The man behind Kevin Durant's signature Nikes

Leo Chang grew up wanting nothing more than to have a pair of Nike shoes. Now he designs the signature shoes for the Thunder superstar.
by Jenni Carlson Published: December 3, 2012
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photo - Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant (35) celebrates in front of Utah's Earl Watson and Alec Burks (10) during the NBA game between the Oklahoma City and the Utah Jazz and the Chesapeake Energy Arena, Friday,Nov. 30, 2012. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant (35) celebrates in front of Utah's Earl Watson and Alec Burks (10) during the NBA game between the Oklahoma City and the Utah Jazz and the Chesapeake Energy Arena, Friday,Nov. 30, 2012. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

Wearing a gray sweater, beige shirt and blue jeans, Leo Chang blended into the group chatting and laughing courtside at The Peake.

Except for his shoes.

His teal and pink Nikes.

And we mean his Nikes.

Chang is the basketball footwear design director at Nike and the lead designer for Kevin Durant's signature line. The Thunder superstar's latest shoe made its debut last month, and with the KD V set for full release in the next couple weeks — just in time for holiday shoppers — you might be seeing more of Chang's shoes around Oklahoma.

Seeing his design on someone else's feet always gives Chang a charge.

“It makes me proud that someone appreciates it,” he said. “Hopefully, they love it. Hopefully, it inspires them to play better or design or something.”

Hold up.

Even though the massive marketing machine at Nike would have us believe that its shoes can do anything, thinking that a shoe can be inspirational seems a bit far-fetched. But hearing the story of the man behind KD's shoes, you may think differently.

Chang was born into a family not unlike many in America.

“We weren't poor. We weren't rich,” he said. “We were getting by.”

That meant living on a budget, and when it came time to buy shoes, the number was set in stone. No more than $30.

For many years, that was no big deal.

Then, Chang got into middle school. Everyone else, it seemed, had Nikes, so, of course, he wanted them, too. Trouble was, he still had to stick to that budget.

“You couldn't really get Nikes for $30,” he said, “not even back then.”

Nike became a gold standard in Chang's mind. Something that was special. Something to which you aspired.

As a kid who was always drawing — “Anything and everything,” he said — he often found himself doodling Nikes. Different looks. Different designs. Different colors.

His favorite: a pair of purple and green ones.

(Sort of explains the teal and pink pair, huh?)

When a teacher had the class do a what-I-want-to-be project, Chang picked shoe designer. But not just any shoe designer. He wanted to be at Nike.

Not that he had any idea how to get there.

Continue reading this story on the...

by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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