James Harden and the Houston Rockets have high hopes for the upcoming NBA season, which is why adidas is shooting for the moon with the MVP’s third signature shoe.
The first official look at the Harden Vol. 3 dropped on Tuesday morning, with a space theme tying two colorways together of a shoe that follows up the success of Vol. 2 from earlier this year. The Harden Vol. 3 takes what adidas has learned from the design improvements in the Vol. 2. Using some traditional design elements like a herringbone pattern on the outsole, adidas has a finished product that still looks futuristic while not straying too far from a conventional shoe silhouette and design.
Harden’s signature shoe, perhaps more than any other on the market, is designed to specifically work for the way Harden plays. The Harden Vol. 3 brings back some design elements from the original — such as the three stripes on the side of the heel and the lace band across the forefoot. Adidas says the design changes all came from studying performance data of James on the court and is an effort to accentuate three signature elements of his game: his step back, euro step and crossover moves.
“We started with what he needed to do those moves and give him support,” Rashad Williams, senior footwear designer at adidas, told Uproxx in a phone interview. “We looked at all of James’ data, his performance body data, and so we put herringbone where he has the most ground contact for his foot. Then we stayed tried and true for comport, so it has a full-length Boost midsole for him. And lastly we wanted to make sure we had this great fit on the upper, so that’s what you see with the mix of materials.”
The band on the forefoot was missing from the Vol. 2 in favor of a variety of ways to tie the laces themselves. That option is gone with the Vol 3, though Williams noted that the changes made on the Vol. 3 were “all based off James’ game.” And Harden himself buys into the impact the shoe has on his own game, even crediting some of his infamous ankle-breaking plays to his signature shoe.
“This shoe means a lot to me. Our challenge is to come back and [get] better every year, and I really think we’ve been doing that. When I’m out on the court making moves, making guys fall or I’m changing direction… that’s all in the shoe” Harden said in an adidas release. “If we weren’t thinking about that stop-and-go mindset when we we’re creating these shoes, those moves just wouldn’t work.”
The Harden Vo. 3 will launch with two space-themed colorways, beginning with the Voyager on October 12. Named for the NASA program that explored the outer reaches of our solar system and beyond, adidas says the design is meant to highlight Hardan’s “voyage to bring a championship home to Houston.” It features a mostly-silver design and reflective accents across the shoe’s upper along with an iced outsole.
The NASA influence is clear here, but its origin story also comes from studying Harden’s on-court data and a collaboration that started with a brainstorming session with Harden before the design process got underway. Williams described a meeting between the adidas design staff and Harden where he laid out his goals for the season.
“He was really talking about the voyage of not only the team in terms of trying to win a championship but also the personal goals he set out,” Williams said. “So that naturally all came together.”
Voyage was his word, but what Williams and his team kept coming back to was another extraterrestrial phrase: space.
“When you look at James’ performance data, he’s the fastest player in the NBA at slowing down. So he has this unique ability to slow down the fastest, which gives him the ability to create space where he can create space and score, pass, to really maximize all the gifts he has on the court,” Williams said. “So naturally, we thought ‘He has this unique ability to create space on the floor. Oh, and he plays for the Houston Rockets, home of NASA.’ And so this great story starts to come together when you’re talking about space.”
The Cosmos colorway follows the space theme as well, though it’s apparently named after what Harden’s quick moves do to opponents, making them “lost in space.” The black-and-white palate shows off a unique sole pattern on the Vol. 3, a common thread between each of Harden’s signature shoes. The Cosmos is $20 more than the Voyager colorway ($160 versus $140 for the Voyager) and drops three days later, October 15, on adidas.com.
The Harden Vol. 2 really took to some unique colorways as the shoe cycle evolved, and the same is on the docket for Vol. 3. It’s unlikely all of them follow a space theme, but Williams said he and Harden have worked on some really unique looks in the coming months.
“All I can say is you’re probably going to see a lot more color by Q4 into Q1,” Williams said. “The color restrictions are off so James definitely wants to play with a lot of color.”
The story of Harden’s third signature shoe has a pretty strong narrative. But for Williams, there’s always more work to do. Work is well underway on the Harden Vol. 4, and he promised a shoe that speaks more to Harden’s career thus far.
“We are already going down that path for the four,” Williams said. “When it comes out, to date, it’s probably the one shoe that’s really going to epitomize James in every single area of his life.”