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MLK Day

The best sneakers worn on MLK Day

A time-honored NBA tradition of the past 10 years lives on with the league’s sneakerheads

Throughout the past decade, players around the league have honored Martin Luther King Jr. with special-edition sneakers featuring layered storytelling that celebrated King’s life and legacy. Brands have also released annual Black History Month collections each February in a variety of themes and colorways, with each year’s “BHM” pairs often debuted across the NBA up to two weeks early on MLK Day.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Nike Inc.’s first comprehensive Black History Month collection, a black and gold accented capsule that originally celebrated King through the retro and current sneakers headlined by pioneers of basketball such as Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. According to Nike executive Jonathan Johnson-Griffin at the time, the 2011 collection kick-started the brand’s annual expanded series through a theme highlighting the “call to greatness” that pioneers both on and off the court have upheld.

To mark the anniversary, several of this year’s Nike, Jordan and Converse sneakers spotted on MLK Day gave a nod to the original “BHM” set. Albeit in a white base instead of the original black majority color, the gold accents remained, as did the original ligature-based interlocking “BHM” lettering logo created by graphic designer Erick Goto that has become an annual staple of Nike’s collections each February.

“We wanted to create [a logo] that has a signature feel to it and can have longevity with the project,” Goto said as the 2011 BHM collection first launched. “We wanted to build something that is strong and bold that can live on all of the shoes.”

Sneakers from the original 2011 BHM collection.

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

The logo has stood the test of time, being featured on both footwear and apparel in the years since, and moving from the original heel placement to the left tongue of this year’s “BHM” Kobe 6 Protro that was worn most around the league on MLK Day as players honored the late Bryant.

Like many throughout the league, LeBron James also honored King with his own “BHM” pair, capping off the full slate of games with a handwritten mention of each member of the #JamesGang family, as well as using up the metallic gold real estate along the right heel to share some of King’s words and wisdom.

“MLK Day means so much,” James said before the game. “It [represents] someone that stood for something that was more than him. He stood for the greater of people, no matter their race, no matter their color and he stood for love and not hate. That’s something that we preach in our family household all the time.”


LeBron James – Nike ‘BHM’ LeBron 18

The sneakers worn by LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers during a game against the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 18 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

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For the past four seasons, James has become one of the league’s leading sneaker scribblers, this time adding a favorite quote from King to mark the occasion:

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that MATTER!!!

Happy 👑 Day”

Devin Booker – Nike ‘BHM’ Kobe 6 Protro

The sneakers worn by Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns during a game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 18 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee.

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

As he has since Bryant’s death, Booker penned “Be Legendary” once again on his latest special-edition pair, honoring the inscription and message that Bryant autographed to the then-Phoenix Suns rookie after their last game facing off in 2016.

Chris Paul – Jordan CP3.12 and CP3.13

After donning a simple black and gold “BHM” edition of his 13th Jordan signature shoe during pregame warm-ups, Paul switched to last season’s model depicting a series of phrases and quotes speaking to the brand’s “UNITE” theme.

 

DeMar DeRozan / P.J. Tucker / Anthony Davis – Nike ‘BHM’ Kobe 6 Protro

Players all around the league honored Bryant in a flipped “BHM” look of the modernized Kobe 6 Protro, now taking on white and gold tones.

Jevon Carter – Mismatched Nike Zoom Freak 2

Jevon Carter of the Phoenix Suns during a game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 18 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee.

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

For the second year in a row, the Suns defender Jevon Carter highlighted his ongoing message for equality with one white and one black sneaker paired together.

Derrick Jones Jr. – Nike ‘BHM’ KD 4

The sneakers worn by Derrick Jones Jr. of the Portland Trail Blazers during a game against the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 18 at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon.

Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

All season long, the Trail Blazers’ highflier Derrick Jones Jr. has been spotted in Kevin Durant’s fourth signature sneaker from the 2011-12 season, this time opting for the “BHM” edition from nine years ago that featured graphics and patterns inspired by Kenyan beads and African American quilt making.

Trey Lyles – Nike Kobe 7 Elite

A general view of the shoes worn by Trey Lyles of the San Antonio Spurs before the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center on Jan. 18 in Portland, Oregon.

Abbie Parr/Getty Images

While not originally a “BHM” edition sneaker, San Antonio’s Trey Lyles dipped into one of the league’s greatest Kobe sneaker stashes and unearthed a black and gold Kobe 7 from 2012 from his collection to celebrate the colors that have come to be recognized most on MLK Day.

Andre Iguodala – Under Armour Curry 8 Flow

A detail of the Under Armour Curry 8 Flows worn by Andre Iguodala of the Miami Heat before a game against the Detroit Pistons at AmericanAirlines Arena on Jan. 18 in Miami.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

While also not wearing an officially MLK or “BHM” tribute colorway, Andre Iguodala shifted from his recent rotation of black-based Curry 8s he’d been wearing – in support of his former Warriors teammate’s new Curry Brand – opting for a simple white and metallic gold edition that tied into the gold-accented hues seen leaguewide.

Kelly Oubre Jr. – Converse ‘BHM’ All Star Pro BB EVO

The sneakers worn by Kelly Oubre Jr. of the Golden State Warriors during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 18 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Worn for perhaps his best game of the season, the Warriors wing added “My $oul has no skin” along the toe of each shoe, a nod to the sign he carried while marching in protest of George Floyd’s death while in police custody in May 2020.

Draymond Green – Converse ‘BHM’ G4

The sneakers worn by Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 18 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Always outspoken, Draymond Green added “Times up!” in red along the side of each of his clean white Converse sneakers, likely a send-off to the final few days of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Nick DePaula is a footwear industry and lifestyle writer at The Undefeated. The Sacramento native has been based in Portland, OR, for the last decade, a main hub of sneaker company HQs. He’ll often argue that ’How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days’ is actually an underrated movie — largely because it’s the only time his Sacramento Kings have made the NBA Finals.