It seems like everything has gone Kawhi Leonard's way since that ball bounced four times in what felt like the longest five seconds in NBA history during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the 76ers in 2019. Since those bounces, Leonard won his second championship, second Finals MVP, signed with his hometown Clippers, won the All-Star Game MVP and has his team yet again primed for a title run.
His unreal stretch has been paralleled only by his running partners, New Balance Basketball.
The relationship between Leonard and New Balance formally originated during the 2019 All-Star Weekend. Ever since the first time Leonard laced up his first pair of New Balance kicks, the OMN1S, it feels like the brand has not missed.
A brand making its way back into basketball was on the NBA's biggest stage and on the feet of one of its biggest stars.
The OMN1S was Leonard's 'debut shoe' with the brand and now comes the unveiling of his first signature shoe -- the KAWHI. The world caught its first glimpse of the KAWHI during the 2020 All-Star Game, exactly one year after Leonard helped New Balance re-emerge into the basketball world.
"We started this shoe last August. He signed with the Clippers, celebrated for like a week and now we're meeting every two weeks. It was a haul," said New Balance Design Director of Basketball Jonathan Grondin. "We did it in an incredibly short amount of time. The fact that we got it on his foot in February and then he won the Kobe Bryant MVP Award at the All-Star Game. The Basketball Gods are shining down on New Balance and Kawhi. It's insane."
Leonard laced up his signature shoe in front of the masses in February, but now is when the kicks will be available for public consumption in the form of the KAWHI '4 Bounces.'
The shoes are inspired by the last-second, series-winning shot Leonard made against the 76ers en route to a legacy-amplifying second championship and Finals MVP. The colorway mimics the same royal blue player edition of the New Balance OMN1S Leonard wore in that moment.
"We tried to replicate the colorway," Grondin said. "That was a colorway that Kawhi and two of his friends came up with on their own. So it was special to him."
It's fitting that Leonard, with the help of his friends, had a say in the colorway he wore for one of the biggest moments of his career. It's that same type of input and hands-on approach that Leonard has brought to the table behind the scenes as the launch of the KAWHI gets underway.
Leonard worked with Grondin "from scratch" in order to help design the KAWHI in a manner that truly represented him as a player and person. That process, like his stoic approach on the court, turned out to be a unique one for all parties involved.
"[Kawhi] wants to be a part of the process. He wants for me to come with nothing but a blank piece of paper and a pen and just start taking notes and sketching," Grondin said. "He wants to convey things in his head first before anything happens, which is totally unique. I've never had that experience before."
In a span of a little less than two years, New Balance has returned to the basketball world with the OMN1S in 2019 and now the KAWHI in 2020. Not only has the brand made a successful re-emergence, but it has done so under the bright lights of the biggest platforms the NBA has to offer. All-Star games, playoffs and NBA Finals have all been showcases for the brand.
And while those moments are what every major brand aims for, it's also a high-risk situation for one that wasn't in basketball not too long ago.
"I had the privilege of being there from the formation of New Balance Basketball," said Patrick Cassidy, Global Marketing Director of Consumer and Athlete Activation at New Balance. "Watching our product design, development and manufacturing teams go on an international, multi-year, obsessive pursuit of creating the best on-court basketball shoes in the world – and I think they nailed it with both models."
The KAWHI '4 Bounces' will be available for purchase globally on Aug. 20.
The Hidden Details
1: The K2 box logo featured on the tongue is a distinct part of the KAWHI '4 Bounces.' That logo is exclusively used on player exclusive shoes Leonard wears with the lone exception being this colorway. All other colorways will feature 'KAWHI' across the tongue.
2: The number 2 is designed in a way that the number does not get distorted no matter at what angle it's viewed at. The 2 also represents Leonard as one of the premier 'two-way' players in the NBA.
3: Leonard's most notable career accolades can be found at the center of the shoe's tongue: 4X All-Star, 2X Champion, 2X Finals MVP, 2X DPOY.
4: A tab designed to hide certain stitching across the shoe pays homage to Leonard's iconic braided look. The small detail was a request from Leonard himself.
5: The uppermost eyelet is inspired by the brake lights of a 1964 Chevy Impala, a vehicle Leonard owns.
6: More inspiration from the '64 Impala: Quilting on the inside heel inspired by the seats in the car.
7: Those squiggly lines represent something. The day Leonard signed with the Clippers there was an earthquake in Los Angeles. The lines are a visual representation of an earthquake map.
8: Kawhi Leonard's signature is on the back heel, a nice touch to his signature shoe.
9: The black film near the toe box reacts to flash and reflects in a bright gold color.
10: The back heel features a huge three-dimensional "NB" and right below it is an "M" that can be hard to see on the translucent sole. The "M" represents Moreno Valley, where Leonard is from. The latitude and longitude coordinates for Moreno Valley are also included in the sole.