How signature sneakers have taken over the NBA

Before the 2015 NBA Finals, Draymond Green switched from LeBron James' sneakers to the Nike Hyperdunk. Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Just before he played his first NBA Finals game in 2015, Draymond Green made a major adjustment: He changed his shoes.

After spending most of the previous two seasons wearing various LeBron James models, Green eschewed superstition and switched to the Nike Hyperdunk 2014.

"It's no mind games," Green said of making the switch right before facing James in the Finals. "Nike sent me some white and gold shoes -- Finals editions shoes -- so I put 'em on."

Green, who often found himself matched up with James during the Warriors' first title run, had worn the LeBron X model through most of his second season, then switched to the LeBron Soldier 8 for most of his 79 regular-season games and 15 Western Conference playoff games in 2014-15. That included a late February loss to the Cavaliers in which James torched the LeBron-wearing Green and the Warriors for 42 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists.

"I used to see guys wear MJ's shoes when they played against MJ, and I was like, 'MJ got a little mental edge over those guys,'" James said in a GQ video later that fall.

This past season, signature sneakers took the league by storm like never before. Only 11 current players have a signature shoe with a U.S.-based basketball company like Nike, Adidas, Under Armour and, yes, Big Baller Brand, while another eight have signature models with a Chinese brand. And yet, nearly 70 percent of the players who appeared in a game this season played in a signature shoe -- 327 in all.

Of the players who at some point wore a signature model this season, 30 wore one of James' current sneakers, whether it was the LeBron 15 or his Soldier 11 and Soldier 12 team shoes. As the age gap between James and players entering the league continues to widen, several younger players, such as Bulls All-Rookie forward Lauri Markkanen and Hawks guard Malcolm Delaney, began to wear vintage LeBrons from a decade ago as a show of appreciation, similar to how players adopted Kobe Bryant's and Michael Jordan's series during the final chapters of their careers.

While James has friends on the Cavaliers and around the league who constantly support his line's newer models, like his fellow Klutch Sports clients Tristan Thompson, Eric Bledsoe and JR Smith, he has still gone on record to say in no uncertain terms that it's an advantage on the floor, if you're not among his crew.

"For me, now being in that MJ class, if I see a guy wearing my shoes ... and you go to Foot Locker or somewhere and you just get a pair of LeBrons and you want to wear them on a Tuesday night against me?" he said. "I'm gonna bust your ass."

Wearing an opponent's signature shoe, now a relatively common practice, was once taboo in certain locker rooms.

During the late 1990s, Pat Riley famously sought to ban his Heat players from wearing Air Jordans against the Chicago Bulls, unwilling to give Jordan even a glimmer of trash-talking ammo. Years later, Paul Pierce looked to dissuade his Washington Wizards teammates from wearing LeBron's shoes against the Cavaliers.

"If you ever heard interviews with LeBron, he would say, 'If I see a player on the court that got my shoes on, I know I got 'em.'" Pierce said.

Warriors forward Kevin Durant, whose signature line is in its 11th year, has a different mindset.

"It's flattering to me," he said of opponents wearing his sneaker. "I don't look at it as an advantage at all. But it's moreso just cool to see a KD on another guy's shoe. I was growing up watching people wear Jordans and play in Jordans a lot. Now to have my own signature shoe and to have my peers wearing it, it's pretty fun to see."

Durant found himself looking down at his own sneaker during the second round of the playoffs this year, with New Orleans Pelicans big man Nikola Mirotic sticking with his trusty KDs.

"Man, I was thinking about that, trust me," Mirotic said with a laugh. "I was like, should I wear those shoes? I was like maybe yes, maybe no. But KD's KD, man. He's one of the best players in the world and I have such a respect for him. I've been wearing those shoes since they came in ... and they feel very comfortable, so I was just sticking with them. Just not thinking about wearing KD [shoes] playing against KD, which is a little bit weird, but it is what it is."

As it turned out, the sneakers were the least of the Pelicans' worries, with the Warriors finishing off New Orleans in just five games.

"He never said anything," Mirotic said of Durant, who averaged 27.8 PPG during the series. "But I'm sure he saw those shoes."

One of only three players with an Adidas signature model, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard noticed he was facing off against someone wearing his own shoe just five games into the season.

Austin Rivers donned an all-red version of the Adidas Dame 4 while putting up 16 points in a one-point Clippers win in Portland. A week later, Utah Jazz rookie phenom Donovan Mitchell dropped 28 points on the Blazers off the bench, all in a gleaming yellow pair of the Dame 4.

"So many players around the league are wearing it," Lillard said of his latest model.

Once the opening jump ball goes up, Lillard said he doesn't perceive any advantage or think much of another player wearing his shoe, other than to appreciate the support and added visibility -- given that he gets a royalty from the sale of every pair.

"I'm seeing it on a lot of younger athletes as well," he said.

The shoe was by far the most popular of Lillard's signature models to date, and it's likely you'll see more players wearing his shoes in coming seasons. Of the 21 players who wore the Dame 4 in 2017-18, 13 of them were in their first three years in the league.

At Under Armour, which currently boasts a smaller roster of just 20 NBA players, there's more of a family approach to things. The brand has just one signature athlete, Stephen Curry, who saw his Curry 4 and Curry 5 models worn more often around the association than any of his past shoes, spotted on 14 players in total.

Curry's younger brother Seth was frequently spotted in a personalized Dallas Mavericks colorway of the latest low-top signature edition. When the brothers face off, Under Armour will often create a special "Family Business"-themed pair for each.

This season, another member of the extended Curry family hit the pro hardwood, when Damion Lee was called up by the Atlanta Hawks near the end of 2017-18 after beginning his career with the Santa Cruz Warriors.

Lee, who is married to Stephen and Seth's sister Sydel, was fittingly wearing Under Armour for his pro debut. When the Hawks faced off against the Warriors during his sixth game, Lee broke out the new Curry 5 model, which were also debuted by Steph that night.

"Stephen and I spoke earlier that week about wearing them for the game, after I got the call up and knew we were playing in Golden State," Lee said. "He told me to make sure I had mine ready to go."

Lee soon found himself switched onto his brother-in-law, both in matching Curry 5s, which made for a unique family memory.

"Definitely a different dynamic than most," Lee said.

Once a niche part of the overall basketball sneaker market, signature sneakers now dominate at retail. The majority of both Nike Basketball and Under Armour's shoe sales come from their current namesake lines.

Because of the shift in the market, companies now often invest the most research, design and development resources into their high-priced signature sneakers, with players finding more comfort and performance on-court as a result. As today's generation also looks to get more expressive with its footwear, Nike's iD customization website has been a major factor in the surge of Kobe Bryant, Paul George and Kyrie Irving sneakers that have hit the court.

Worn by a whopping 67 percent of the league, the NBA's official outfitter saw more players donning a Swoosh than any other brand. Ninety players wore one of the past two Kobe AD models, each released after Bryant's 2016 retirement. Forty-two laced up George's debut PG1 model, a $110 shoe that was immediately much loved for its standout performance.

Irving's third and fourth signature models were spotted more than 50 times total throughout the season. They appeared on every single team except for the Trail Blazers, whose guards are mostly signed to Adidas and Li-Ning, and big men often wear the Hyperdunk or other Nike models.

While Irving was sidelined throughout the Celtics' postseason run, teammates Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier picked up the slack in multiple ways, making up for Irving's absence in the box score while wearing a variety of colors of the new Kyrie 4.

The number of players expected to get a signature shoe isn't likely to balloon any time soon, but the trend of the game's biggest stars seeing their own shoes all over the floor is here to stay.

ESPN's Nick Friedell contributed to this report.