To say Paul George has had an unconventional route to signature shoe stardom would be an understatement. George wasn't pegged as a star by the sneaker companies when he was drafted 10th overall in 2010, leading to him landing a standard rookie endorsement deal with Nike.
As his star rose and he became an All-Star regular, Nike quickly moved to extend his deal and offered him a signature shoe in the process -- only the 21st basketball athlete in Nike's history to get one.
However, just months after the extension was struck, George suffered a broken leg while playing in an exhibition for Team USA, which led Nike to put the signature model on hold. The launch of his long-awaited namesake shoe line, which was eventually released last spring, almost never came to be.
"The [PG1] was supposed to come out a year earlier, but the injury pushed it out," Nike designer Tony Hardman said. "It ended up being a bit of a blessing in disguise for the product."
During George's extended layoff, the All-Star from Palmdale, California, and his Nike team from Beaverton, Oregon, met quarterly around the country to work through feedback, design updates and colors. Whether it was getting an up-close look at his love of fishing, or seeing how close George is with his parents, Paul and Paulette, the added window allowed for both sides to get that much more familiar with each other.
That familiarity with George helped Nike as it worked simultaneously on the PG1 and PG2 -- the latter of which had to be designed without certainty of where George would be playing when he debuted the sneaker. As the group began outlining the PG2, a favorite quote of George's kept coming up:
Don't tell me the sky's the limit, when there's footprints on the moon.
"The whole idea around the 2 was basically 'Palmdale to the moon,'" Hardman said. "We really wanted to talk about Paul's ascension from this desert town to the superstar that he's become now."
In building out the design language for the PG series -- in a crowded space that includes Nike signature shoes for LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant -- Hardman and his team looked to create a unique approach to the branding that would give George's preferred low-cut silhouette its own look alongside the others.
Drafting off of George's style of play, a subtle design cue linking both of the first two shoes together is the tandem of forward and reverse-facing Swoosh logos.
"That ties back to him being a two-way player and is a nod back to that," Hardman said.
The broad stroke of the design allows for a variety of materials and splashes of color throughout in new and refreshed looks over the course of the season -- George likes to wear a new pair nearly every game -- while the fine details still tie back to his upbringing in Palmdale.
"If you look at some of the details on the outsole, we've got mom and pops on the back in the rubber," Hardman said. "That's really all about his parents being behind him no matter what. Then, you've got his sisters' initials on the toes of the shoe, because they were really the catalysts for him to want to excel at basketball and inspired him."
With George's shoe being the newest in Nike's signature line, it's also slotted as the least expensive, just north of $100. That price point has forced Hardman to do more with less, while still bringing design and innovation to the line.
"That's the challenge. People expect a lot out of signature product," Hardman said. "You have to be a little craftier with how you do the design and how you're going to bring energy to it. The kid wants everything. They want the $110 shoe to be just like the [$185] LeBron shoe."
Last year, the PG1's debut colorway hearkened back to one of Paul's favorite hobbies, his love of fishing. With a gray fish-scaled upper and white accents, the sneaker spoke to his more relaxed off-court approach. For this season, the brand is bringing together its first collaboration for the PG series, partnering with Sony's PlayStation gaming system for a first-of-its-kind sneaker on the NBA hardwood.
The model itself already features lacing eyelet clips styled after a video game controller, and the PlayStation version brings to life the iconic vivid blue hues of the system, along with the color accents of the controller buttons.
For George, who still travels on road trips with his own PlayStation to clock in time playing a combination of NBA 2K, Madden or Call of Duty, getting his very own system early on was a defining moment in his childhood during the early 2000s.
"I just had a knack for video games," George said. "As soon as I discovered PlayStation, I was throwing hints here and there to my dad -- cutting out the clipping of the video game, cutting out the clippings of the PlayStation, leaving it on his dresser. I remember on Christmas morning, I unwrapped my gift and sure enough it was the PS2. I've been a PlayStation guy ever since."
As the shoe came to life, there's one quirk to it that sets it apart from any of George's other sneakers to date -- the tongue features a workable, light-up PlayStation logo -- a first in the NBA.
"That was based on me asking Paul once, 'If you weren't a basketball player, what would you do?'" Hardman said. "He said something in electronics, because he loves TVs and he loves video games."
Going forward, Nike will look to bring even more energy to George's line, including special editions of the PG2 that draft off of his favorite signature lines.
"The main one is Kobe. We'll bring some of that in on an inspiration for a colorway," Hardman said. "Kobe was one of his biggest inspirations growing up in how he plays the game. Even though he was actually a bigger Clippers fan than he was Lakers fan, Kobe was still his favorite."
George knows it's one thing to tout his latest signature sneaker as his favorite to date, or simply say they're "comfortable and amazing," but there's only one way to prove the new shoe's worth to the fans and public.
"The thing I can do is go after the best players in our league and shut them down in the shoes. That's the goal," he said. "That's going to be the best way to highlight the PG2 and show all what they can do performancewise."