Referees debut new footwear

LOS ANGELES -- How does a footwear company garner attention for its latest innovation when the shoe's namesake isn't even in the All-Star Game?

It signs the referees to an All-Star Weekend shoe contract, of course, and throws in one of the referees' top adversaries, Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest.

The idea is innovative, yet clearly a little strange because it's not clear whether fans will want to wear a shoe worn by the zebras, often some of the most hated men on the floor.

"Fans have a love-hate situation with the players, as well," Dada chief executive Lavetta Willis said. "The referees have as much on-the-court visibility as the players have and they're usually closer to the fans than the players are when the game is being played."

Willis believes outfitting the refs will simply provide an opportunity for fans to see the unique shoes and decide for themselves if they'd want to purchase them.

NBA referees have not had a shoe deal for years, since Converse abandoned them.

"We're kind of an after-thought," said Rodney Motts, who's in his seventh year as an NBA ref. "In Friday night's game, everyone on the sidelines, were coming up to us asking us about our shoes."

The deal had to be approved by the NBA, since the league monitors the specifications of their uniform.

Dada Footwear is the Los Angeles-based shoe company that made the flashy metallic shoes Chris Webber wore in the All-Star Game two years ago. With less than one-half of a percent in market share, Dada has the shoe that figures to turn some heads in the expensive front row of seats at the Staples Center at Sunday's game. They're called the Sprees -- named after their endorser, Minnesota Timberwolves guard Latrell Sprewell. The shoe features a to-scale model of the custom spinning rims on Sprewell's car -- with the small wheels appearing on the side of the shoe.

Much like Nike, with visible air, and Reebok, with the Pump, Dada is touting its technology -- called LS Air Exchange.

When the athlete steps down, an airbag inside the heel deflates causing air to flush out of the shoe and through the wheel, thus making it spin. When the athlete lifts his foot up, air comes back into the airbag and the wheel stops.

The idea for the shoe was dreamed up with Sprewell, who signed with the company over the summer, before he was traded by the Knicks to the Timberwolves. Sprewell owns his own autobody shop called Sprewell Motorsports, which is known for its spinning rims.

"This shoe is going to be very relevant on the street," Willis said. "But it's not some fashion gimmick, it's a basketball performance shoe."

Dada endorser Chris Kaman of the Los Angeles Clippers was the first to break out the shoes at the Rookie Challenge on Friday.

"The shoe design was a surprise until now," Kaman said after the game. "I like the idea, but I probably won't continue to wear this model because I'm not really a flashy type of guy."

The shoe on Artest's feet caused a commotion at the NBA Jam Session on Saturday morning, many in the crowd were pointing to the rims spinning on his shoes.

"They're the hottest shoes I've seen since the LeBron's came out," said Randall Harris, a 13-year-old from Los Angeles.

"I'm having fun with it," said Artest, who is currently deciding on what shoe brand he'll endorse. "I gotta get the rims on my car now."

Dada, like many shoe companies, has a history of drawing inspiration from cars. Two shoes endorsed by Chris Webber had car influences -- one with a car grill and another made to look like the wood that adorns the inside of Mercedes cars.

The rim replica deal is an alliance with Lexani, a high-end rim maker. Dada will have the Lexani name on the shoe rims, while Lexani markets the real 26-inch Sprewell spinning rims -- which cost about $8,500 for a set of four.

"It's a natural partnership," said Lexani president Frank Hodges. "We're trying to reach the same type of urban youth consumer that Dada has been able to reach."

The shoe, which costs $110, will hit stores on March 20.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com.