Once again around the league, players looked to story tell through their footwear, bringing attention to everything from family foundations to an ongoing design partnership with an Oregon-based children's hospital, shining light on causes well beyond the hardwood.
Los Angeles Lakers small forward LeBron James celebrated the launch of his I Promise School earlier this summer with a new colorway of his latest signature shoe layered with details throughout. While Nike has dozens of colorways in store for its biggest athlete this season, James specifically requested a tribute sneaker to the school for the start of the season, with the IPS edition slated to launch on Nov. 20.
"He really wanted us to work with them, get to know them and just get the word out," designer Jason Petrie said. "Our team was able to go to Akron, meet with their team and bring the shoe to life together."
The pair features the school's "We Are Family" slogan along the left heel, opposite the "LeBron James Family Foundation" icon on the right heel. With the public school helping to serve third- and fourth-graders in its inaugural class, James' longtime #SFG hashtag can be seen on the tongue when looking down at the shoes, a reminder for young students from his hometown and around the world to "Strive For Greatness." His oft-used mantra "Just a kid from Akron" sits just below.
The black-knit upper is accented by multicolored yarns layered underneath, as the colorway itself helps to champion inclusiveness and togetherness.
"All of the multicolor details on this shoe represent the notion of the school not being about race, age or color," Petrie said. "It's about trying to bring everyone together and let's try to build a better future for everyone and a beautiful tapestry when we all come together."
While James' pair helps spotlight "one of the greatest moments" of his life, Atlanta Hawks forward Taurean Prince also leaned in and took to the court in a thoughtful pair of Nikes. In a clashing blue, red and yellow colorway, the Air More Uptempo worn by Prince was created a year ago by a then 11-year-old patient at the Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, Oregon.
Each fall, the brand releases a handful of patient-penned pairs to help raise money for the hospital, generating more than $20 million in funds since first launching the concept in 2003. All proceeds from the sales of the sneakers benefit the ongoing services and care provided to kids dealing with serious ailments and issues in the children's wing of the hospital.
The "B-P-M" lettering along the upper replaces the shoe's iconic "A-I-R" look from its original 1996 design, highlighting young Brody Preston Miller's input and creativity. The colors draft from a superhero theme Miller dreamed up, centered on "Generator Man," his super-powered alter ego as he continues to fight through a rare complex brain malformation.
"The idea and the thought put into the Doernbecher releases is a very authentic and genuine way to allow those who most of the time can't, express the way they feel through actions and words," Prince said.
The "Generator Man" Uptempos also include a superhero-esque "G" icon on the tongue, the phrase "Brave!" along the insole, and "Be Strong" as a reveal element along the power-charged glow-in-the-dark outsole.
"With all my surgeries, I've had to be really strong," Miller said.
"I think it's dope that they have control over the look of the shoe, when they probably never thought that opportunity would present itself as it has the past decade," Prince added. His memorable pair earlier in the week led perfectly into Nike's annual event this weekend, as the brand hosted the latest batch of designers at its nearby Beaverton campus to unveil the new 15th Doernbecher collection.
Elsewhere in the league, players donned a variety of both rare and surprise models, led of course by PJ Tucker. The Houston Rockets' power forward continued to lead the way in the rarity department, debuting the latest Jordan exclusive made for rapper Travis Scott. The purple suede look of the Air Jordan 4 carrying on his "Cactus Jack" nickname aren't expected to even release, with only a few dozen pairs made for now.
LA Clippers center Montrezl Harrell, a sneaker free agent, became the first player to wear Allen Iverson's newest Reebok release, the I3 Legacy. A hybrid look blending together design elements of The Answer's earliest signature models from the late 1990s with the brand, Harrell is expected to be spotted in several of Iverson's retro and modern models, over 20 years after the Hall of Fame guard entered the league.
With a new $200 price point serving to be more accessible than Big Baller Brand's infamous $495 launch last season, Lonzo Ball's second signature ZO2 edition is already coming to life in more nuanced colorways and graphic executions than his mostly tame debut model. As the ZO2.19's designer David Raysse explains it, the dotted and geometric graphic takes cues from the automotive concept world.
"On the old route that I would go to work, I could see BMW testing their prototypes in the morning," Raysse said. "You would see the cars in these crazy wraps. We had talked about having him play in early prototypes, but put the wrap on them."
The dotted dazzle camo graphic has long looked to blur the exact lines of a concept car's design, making the gesture hard to make out from afar and keeping the prototype secretive in the interim. With Ball's follow-up signature model expected to arrive to consumers that have already placed pre-orders in early 2019, he's expected to tease out additional colorways in the concept car look in the meantime, in addition to his more traditional editions.
Last but not least, Tyreke Evans showed up in a pair also heavily inspired by the automotive industry, donning the most colorful edition of the Air Jordan XX1 from its original 2006 release. The sneaker features a molded support wedge inspired by the grill seen on the mid-2000s Bentley Continental coupe, along with inner stitching drafting off of the car's bucket seats. The red suede edition has long been the most coveted, taking a page from luxe red suede driving footwear.
Check out all of the best sneakers of the week from around the league and vote on your favorite pair below, and be sure to join our ESPN SneakerCenter group on Facebook for real-time updates throughout the week.