Nike has been a dominant force in basketball for years, equipping some of the game’s biggest stars with footwear, both on and off the court. Recently, we had the chance to sit down with Nike Basketball Design Director, Leo Chang, to discuss the second generation of the Elite Series, a limited collection of kicks for Nike’s premier athletes designed for the rigors of the playoffs. Given the stakes, the series provides a unique opportunity for Leo and his team to push what’s possible. It’s about designing the best for the best, when limitations have left the building.

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Versatile and expensive materials like carbon fiber and Kevlar aramid (typically used in body armor) are one of the ways the Elite series stands out from a typical Nike basketball release. But they’re just part of the 18 month long development story. This year’s series was built from the ground up to reflect the superhero like nature of Lebron, Kobe and Kevin Durant. It’s an entertaining marketing concept that likely speaks to the hearts of sneakerheads too. What’s sobering is how thoroughly the idea is incorporated into every element of each shoe.

Chang and his crew approach the process by first working with athletes to understand their desires, both in terms of performance, and aesthetics. In recent years, the role of NBA players as fashion icons has grown, so it wasn’t surprising to learn that Kobe, Lebron and Kevin Durant each expressed a strong desire to break conventions in terms of styling. Various concepts are developed and tested thoroughly via a team of athletes before being presented to the stars for evaluation. Plenty of these iterations were on hand during our chat, showcasing how everything from the color of a lace eyelet to the shape of a heel cup had been repeatedly tweaked before settling on the eventual production spec.

To play on the superhuman theme of the series, a visual cue of each player’s “power” materializes. Kobe’s “black mamba” speed and vision on the court takes aesthetic form in poison green colors, snake skin textured swooshes and x-ray vision collar lining graphics, while a carbon fiber heel clip and shank as well as dynamic Flywire reinforced with Kevlar aramid provide lightweight stability for quick cutting and jumping. Kevin Durant is a newcomer to the series, and his KD V Elite has been retooled in a new volt colorway in a nod to his “lightning speed”. Lebron’s X PS Elite follow a similar logic based around his “explosive power”.

While their individual styles certainly won’t appeal to all, we appreciated the smaller player oriented details that are easily missed without close inspection, such as the “now is the time” etched into the toe of the KD V Elite. The result is a collection of bold, innovative sneakers, that are equal parts eye candy and finely tuned performance machines.

All three Nike Elite Series 2.0 basketball shoes will be available at select retail locations and online at Nike.com for a $180+ beginning April 27 and you’ll see James, Bryant and Durant each wearing their player editions at points during post season.