It’s almost 6:00 p.m. and at the Oracle Arena in Oakland nobody is missing. All the players, making their unmissable runway in front of the flashes, have arrived and the soles of their shoes are already whistling on the parquet.
By now the beginning of the season, when Golden State presented a team apparently invincible, seems like a lifetime ago. Now there are no more certainties and, as much as one can love the Bay team, after all, we would like to see the title go to the Toronto Raptors, who for the first time in history are on the verge of victory.
While the stands are full of fans who wear the colors of San Francisco and on their shirts you can read the names of their idols, from Curry to Thompson, 3500 kilometers from there, the citizens of Toronto have taken over the Jurassic Park making it their personal court.
They are two hours of suffering, two hours of a point to point match. The scoreboard marks 112-110, 9 hundredths of a second remain on the time trial and the possession is for Toronto. They are all standing, the public, the technicians, the team bench, we too, at 5 am it is our duty to do it. In those few moments left, the ball goes into the hands of Kawhi Leonard, the man of the moment, his New Balance OMN1S detaches from the ground and flies to the rim. When the time is up, the point is not validated, but the 27-year-old from Los Angeles is called at the free throws line for the last two shots that stop the festivities and the invasion of the field by his teammates. Not even to say, those of Leonard are two perfect free throws that put a stamp on this season.
“There’s a new NBA Champion and it’s a team from Toronto, Canada”.
All eyes are on Leonard, who led the Raptors to the victory of their first ring and led, indeed, brought back, New Balance on the first step of the podium. Yes, it is not the first time that the Boston brand has accompanied a team to victory. It was 1985 when James Worthy, his New Balance, and the best Los Angeles Lakers ever took home the ring winning 4-2 over the Boston Celtics.
It is inevitable, at this point, to make a parallelism, but also to draw a line that links Worthy to Leonard (and vice versa), always in the name of New Balance that accompanies the NBA champions to victory.
1988-2019 History repeats itself
We can’t create a parallelism between the two players without briefly describing the context in which James Worthy stood out, entering the list of the 50 best players ever.
It was the ’80s, by many called those of the best basketball ever seen, those of a more physical and spectacular game, that of players such as Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, a rising Michael Jordan and of course Worthy. Among the names at the top of the ranking were always those of the Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Lakers.
It’s precisely with the yellow-purple jersey that James Worthy, flanked by the couple Kareem-Magic, marks an indelible groove in the history of this sport and grabs the nickname of Big Game James.
To understand the true value of the Toronto Raptors‘ victory, we have to take a step back, about eight months, when Golden State presented a starting five made up of 5 All Star (Curry, Durant, Thompson, Green and Cousins), the Houston Rockets have reconfirmed the duo Harden-Paul and the Los Angeles Lakers have concluded the contract for LeBron James.
Although James’s move to Los Angeles was at the centre of the discussions in the NBA market last summer, another transaction was also quite successful, the one between the Spurs and Toronto.
In mid-July 2018, in fact, the news arrives: the Raptors give the Spurs two players in return for Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. With these new acquisitions, the Canadian team changes face and officially becomes one of the strongest teams of the East Conference.
In four years, from 1985 to 1988, the Los Angeles-based team managed to bring home three titles.
In 1985 they found themselves in the final against Boston Celtics, not a novelty since in the previous 15 years the two teams had fought for the title 7 times, each of which was won by Boston. This time, however, it was different, Lakers like that had never been seen and in fact they dominated the reigning champions and they put an end to the Finals of that year right at the home of their rival, an achievement in which no team had yet succeeded.
Unfortunately, the following year they were not even able to reach the final, but perhaps the Lakers were preparing for the two best seasons ever. Those of 86/87 and 87/88 are the seasons of the definitive domination of the yellow-purple and also represent the high point of James Worthy’s career. Throughout this years Worthy managed to stand out, staying focused especially in moments of greatest tension and making his New Balance whistle on the floor more than any other shoe.
To bet everything on the player of North Carolina during the best years of his career is in fact the Boston brand and does so with a contract of one million dollars, the highest ever signed until then.
The Raptors immediately stand out and with them the same Leonard, who since the beginning of the season is a sneaker free agent and then immediately enters the sights of some of the most popular brands. Soon Jordan Brand’s offer arrives and it puts on the table 22 million for 4 years, but the player rejects them because they are not considered adequate to his position as NBA top player.
Everyone starts to think that the choice will certainly be between Nike, adidas or Under Armour and, instead, at the end comes the twist.
Kawhi Leonard signs a four-year contract with New Balance, whose amount still remains a mystery, but which certainly exceeds the Jordan Brand one. The brand’s decision to focus on Kawhi is also due to the fact that New Balance and the player have always shared the same vision:
“The game speaks for itself. His performance on the court and his independent, fearless mentality confirm our position as a top global sports brand.” – Patrick Cassidy, New Balance Global Director of Consumer Marketing.
The Boston brand is back on the floor, and it does so with great style, at the feet of the most promising player of the season, the feet of the 2019 Finals champion.
“There’s a new NBA Champion and it’s a team from Toronto, Canada”
Sneakers take the field
New Balance P740 “Worthy Express”
Starting in 1985 the names Worthy and New Balance will be indissolubly linked, leading each new release to be called “Worthys”, although they were not directly related to the player. However, this is not the case with the P740s, which made James the first athlete to have his own sneaker model.
After playing the entire 1986/87 season switching P491s and P785s, during the Finals the P740s not only make their debut, but also make the difference, dragging the Lakers to victory against the Boston Celtics. It’s exactly during this season that the nickname Big Game James is born.
The sneaker was released in black and white and was characterized by an EVA midsole, a shock-absorbing pad and TPU and leather protectors on the upper part of the ankle that made it perfect for use on the court. The P740 was promoted together with the P785 which kept the same upper, but had the logo on the top of the ankle.
“So take a trip with James and New Balance. Take the Worthy Express.”
New Balance OMN1S
After Leonard’s arrived into the New Balance family, in February the company announced the creation of a shoe specifically designed for the game, the result of a collaboration between the brand and the Toronto Raptors’ small forward.
Although Leonard had already worn them in a previous game, the New Balance OMN1S Kawhi Leonard make their official debut on the parquet floor during the All Star Game 2019, followed by a commercial, consecrating Leonard as the greatest New Balance basketball player to launch his own shoe, obviously after James Worthy.
The OMN1S are available in 6 different colors: Trust Leonard, DNA, Detroit Camo, Black Ice, Best Kept Secret and Project 515, the latter being the one Kawhi wore during Game 6. All models feature a mesh upper, a leather or suede band that wraps around the ankle, but also a strap on the forefoot with the NB logo. Finally, what makes this sneaker perfect for the game is the FuelCell technology in the midsole.
New Balance P800P
In the following season New Balance’s choice to bet everything on James Worthy proved once again to be successful. In the 1988 finals against Detroit Pistons, the small forward of Los Angeles distinguished itself both in backcourt and in frontcourt, with an average of 22 points per game. His performances characterized by a level never seen before led to the Lakers’ player and his New Balance P790 to win the ring against the Bad Boys, to be named MVP of the Finals, but not only that.
During the season the New Balance P800 Purple was designed, which in terms of numbers was the best-selling model and which accompanied James Worthy throughout the following year, in which his statistics have a resounding surge and his role within the team is constantly growing.
The P800Ps reflect the style of sneakers and basketball shoes of that time and with a high and narrow ankle, white leather and with purple and yellow details could not but end up at the feet of one of the best players of the Los Angeles Lakers of those years.
OMN1S Kawhi Leonard 2-Way
Kawhi’s choice has turned out to be prophetic for New Balance. The brand, which once again was not satisfied with an NBA title, but also aimed at the title of MVP of the Finals, seems to have chosen just the right man. The small forward of Toronto has, in fact, distinguished itself throughout the season, but especially in the Finals, confirming himself as a complete player, able to make the difference in both halves of the field. For this reason, in May, with the Playoff on the doorstep, the release of the OMN1S Kawhi Leonard 2-Way pack is announced.
This package, designed by the player himself, includes a model made for the game and one for everyday use. The first is still the OMN1S, but in a different colour from the previous 6, which sees the choice of a royal blue with an ice coloured sole and a crocodile print.
997 Sport is the second model that composes the pack and is a reinterpretation, in the same colors as the OMN1S, of the classic 997, also suitable for those who have never been on the parquet and are not very familiar with pick and roll, assists and rebounds.
To each year its New Balance
1982 — 1983
From 1982 to 1983, Worthy was linked to New Balance and, as previously mentioned, each release from now on will have the nickname “Whortys”. In his first seasons he uses 3/4 models like the P640, the first NB sneakers adopted by hip-hop heads. In the 84-85 season, on the other hand, the Lakers’ player will tread the parquet with the P480s, clashing with models such as the adidas Forum, the Nike Air Force One, the Nike Legend and the Nike Air Ship, from which the future Jordan 1 was born. The P480s had a cost of $44.99 and were chosen among many for their innovative design, but also for their super comfortable upper and well-padded tongue.
1985 — 1986
Although the 1985-86 one doesn’t see the Lakers winning the ring, which returns to the Boston Celtics, it results to be the best season for Worthy. For the first time, he reaches the level of 20 points per game, shooting with a surprising average of 57.9% from the field. In addition, in Dallas he participates in the first of six consecutive All Star Games and just that summer rumors began to circulate of a possible passage of Worthy from Los Angeles to Dallas. Jerry West, Lakers’ general manager, had to stop any exchange that included the purple-yellow 42 to calm the situation and solve the problem.
1986 — 1987
During the season, Worthy wears several models, until he arrives at the Finals where he shows off the famous P740, the first New Balance model that actually carries his name. Despite the fact that Jordan 2 were designed at the same time, brands such as adidas, NB and Converse continue to dominate the NBA. In the P740 the upper becomes more and more modern, and the part that surrounds the ankle is the most important element, which provides protections in TPU and leather.
After this crucial period, James Worthy was awarded the title of MVP of the 1988 Finals. It is precisely at this important moment – that crowns his career – that the LA i player wore the New Balance P790, a classic high top of a brand that since then has moved away from the basketball market.
This season, the P800P makes its debut and, although it does not lead to victory, it is the shoe that accompanies Worthy in its growth and statistics confirm this. In 1988-89 he had an average of 20.5 points per game and with 36.5 minutes on the field he was the first of the Lakers. Finally, during the Finals, in Game 4, he scores 40 points.
This positive streak continues the following year, with an average of 21.1 points per game. All this leads him to be selected in the All-NBA Third Team.
For the implementation of new technologies that allow greater protection of the ankle and the double construction of the mid-sun in EVA and polyurethane, for us, the P800P is the best of the New Balance.
In 1990-91 Worthy reached the top of his career in terms of points scored per game (21.4), but for the first time the shooting rate was below 50%, even if only slightly. However, Worthy has made history by entering the record book: no player, except him, has managed to have an average of more than 53% in each of the first eight seasons. The finals come to Los Angeles and will be the last for the Lakers before 2000. Three seasons later Worthy retires and at his farewell, he takes away 16,320 career points and an infinite number of glorious moments.
The 1990-91 season will see James Worthy play a final for the last time. On the evening of June 12 of that year Worthy saw his team fall to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, but fate always has something unexpected in store. A few days later, an hour’s drive from the Great Western Forum, in Riverside a newborn Kawhi Antony Leonard took his first breaths, not yet knowing that one day thousands of kids would imitate his gestures in the street field.
New Balance had the courage to bet everything, from the beginning, on two players and accompany them during the training sessions, the friendly matches, and the finals, to watch them improve and improve with them, up to the first step of the podium. The Boston brand has already rewritten the NBA story once with Worthy and seems to be determined to do so with Leonard as well. We will be here waiting for that moment and another New Balance shoe ready to conquer the ring.