PORTLAND, Ore. — Chilling courtside, two hours ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers-Utah Jazz preseason tip-off Sunday at the Moda Center, was All-Star guard Damian Lillard.
The seventh-year, All-NBA First Team member was as calm as ever while waiting to go through his pre-game routine, in a smoke gray version of his Adidas Dame 4 signature sneakers.
For those on the outside looking in, Lillard’s kicks may not appear to be a big deal, but for Utah Jazz rising star Donovan Mitchell, they signify a place he’s looking to arrive in his career.
“If that ever happens, it would be a blessing,” Mitchell told the Deseret News. “I would be really excited for that to happen. Like I said, every kid kind of dreams of those things. For that, I would be really blessed, but I guess I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, but that would be awesome.”
But, for now, Mitchell is being marketed in ads and promotions among the next wave of Adidas athletes to wear the Pro Bounce and Mad Bounce models this season.
He could break out up to 10 player exclusive — or PE — colorways throughout his sophomore campaign, according to a Deseret News source, such as his sunshine yellow versions, the Louisville-themed red edition, plus the Jazz’s yellow, navy, green and white model that he’s already sported throughout preseason, but there’s more to come.
“I won’t give you too much, but some other things for sure,” Mitchell said, smiling.
Adidas hasn’t officially announced whether Mitchell’s PE version of the Pro Bounce and Mad Bounce sneakers will be available in stores, but the Jazz guard confirmed they could hit the shelves at some point. He likely won’t be wearing Kanye West’s Adidas Yeezy basketball sneaker, as previously reported by ESPN, which is likely to be banned because of a reflective-material heel anyway.
“No, Sir. I don’t know about that,” Mitchell said. “I haven’t tried it, haven’t seen it. I don’t know for sure, but I would assume that’s more of a Nick Young thing, but I’ll have to try it out when I see it.”
Special PE versions of the Pro Bounce 2018 have already dropped out of nowhere for New York’s Kristaps Porzingis, Los Angeles' Brandon Ingram, Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins and Candace Parker of the WNBA with their logos on the tongue, which could be the case with Mitchell later this year. His initials and number “DM45” are etched on the tongue of his personal Jazz PE edition of the pro bounce lows, along with “Be Humble” stamped on the insoles.
“It’s pretty special to kind of come into my own little thing,” Mitchell said. “Obviously, it’s going to be sold in stores, but kind of putting my personal touch on it. It’s pretty special to be part of that. I think every kid wants that moment to themselves.”
Although Mitchell won’t be joining Lillard, James Harden and Derrick Rose with Adidas signature lines just yet, he’s headed down the same path as those guys, but he has to continue to produce at a high level. As a rookie, he wore different variations of the Adidas Dame 4 model, and now he’s transitioning into the Pro Bounce and Mad Bounce models. Lillard can certainly relate as he wore Rose’s shoe throughout his 2012-13 Rookie of the Year campaign, coming out of Weber State.
“It’s funny that I did it with D. Rose and now it’s like I’m D. Rose and he’s me now, so it’s just funny but it’s cool,” Lillard said.
Mitchell isn’t the only one on the Jazz roster currently decked out in Adidas gear. Derrick Favors, Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum and Alec Burks also endorse Adidas. Rubio even had several PE Adidas models released throughout his tenure in Minnesota, as has Exum, but no Jazz player has had an actual signature shoe since Hall of Famer Karl Malone in 1998 with the Apex Mailman, which never were really a hit with the public. Malone also had the LA Gear Catapult, which were released in 1991.
Stockton wore Nikes throughout his career, but never got a signature model. Other franchise stars such as Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko also received Nike PE models over the years, but never crossed over into the signature status.
Perhaps one of the most iconic moments in Jazz history was Darrell Griffith’s “Dr. Dunkenstein” poster with Nike that released in 1985. On the poster, Griffith holds two half basketballs with smoke coming out of them in doctor’s gear and a pair of Nike tube socks with the iconic black/white Nike Blazers on his feet to play off his nickname.
Even Jazz coach Quin Snyder said he owned the poster in his younger years.
“We did that poster in Seattle after I signed with Nike,” Griffith recalled. “They flew me to Seattle and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a theme for a poster we want to do,’ and that was all them. I asked what they were going to do, and I seen all these basketballs with smoke coming out of them, which was dry ice, so we did that in Seattle.”
But as cool as those things are, Mitchell’s goal is to be sitting courtside someday, like Lillard, waiting for pregame warm-ups in his own Adidas kicks. Some have already dubbed them as the “Spida 1s” in reference to his nickname, which Adidas has already began selling T-shirts with the definition across the chest.
Lillard certainly has the blueprint on how to get it done, but now it’s up to Mitchell to execute the plan.
“The thing that I learned is that your rookie year, you’re kind of a surprise to the league. People they see you’ve got some ability, and they respect it, but it’s like they’ll keep giving it to you,” Lillard described. “My rookie year, I had midrange pull-ups every game, the whole season, I was coming off open threes every game and it allowed me to have big games, it was simple.
“But then the second year, it got a little tighter on the scouting report, they was trying to take me out now,” he continued. “The top players they know I’m their competition, so now it’s not ‘Lil Bro’ no more, they’re coming for you, and you’re more of a priority.1 comment on this story
“That changes and then you deal with that and then you see how you’ll handle it then after that they’ll say, ‘OK, we’re dealing with something real’ and the fans they learn to appreciate and respect it and then maybe a shoe company says, ‘He can sell a shoe. He has the personality to sell a shoe,’” Lillard explained. “It’s a lot of things that goes into being a signature athlete. So, it’s one thing to be one of the best players and then for a company to say, ‘Alright, we want to give you a signature shoe’ and ‘we believe you can sell a shoe.’ That’s completely different, so it’ll be interesting to see that process for him.”