On Friday afternoon Cavs the Blog was presented with the opportunity to shadow a fan experience put on by Nike for the upcoming release of the new LeBron Soldier I “25 Straight” edition. Yours truly was the lucky writer who got the opportunity to attend and experience the event with 25 lucky fans. And let me tell you, it was truly an experience. Nike spared no expense in making this something that everyone involved would always remember.
Before I get into the event itself, let’s remember what Nike was celebrating. On May 31, 2007 a one LeBron Raymone James found himself and his team down seven to the Detroit Pistons in Detroit with three minutes to go and the series tied at two a piece. From this moment LeBron began one of the greatest feats of his storied career, scoring 25 straight points for the Cavs over the last three minutes of the game and through two over times to beat the Pistons and go up three games to two. To commemorate the event, Nike is releasing a new edition of the LeBron Soldier I’s called the “25 Straight” edition from their Art of Champions pack. You can see the shoe below.
Let’s all collectively remember how great LeBron was not only in game three against the Raptors, but also more than ten years ago (back before everyone had HDTV) when he accomplished this ridiculously awesome achievement.
In watching this achievement from 11 years ago, it’s really amazing to see how LeBron’s game has changed from then. Maybe LeBron was a bit springier then. He got a few more layups on the second bounce, but otherwise, his game is even better now. He shoots threes instead of long twos. His footwork allows him to pump fake guys into the air. He has an unstoppable spin move. It was also fun to watch him cut off big Z and see the changes in how people defend him. Watching Chauncey Billups shade him to the left was pretty funny.
In a partnership with XHIBITION, an apparel store on the west side of Cleveland and where the day began, Nike pulled the release of the shoe forward to provide XHIBITION and Ohioans the exclusive opportunity to purchase the shoe a full month before the official May 31st release. As part of the release, Nike gifted 25 lucky fans a pair of the new Soldier I’s and so much more.
When I walked into the store, this clip was playing on several of the television screens (I substituted the HD version above), reminding everyone what we were truly celebrating. A backdrop was set up in the back of the store for photos and a few dozen fans milled around the store anxiously awaiting their opportunity to grab a pair of the sneakers. Along the walls and on several of the tables, the sleek looking white and navy basketball shoe was displayed for all of us to admire. As I waited for things to get started I listened to stories about how the fans found out they were selected. Each of the fans were Nike loyalists and owners of the Nike+ app as well as Cavalier fans. Some were frequenters of XHIBITION, some were just big Nike fans, all of them were Cleveland Cavs and LeBron fans.
After game two, most fans received phone calls letting them know they’d been selected for a Nike promotion, the details would largely remain a secret to them. Most could not believe it was a legitimate opportunity and one fan even went so far as to google the number that called him to give the good news, making sure it was really a Nike phone number.
The selection process must have been a good one because each and every fan was a dedicated shoe and LeBron fan. One couple was dedicated enough that the pair of them had camped out in front of XHIBITION from 7:00 p.m. the previous evening just to have an opportunity to purchase the shoe. When they found out they would be receiving a pair for free they were beyond excited, especially after having missed the opportunity to buy them. There were all age ranges, and men and women alike, but it was clear that they were all huge Cavs fans. Not one was wearing anything but Cavs gear.
Shortly after 3:00 o’clock we were treated to the recap of the 25 straight points to help us truly realize the magnitude of the accomplishment and to learn about the history and inspiration of the LeBron Soldier I “25 Straight”. We were given a bit of an insight into how the shoes came into being as LeBron started what we all now know as “Zero Dark 23”, the intensive, zero distraction mindset the King puts himself in for the playoffs. James proceeded to request from Nike that they help “protect [him] from [his self]”. In other words, LeBron needed a shoe that could withstand the incredible force he put on them on a game to game basis. This led to the all too familiar strap the crosses the top of the shoe and helps to provide much needed lateral support.
After the brief introduction fans were lined up and rewarded with a Nike book bag filled with their shoes and other goodies. As each fan made his or her way to the front of the line, they were handed their book bags and posed for a picture. The grins on their faces stretched from one ear to the other, it was clear that they were elated to be there. The bag included gifts like a set of wireless Beats by Dre, a Cavaliers t-shirt, a Mofi portable cell-phone charger, and a Polaroid camera to document the day: quite a haul that the fans were clearly excited to receive. I must admit, I had to shove down some of my own envious tendencies as I watched the excitement on each of the faces while they took out the shoes to admire.
Once all of the participants received their bags, they were promptly surprised by a visit by Cleveland Browns, Ricardo Louis and Christian Kirskey. The two football players introduced themselves to the fans, talked about their experiences with the high levels of athletic performance, and reminiscing on the greatness of LeBron James. After having some time to mingle with the athletes, the group was guided to a charter bus complete with leather seats and music. While on the bus, fans shared what made Cleveland special to the Chicago native Nike reps.
Places like Barrio and Slyman’s were shouted out as some hot spots for good eats. They talked about the blue collar hard working nature of Cleveland fans, saying that Clevelanders were “real and what you see is what you get”. The fans wanted to emphasize that nobody was trying to pretend here and they all had to work for what they had earned. One of the members of the group, the oldest by more than three decades, was a 60+ year resident of Cleveland who was now just waiting for the Indians and the Browns to win a championship so, as he himself said, “I can go.” All as he showed a huge smile while reminiscing about the 2016 championship season for the Cavs.
As the bus pulled out, Nike informed the Lucky 25 that they would be eating dinner at one of LeBron’s favorite restaurants, Red the Steakhouse, for a private all-expenses paid meal. While we traveled, the fans excitedly answered LeBron-centric trivia questions earning gift cards for correct answers. Upon arriving at the steakhouse, the fans entered a private room already housing Cleveland’s own DJ Steph Floss who was a real treat. The DJ regaled us with stories about his life and his experiences with LeBron before informing the participants that while they were indulging in the decadent meal which included hors d’oeuvres like crab cakes and chicken skewers, and entrees including filet, salmon, and a basil chicken.
As they made their way up to the food, gasps of pleasure filled the room as the fans began to experience the food laid out before them. I can personally attest to the quality of the meal as I was able to have the best piece of filet I have had in a long time, maybe ever.
Once everyone finished feasting, Nike informed fans that they would not need plans to watch the game as they would be treating everyone to a rooftop big screen after a picture at Quicken Loans arena. After entering the arena however, fans were given a LeBron James jersey and treated to a photograph at center court before the game started.
After the photograph, the group was escorted up to the Nike Basketball Suite. As if the event hadn’t been luxurious enough, Nike and the Q one-upped themselves with a truly spectacular spread in an equally magnificent luxury suite in the arena. No, we would not be watching the game on a rooftop big screen. The suite had multiple small buffets as well as a chef preparing various types of tacos which were made-to-order. On each of their seats was a Cavs zip-up hoody to add to the treasure trove rapidly being collected by each of them.
As fans entered, gasps of surprise and joy left the mouth of nearly every person who walked through the rooms. Presumably most, if not all, had never experienced a Cavs game in quite this manner. What a treat it was. The arena was absolutely electric and that mood certainly extended to the Nike Suite. As most of you know by now, the Cavs lead the Raptors throughout the game, providing countless opportunities to marvel at the playoff atmosphere. The surprises didn’t stop there.
Half way through the game the two Cleveland Browns players from early, Christian Kirskey and Ricardo Louis, rejoined the group. This time however, they were accompanied by the newly acquired Tyrod Taylor and Jarvis Landry. The four Browns interacted with everyone, taking photos, shaking hands, and providing yet another layer to the experience that was already the opportunity of a lifetime.
In fact, one woman who had been sitting in front of me requested a bag of ice for her foot which was in a heavy boot. Despite having just had serious surgery and needing crutches just to move around, she insisted that she still take part in every portion of the event, hopping up and down stairs on one leg and not breaking a sweat. She wasn’t missing this for the world.
Then, in serendipitous fashion, LeBron himself gifted every fan in the arena with an absolutely mind-blowing finish to the game. With eight seconds on the clock, the game tied, and the ball at the opposite baseline, LeBron shed two defenders, sprinted down the court and hoisted a floater that banked off the glass and in to complete a buzzer beater victory over the Raptors.
The suite erupted with the rest of the arena and an already excited crowd exploded with joy. Most could not believe that they had witnessed this live on top of everything else that had happened that day. While it wasn’t 25 straight, the finish was absolutely one of LeBron’s best of his career. Chants of MVP resounded around the arena and Team Nike decided to put the cherry on top of the “25 Straight” experience. Promptly informing us all that we would be provided the opportunity to sit in the media room for all of the post-game interviews, capping off a truly memorable night.
At the beginning of the event, the day was being described as a journey. By the end of the night, it was clear why. Nike pulled out all the stops to provide a VIP experience to 25 fans and, by extension, to me. While I was there to shadow the event, it certainly felt like I was one of the lucky VIPs gifted such an incredible experience.
What more could anyone ask for? Meeting NFL players, walking on center court, experiencing a playoff game in a luxury suite, receiving a pair of incredible shoes, and experiencing first hand a last second, instantly classic, buzzer beater finish at the hands of the King himself. Thank you Nike and Go Cavs!
*All images provided by Nike