Civic Engagement

NBA Cloth Talk: Discussing the significance of NBA sneakers that pay tribute to Black History Month

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Sneaker choices are one of the many ways the league celebrates Black History Month (NBAE/Getty Images)

Welcome to Cloth Talk! An ode to the phrase coined by DJ Khaled, NBA.com's Gilbert McGregor and Kyle Irving delve into all things style in the NBA. From uniform reveals to sneaker choices and everything in between, the two experts give their takes and provide clarity on concepts that are impossible to ignore.

If you missed the first editions, catch up on the teams with new uniforms, a rundown of the Classic Edition uniforms that will be worn, our rankings of the league's best "City Edition" uniforms this season and an in-depth look at the Atlanta Hawks MLK City Edition in relation to the importance of how the NBA celebrates Martin Luther King Day.

Today, we highlight Black History Month by diving into our favourite "BHM" edition sneakers.

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): The calendar's flipped to February, meaning it's now officially Black History Month and the NBA has already begun a number of initiatives both on and off the court that will extend well beyond the month itself.

Specific to things on the court, I always think about the Black History Month edition sneakers that typically feature Nike's now-iconic "BHM" logo. I also feel like we haven't truly devoted a Cloth Talk to shoes just yet and this feels like the perfect place to start, right?

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): It's crazy it's taken us this long to dive strictly into kicks, especially given how you and I are such big sneaker junkies. While Black History Month is important for reasons so much bigger than basketball shoes, it's still a great topic for Cloth Talk because shoe brands always show out with their BHM Edition sneakers.

That Nike BHM logo has become a staple associated with their special edition shoes and there are so many that come to mind that I've always been a fan of or wanted to add to my collection. When you think BHM Edition kicks, what's the first pair that comes to mind for you?

McGregor: I'm glad you asked that. I wasn't sure if this is when the brand began but I first remember seeing BHM on Nike sneakers on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2011, which, now that I think of it was 10 years ago.

I did some research and learned via a Sole Collector interview with Nike designer Jonathan Johnson Griffin in 2011 that the BHM collection began with an internal Air Force 1 design long before the designs were brought to the court on MLK Day in 2011.

It was there that I learned that gold was chosen as a prominent colour for a reason because "whenever you see gold in sports, it's because someone has won something or they've been honoured. They've found their call to greatness."

The BHM initiative was brought about to honour pioneers in sport that found their call to greatness and inspire the next generation through the words and accomplishments of influential Black icons to find their own personal call to greatness. And that iconic logo? Back in 2011, Johnson Griffin said they wanted to have longevity with the project. 10 years later, I'd say Nike was on to something.

From that collection, which also honoured the 35th-ever Black History month, I specifically remember the Kobe 6 because it was such a sharp sneaker and the original Hyperfuse because a (not so) crazy story resulted in me ending up with a pair of my own. I guess I can't foreshadow the story without getting into it, right?

Irving: Don't keep the people waiting Gil. Let's hear it.

McGregor: Hahaha fair enough.

Long story short, it was my senior year of high school (again, wow) and I was still a ballboy with the then-New Orleans Hornets. As a background, the team had acquired Marco Belinelli earlier in the season and I knew he and I both wore a size 13.

Anyway, he broke out the BHM Hyperfuse for MLK Day but I don't think he was a big fan of the fit because he switched back to Hyperdunks and let the Hyperfuse sit in his locker.

After a week or two of just staring at them, untouched, I mustered up the courage to ask if he still wanted them because, unbeknownst to him, my high school wore the same shade of gold on our uniform and, after a few ankle injuries, I was in search of a new shoe to play in.

Basically, Marco's one of the coolest guys I've come across and he let me have the BHM pair as well as another red pair that I didn't even ask for (confirming that he didn't like the Hyperfuse at all) and it ended up being quite possibly my favourite basketball shoe ever. I wore them throughout the remainder of my senior year and beyond until I literally couldn't wear them anymore.

And as a bonus, as I was looking for a picture of Marco wearing them, it happened to be against DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors. Oh, and DeMar's got on the BHM Kobe 6s.

I had some of my best high school performances in those sneakers so I guess in a way, I found my call to greatness in the athletic realm with those on my feet.

Irving: And if you aren't going to tell them... if you look closely in between DeRozan's legs, you can actually see Gil sitting on the opposite baseline. But that's besides the point. That story is incredible and those BHM kicks are always going to have a special place in your heart because of the memory that resides with them.

This is the perfect segway because, ironically enough, the very first shoe that comes to mind for me are the BHM Kobe 6s. I wanted those so badly. DeRozan actually broke them out the other night against the Memphis Grizzlies to kick off Black History Month.

The Kobe 6s are the best basketball shoes I've ever played in and Nike nailed the BHM colourway. They always do such a good job with any BHM edition kicks but the Kobes, in particular, are what my mind is drawn to when I think BHM basketball shoes.

McGregor: It's crazy how it comes full circle over 10 (!) years, with DeRozan wearing the Protro Kobe 6 in black and gold after wearing the originals back in 2011. And this year, I've noticed the BHM shoes in white and black with gold accents.

But before I get too deep into how it's all come back around to 2021, there have been some other really unique colourways and ideas surrounding Black History Month over the last decade. I was reminded of that when I saw Julius Randle pull out the BHM Kobe 8s from 2013 the other day when the Knicks were in Portland.

Remember these?

The 2013 Black History Month colourway was chosen for its boldness as part of a campaign that saw financial contributions made to the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America with proceeds from the collection.

Naturally, I was intrigued by the different direction Nike has gone in from year to year, so I looked back at the different BHM collections over the past decade.

  • 2011 - The 35th Black History Month, celebrating pioneers in sport to inspire a "call to greatness"
  • 2012 - Celebrating the achievements and pioneering spirit of the 1996 USA Basketball Women's team, 2002 Brazil Men's Soccer team, and the 2008 Kenyan Long-Distance running team.
  • 2013 - Highlighting Didier Drogba, Serena Williams and Kevin Durant, as each athlete provided "creative inspiration for the product collection based on their commitment to giving back to their communities"
  • 2014 - A celebration of Sport Royalty, honouring LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Allyson Felix, Maya Moore, Theotis Beasley and Ishod Wair. 100% of net proceeds (up to $1 million) went to the NIKE Ever Higher Fund, supporting charitable initiatives that leverage the power of sport to maximize the human potential of underserved youth.
  • 2015 - A black and white palette consisting of three different prints, "honouring and celebrating the athletes and leaders who have influenced global culture and have paved the way for our next generation."
  • 2016 - A vibrant Pan African-inspired colour palette with custom geometric motifs was selected to "pay homage to the achievements of black athletes worldwide."
  • 2017 - The collection, which "incorporated a decorative marbling - blending black and white - in reference to the strength of harmonious movement," again was created to celebrate Black heritage and the power of sport to fuel community action to create positive change.
  • 2018 - The "EQUALITY" collection was largely inspired by speeches from MLK, with select products featuring specific dates on which someone stood up for the values of equality, diversity and inclusion.
  • 2019 - "Inspired by an assortment of national African patterns, brought together onto modernized prints in a theme of Afro-futurism in sport," the products were a small part of a movement that provided opportunities for community leaders.
  • 2020 - For BHM '20, Nike recognized 20 U.S.-based nonprofits that offer play and sport programs, and support education and career development, with a total of $500,000 in grants.

That was a lot of information for you but I enjoyed learning more about the designs, who they honoured and, ultimately who was benefitted most by the initiatives. Specifically that Nike Ever Higher Fund, which has been a big focus of BHM efforts.

Irving: There's a lot to unpack there, but it's all valuable info on the subject. I didn't know any of that, and as you said, it's always cool to see why brands choose the certain colours and styles along with certain ambassadors for different initiatives and most importantly, what groups, funds and charities the initiatives are going towards.

And going back to your question, I do remember those Kobes that Randle is rocking. He had the right idea wearing those kicks because they couldn't pair more perfectly with those Knicks jerseys.

As you noted, while Nike started with the black and gold theme, they have experimented with other colours. One of my personal favourite colour combos was the black, green and red that pays tribute to the Pan-African flag from 2016 that you hinted at on that timeline. For those who don't know, Pan-Africanism is a worldwide movement that aims to encourage and strengthen the bond of solidarity between all people of African descent. The movement began back in the early 20th century and is still celebrated and honoured to this day.

I was already preaching about the Kobes, but my other favourite BHM sneaker is the KD 10 that dons the colours of the Pan-African flag.

Funny enough, because I never got to hoop in them in real life, they're usually a go-to for my MyPlayer in NBA2K. If you ever crossed paths with me in The Park in 2K20, my guy was always rocking the BHM KD 10s.

Just a clean looking shoe and I love the multi-coloured laces. It even has a gold script on the side that reads "5.6.14", the date of Durant's famous "You the real MVP" speech.

McGregor: 1. That's a credit to 2K for the realism of their sneakers within the game, actually.

2. Kudos to you for sticking with it and not switching things up once your MyPlayer became accustomed to rocking that shoe. Gotta stick with it.

I think including the colours of the Pan-African flag are an awesome way to keep things fresh while keeping the initiative as the main thing, so to speak. Anytime I see that shoe I think of Pascal Siakam, as he pretty much wore them throughout the Raps' title run in 2019.

To think that these photos are from games that aren't just played in February is a subtle reminder that these celebrations aren't limited to just one calendar month. As a quick aside from the sneakers, I did see Trae Young arrive for a Hawks game on Feb. 1 wearing a sweatshirt that read "More Than A Month | A Movement".

A post shared by LeagueFits (@leaguefits)

I don't think I could think of a better phrase to encapsulate what it's really all about.

Irving: I learned from LeBron James' tweet this morning that those crews are actually for sale with all proceeds going to the New Georgia Project Action Fund, an organization that fights the latest voter suppression efforts in Georgia. So it's only right that Atlanta's biggest star opens up Black History Month raising awareness to that great cause.

McGregor: Two All-Stars and extremely high-profile athletes using their platform to continue to push change, which, as we know, is a constant process.

As the month of February is just getting started, we'll have way more BHM Cloth Talk for you as well. In the meantime, head to nike.com/bhm to learn what the brand is doing beyond those three letters that appear on sneakers and gear.

The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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