him.”

A Nike spokesman said the company continues to support James' brand.

"Tinker is one of our highly respected designers and was expressing his personal preference of engaging in a one-to-one creative process with the athlete," Derek Kent, Nike's U.S. director of media relations said. "Nike is proud to work with LeBron on his highly successful product collection which continues to be popular throughout the world."

According to a source, the seventh version of James’ shoe that was released last year was the best-selling edition yet. He signed a new long-term contract with Nike last season.