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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

“I didn't even know where Nike was,” he said, laughing. “I thought it was in some big city. I didn't even know it was in Beaverton, Ore.”

Chang found that out during his sophomore year of design school when he applied for an internship at the apparel giant. He didn't get it. But the next year, he applied again, and this time around, he landed one of the coveted spots.

After so many years of wanting to be at Nike, he'd finally made it.

“It was everything I dreamed of,” he said, “if not more.”

He knew it was where he wanted to be, but he had one more year of school after his internship. During that time, the economy slumped, and Nike issued a hiring freeze in 2000. Weeks turned into months.

It took more than six months for the freeze to thaw.

Chang has been at Nike ever since.

These days, he is considered one of the company's superstar designers. There's global creative director Tracy Teague, there's Kobe Bryant shoe designer Eric Avar, and there's Chang.

Not bad for a guy who grew up only getting close to Nikes when one of his friends had a pair.

He designs and develops some of the most sought-after shoes in the world, and in order to do that, he regularly meets with one of his most high-profile clients and one of basketball's hottest commodities.

That's the reason Chang was courtside in Oklahoma City a couple weeks back. Development of the KD VI is being finalized, and even though the shoe won't hit store shelves until a year from now, Chang had a few final details to discuss with Durant.

“I feel like as a designer, you have to have that balance of art and engineering,” Chang said. “What artists do is kind of work for themselves and hopefully someone else will appreciate the art. With design, it's really about creating for the masses.”

Chang's challenge — bring his art to the masses.

“For me, I love the technical aspect of shoes,” he said. “Making sure that they function and work, but they also have to look beautiful.”

Beautiful shoes.

Even the teal and pink ones.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.

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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