Most of us are familiar with Joel Embiid’s path to the NBA. From discovering the sport as a young teen in Cameroon to becoming a multi-faceted competitor on a rising 76ers team, Joel has come a long way.
How did his journey inspire his first signature shoe, the UA Embiid One? Under Armour Basketball footwear designer Reggie Wilson gives a little insight into the process behind developing this all-new positionless shoe.
Below, we'll explore how Embiid’s origin, career, and style of play helped inspire the features and aesthetic behind the big man’s own on-court performance footwear.
Under Armour's Senior Footwear Designer Reggie Wilson with the UA Embiid One Origin colorway.
UA Newsroom Editor: First off, please tell us a bit about yourself and your role at Under Armour.
Reggie Wilson: I’m a basketball footwear designer, and I’ve been with the UA team since June of 2016. Prior to joining the basketball category I was designing for the run team, with the most recent run shoe that I designed being the UA HOVR™ Phantom RN. I was born and raised in Baltimore and not surprisingly, started wearing UA back in high school during the early 2000’s. So, when the opportunity to work for the hometown sports performance brand came up, I had to take it.
UA: And, now you’re behind the UA Embiid One. What were those early meetings like with Joel? Did he bring specific insights to the table?
RW: The early meetings were surreal. The first time I met Joel was at his condo in Philly. Funny enough, it was located across the street from my old college dorm and I remembered the building being built. Kind of a full circle moment! We were at his place for a few hours, asking him questions, showing him sketches. He even let us look around in his closet to get a sense for his style, which helped drive the design direction.
UA: Was there anything that you talked about during those discussions that really stood out?
RW: Joel at one point shared this quote, “My life is like a movie.” I laughed at first. But, after thinking about it more and more, it made sense. I mean, look at what he's accomplished in such a short amount of time - he only started playing ball about 10 years ago! It's really amazing. And, eventually, this became the driving inspiration for us as we began to develop the silhouette and the various colorways. The idea that, every leading character has an origin story of how they started out. The UA Embiid One is inspired by Joel's come up from Cameroon to the NBA.
A look at pages from Reggie Wilson's sketch book.
UA: What is it like to design the premiere silhouette for a premier athlete? Did you feel any pressure to deliver?
RW: Overall, it was a dope experience. We got a behind-the-scenes look into the life of a NBA superstar - and a unique personality at that. I had the opportunity to travel to Asia with him, have dinner together, and go back-of-house during one of his games. There was definitely pressure with the project. For me, most of it centered around designing a shoe he not only loved but that would help him perform at the highest level. He’s a competitor and we were eager to help him gain an edge.
UA: What was Joel’s role in the process?
RW: Joel was involved in every step of the way - from developing his logo to deciding what city names to include on the outsole. Early on, he shared his journey with us. In later meetings, he was heavily involved in colorway selections. I think that was one of his favorite parts of the experience.
UA: What was the biggest challenge during design?
RW: The toughest part was balancing the performance needs of a player who has the size and strength of a big but the skills and mobility of a guard. This dichotomy required us to consider every detail of the shoe from the material, to the weight, to the traction, very carefully. The shoe needed to be supportive, but still give him the freedom to pull off these dynamic moves.
The components of the UA Embiid One via Reggie's sketch book.
UA: So, based on Joel’s versatile style of play, what features and technology did you determine were a must for him?
RW: Going into things, we knew we’d need to address breathability and lateral support. Before he joined our family, Joel's feet in footwear would get so hot that he would often remove his shoes mid-game to let them cool off. So, we made sure to use a breathable mesh on the mid-cut upper.
He’s a 7-foot, 280 pound player that performs dynamic moves like the euro-step, which places a lot of stress on the lateral side of the shoe. That’s why we included a specially designed TPU support wing, to give him additional support when performing those guard-like moves.
UA: And, what separates the Embiid One from other performance footwear, especially basketball shoes?
RW: This shoe is truly built for any player at any position. We wear-tested this shoe with 5’8’’ point guards. We wear tested it with other bigs and Joel. It has supportive elements that your forwards and centers want and need. Its mid-cut height provides the support the need when posting up or crashing the boards. Its multi-direction outsole pattern provides the grip and traction that guards need when pivoting in transition or making quick cuts.
The midsole features UA’s proprietary Micro G® and HOVR™ cushioning technologies to facilitate both energy absorption and quick movement and changes in direction.
UA: We imagine there are some Easter eggs in this new silhouette. Can you share any that we should be looking out for?
RW: Well, to start, you may notice a new logo on the tongue area. Joel was excited to see that come to life. The outsole was designed to reflect Joel’s unexpected and inspiring journey from Africa to the US. You’ll find an outline of Africa in the heel which also reveals the HOVR technology. We included a stylized representation of the U.S. in the forefoot.
We also included cities and locations that played a part in his basketball journey, starting with Yaounde, Cameroon (his hometown) and ending with Philadelphia. You’ll see that the outlines on the left shoe mirror those on the right shoe to represent some of the reflection Joel has made along the way. Finally, family is really important to Joel. It helps provide him with support. So, we included the names of his brother, sister, and parents on the back side of the support wing.
UA: What about colorways? How were those decided on and which are you most excited about?
RW: Back to the movie quote from Joel, most events in a movie follow a chronological order and so we decided to have all his colorways tie to a moment from his basketball journey and tell the story in order. We start with the Origin colorway, which is inspired by his early life in Cameroon. Then we look ahead to his college experience and so on. I like all the designs because they tie to a special moment, but my favorite colorway centers around the draft.