A s a kid, I always said I wanted a “cool” job when I grew up. Tim Day has one of those cool jobs. As senior global product line manager for Nike Basketball’s Footwear Division, he is tasked with outfitting some of the greatest athletes on the planet with their own signature footwear and apparel on a seasonal basis.
Day’s love and passion for sports allows him to see products from an athlete’s perspective. The Las Vegas native played basketball and football in high school, and he played football with the University of Oregon for four years, racking up Preseason All-American honors in 2005. Day spent time in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Bengals, but injuries forced him to move on from professional football.
Faced with a career change, Day used the connections he made while playing in Oregon to embark on a career designing for “The Swoosh.” Joining the team at Nike has allowed him to collaborate with some of the world’s biggest athletes, including LeBron James and Kevin Durant. CASSIUS caught up with Day to discuss his latest project, the LeBron XV, sneaker design and athletic branding, and what it’s like to tell the stories of prestigious athletes through footwear.
CASSIUS: Tell us about your latest project, The LeBron XV.
Tim Day: For the XV, we wanted to look back at all LeBron has achieved and have a particular focus on year 14 and everything that happened. He didn’t win the championship, but there are very few [athletes] that have played for that time frame and have legitimately gotten better as each year has passed. One could easily say that 2016/2017 might have been LeBron’s best year yet. We hadn’t added any new innovations to his shoes in a while—we had the HexBag system in the XI, XII, XIII, and XIV—so we worked with both LeBron and his trainer Mike Mancias on different specs he’d want in a new model.
C.: What does an all-world athlete like LeBron want in his shoes and how does the Nike design team provide that?
T.D.: We rarely design both a new upper and a new underfoot cushioning system on the same shoe—it’s normally one or the other—but LeBron, is that upper echelon of athlete that can pretty much get that drastic of a change. With him entering his 15th year, his trainer Mike has made it clear that we want to create something that not only gives LeBron the best performance on the court, but also works to prevent any type of injuries, with a specific focus to his feet and back. Think back to that block on Andre Iguodala in the (2015 NBA) Finals. When LeBron came down, he landed directly on his heel, which can cause issues with his legs and back, While he didn’t get hurt, it’s those types of plays that only LeBron can make and that we have to prepare for.
C.: Can you describe some of the new features of the LeBron XV?
T.D.: LeBron worked with our lead designer, Jason Petrie, on the XV. LeBron has been a big fan of our FlyKnit technology across other shoes, and he wanted something like that on his new model. The task was to use a material as light as FlyKnit but extremely durable that would offer LeBron a level of protection on the court for his hard cuts and explosive movements. So we made BattleKnit—a technology built specifically for him—to outfit the XV, offering light flexibility, protection, functionality, and a fashionable aesthetic for off-court wear.
C.: What are the themes of the sneaker?
T.D.: So in his 15th year, one thing that LeBron has never been shy to say is that he wants to be the best basketball player to ever play the game. Most people don’t want to chase that goal, so we created the idea of “Chasing Ghosts”—chasing the legend of those players who revolutionized the sport with their play throughout the years. We also created the story of the “Ashes,” of how LeBron, a kid from Akron, left Cleveland for Miami, won two titles for the Heat and really transcended to the next level of elite. His return to Cleveland and his title run in 2015 was him rising from the ashes of his Heat days to be reborn as the hero he is to Cleveland today. There are other storylines and colorways that we’ve developed that will come out later this year that I can’t really tell you about yet.
C.: When working with athletes of the caliber of LeBron James and Kevin Durant, how does who they are as players and as men affect the stories you create for their footwear and their apparel?
T.D.: Well, that’s actually the best part. LeBron and KD are so different in a lot of ways, they both have their own personalities and styles. They both play the game differently, so we craft their shoes and apparel to fit them. Even their off-court hobbies and interests, [play a role]; LeBron lives in the high fashion world and KD is incredibly laid back and focuses on comfort. Even LeBron’s decision to proclaim his stance on world matters is great to incorporate in what we do. LeBron might be the biggest athlete to use that platform to speak out on so many things. I think we’ll see a lot more of the social activism stuff be integrated in what we do on the apparel level.
C.: Talk about your journey. How does someone like you get to the point of designing products for the greatest athletes on the planet? What advice would you give to that kid who’s looking to do the same?
T.D.: It’s a journey for sure. I’m a kid from Las Vegas, and while basketball is my first love, I played football in high school as well, and I landed several scholarship offers before committing to Oregon. I played professionally for a bit and injuries made me cut those dreams short, but I knew I had a second career in the future. Reaching out to connections I made during my time in Eugene led to an opportunity working in the design department for Cole Haan. I worked my way up from the training department with guys like Marshawn Lynch, Colin Kaepernick, and others. Now I’m on basketball, where I wanted to be in the first place. It’s all about staying hungry and focused. There was always someone there who kept me motivated; life is about finding those people in your life and never quitting. People may doubt your dreams, but as long as you have faith in yourself, your path will work out. I’m blessed to say my career has gotten to this point, and it’s all about staying on the path. If you want to do this job, believe it and it will happen.