WORDS by Max Resetar
Two greats already shared the mindset.
Ol’ Dirty Bastard went on stage at the 1998 Grammys and said that “Wu-Tang is for the children.” And 12 years prior to that moment, Whitney Houston sang out that “the children are our future.”
So Donovan Mitchell echoing the importance of the youth, in the company of those icons, is a nice glimpse into his thinking on the creation of the adidas D.O.N. Issue 3.
“For me, it’s all about colorways, it’s all about how can we tie it to kids, how can we tie it to selling to kids? That’s the biggest thing for me,” Mitchell tells KICKS. “They wanna be able to rock different colorways to school. That’s dope to them. Have them be able to say, I’ve got this colorway or I’ve got that one. We’ve all got the same shoe. Keeping the same message behind the shoe.”
The message is determination over negativity. That’s what D.O.N. stands for. Before he considers any of the Stripes’ technology for his signature sneakers (he’s now in the middle of helping his adi team make the D.O.N. Issue 4 with some still undisclosed innovations), he has remained steadfast in making sure that the children of this country get taken care of.
“For me, availability is a huge thing,” he says. “Being able to just have kids have access to it is huge for me.”
That’s meant low price points and wide-ranging product runs in stores all across the nation. The 3 is coming in at $110, with a long list of colorways rolling out for just about the next 365. Mitchell played in the “Playground” 3s during the 2021 playoffs and it became the official launch colorway of the silhouette in early July. Six other team editions (basic greys, reds, whites, blues and blacks) quickly followed the “Playground” joint’s footprints. But those weren’t the only 3s we’ve gotten to see so far.
Spida played in a white-based, gold-accented flavor during the last game of his ’21 season and at an event in his childhood rec center in Dobbs Ferry, NY, six high-level D.O.N. 3s were shown off. Most notably were the “Venom” and “Carnage” 3s that will be dropping at some point around the release of Marvel’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage.
“Obviously, we have way more colorways, so many different things tied to it,” Mitchell says. “A lot of it’s themed to my childhood. Whether it’s in the park growing up, the Spider-Man theme is still staying the same. We’ve got the ‘Playground’ ones, we’ve got the all-white ones. There’s so many different things that we have with the 3s. I’m really excited because I’m really starting to have my input on the shoe. So hopefully when the 4s come out, knock on wood, I’m really implementing my stuff.”
While Mitchell focuses on the kids and on the colorways, adidas Basketball’s Design Director, Jimi Taylor, is in charge of making sure the D.O.N. line can stand up on the court for the two-time All-Star.
The 3, as Mitchell mentioned, has really started to hone in on what No. 45 needs from his signature line. Sitting on a LIGHTSTRIKE foam midsole, with a textile upper, Taylor and his team crafted the 3 after going out to Utah and studying how Mitchell runs. They learned that he’s mostly on the outside of his foot when he’s streaking down the court. That was all they needed. They set out to accomplish two specific goals with the 3; make it lighter than the 1 and 2, and help support that outside area of his foot. Switching from the BOUNCE cushioning that was on the 1 and 2 to LIGHTSTRIKE checked off number one. Number two was going to require some real engineering. TPU, a commonly used plastic compound throughout the sneaker industry, stands for thermoplastic polyurethane. TPU is generally strong, durable and not too heavy. Taylor called on the old reliable material for the 3.
“There’s the real expressive piece on the side of the midsole, that kind of swoopey TPU part,” he tells KICKS. “You flip it, you can see that part is on the side and also goes underfoot. If his foot’s in it, as he’s doing those explosive movements, it’s protecting him on the side because he’s planting his foot down, it really locks it into place. Then by kind of burying it into the LIGHTSTRIKE foam, you create that structure but then you’ve got the foam behind it so it’s not this rigid piece against the side of your foot.”
This new cradle is how Taylor and his team crossed their second goal off the list. They were able to turn that piece into a design element, as will be seen on future colorways that get funky with it, and solve a problem of how to almost protect Mitchell from himself and his special athleticism.
“I think his trainers are super acutely aware to that,” Taylor says about Mitchell’s innate preference to run on the outside of his foot. “His Utah Jazz trainers are very aware of his movements. They play a big part in it, too. They feed us information. They’re like, Oh, we’d love it if the shoes can help him with this because these are some areas we see he needs some extra help. It’s this really close knit group of myself as the designer, we’ve got our athlete services, who’s the person that works directly one-to-one fine-tuning Don’s shoes, [and] the trainers at the Jazz.”
So Mitchell, Taylor and everyone else who worked on it figured out how to make a sneaker that is for the kids and for the All-Star. It’s honestly rare that a player as versed as Mitchell (those two appearances in the annual Sunday night showcase, a summer with USA Basketball, 23.4 points per game throughout his career, multiple outrageous single game performances) considers the youth so thoroughly when working on their own kicks. Understandable, for sure. They’re the ones that the need the support when they have to attack the NBA’s best players. But Mitchell is different.
“Really quickly, you could see Don inspires a lot of people, particularly younger kids really look up to Don,” Taylor says. “There’s just something about his personality. I think the whole Spida-Man persona helps, too. For us, it’s always really important with Don’s shoes to create something that’s very playful. He’s got a serious gear so you’ll see some of the D.O.N. 3 colors roll out, you can get kind of serious and moody. There’s the white/gold one that he wore in the playoffs. Or, like the launch one, you can just go all out and just have a lot of fun with it. We feel that matches who Don is. But, come playoff time, just a killer in the playoffs. So you wanna have a shoe that’s not all cuddly and funny at that time of year.”
It’s all being studied by all the above parties. The staff at the Jazz, Taylor’s team at the Stripes and the namesake are working on the D.O.N. 4 right now.
“We’re already on the 4,” Mitchell tells KICKS. “It takes a while. I’ve seen [the 3] for about a year and a half already, understanding that there’s a lot that goes in to it. It’s not just, Oh, put together a shoe, put together a colorway and that’s it. You have stories, you have so many different things that have to go in to it that really make the shoe and give it a definition.”
Part of that definition is well known by now. Mitchell has frequently used his kicks to bring awareness to a multitude of causes that don’t have anything to do with hoops. He’s spoken at length about how well he understands the platform he’s been given as a pro ballplayer and as a man with his own sneaker. He’s the one who brings the ideas for these special colorways to Taylor and his team.
“What we try and do is we meet internally as a product team and start, especially with Don getting by the third sneaker, the first two is always a little tricky because you’ve not had as much face time,” Taylor says. “You’re kind of trying to figure it out. But by the time you’ve gotten to three, like, OK, cool. You get a really strong sense of who they are. Don is just a really engaging, humble, he loves to give back. He definitely has just a natural kind of people charisma around him. You kind of know that’s going to be part of it. You know he’s probably going to want something that in some way gives back.
“So you start to build around that and start to build some initial ideas that seem to fit who he is and where he’s going. We sit down with Don kind of early, maybe after the first rough shoe is made, or even just before it and present ideas. That’s when he’ll start feeding in, Hey, I’d love it if we can do something around this.”
That won’t change with what’s still to come. In addition to a proper “Mets” D.O.N. 3 (“We’re working on it. It’s coming,” the former baseball player tells KICKS), there will be more flavors that tell real life stories.
“There’s a story behind everything,” Mitchell says. “It’s really rooted to my childhood and how I grew up. I think that’s the biggest thing.”
Ah, so that makes more sense. Donovan Mitchell is for the children because the D.O.N. line is for his childhood.