Photography: Richard Ontiveros-GimaAlek Timmer, and Nathaniel Butler

Caris LeVert’s rise from overlooked prep star to key player can be attributed to his patient and positive mindset. After coaching changes disrupted his original college plans, Caris stayed optimistic and eventually earned a scholarship offer from the University of Michigan. With the team already boasting a roster that included five future NBA players, Caris was told that he would red shirt his freshman year. However, those plans quickly changed once the coaching staff realized he could have an immediate impact. The following four-year journey brought highs in the form of an NCAA championship appearance and lows in the form of multiple season-ending injuries. Through it all, Caris remained hopeful that his time would come.

Caris was patient off the court, too. A fan of MJ since his childhood, he loved Air Jordans but couldn’t always get them. So, after arriving at the University of Michigan, Caris saved up and the first pair he bought was “Bred” Air Jordan XIs. And when he was drafted 20th overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, Caris splurged on growing his Air Jordan collection, picking up pairs he had previously missed out on.

In Brooklyn, Caris had to be patient once again. Injuries sidelined him during his first few seasons, yet he emerged from those setbacks with a reputation for being a team first, enthusiastic player, even in the face of adversity. The leaps he took in his game, and his fearlessness during clutch moments, earned him a contract extension in 2019. That deal showed the organization’s recognition of him as a crucial piece to the revamped team and its championship aspirations.

Now, with a healthy roster, lofty team goals and a new head coach, Caris enters his fifth professional season more prepared and hard-working than ever. When it comes to getting his favorite Air Jordans, patience will no longer be required.

We caught up with Caris to talk about joining the Jordan Brand family, his goals for the upcoming season and giving back to the Brooklyn community. Welcome to the family, Caris.

Caris with the Air Jordan XIII  Hyper Royal that releases on December 19 

How does it feel to be a member of the Jordan Brand family?

It feels good. It still hasn’t fully sunk in yet. I’ve been a fan for as long as I can remember. It’s crazy, I was just talking to a friend a month and a half ago, and he asked me if I’d ever sign with Jordan. A week later, I got the call. I’m looking forward to building with the brand.

What are the most important features of a game shoe for you?

I need something that I can move around in, because I’m a player who cuts a lot and uses my athleticism to get up and down the court. I need something that I don’t have to think about. Jordan uses top of the line materials and technology, so that made the decision a no-brainer.

You’ve been working out in the new Air Jordan XXXV. What are your first impressions of it?

It’s very comfortable. They’re sleek and easy to move around in. I’ve been playing in the “Center of Gravity,” “Fragment” and “DNA” pairs, and I think they look super cool. I can’t wait to start playing games and mixing and matching them with my jerseys.

There’s a certain swagger and confidence that comes with being a Jordan Brand athlete. How do you describe what that is?

Not everyone gets to be a Jordan athlete, so that speaks to the type of people who are selected to be a part of this family. It started with MJ, who is the greatest player of all time. He set the standard for swagger and winning on the basketball court.

The brand has represented greatness in different sports for decades. Who are some of your favorite Jordan Brand athletes?

I’m a fan of a lot of current player’s games. I played in college with Tim Hardaway Jr., so I know him very well. I’m teammates with Jeff Green now. Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul are great players, and Jayson Tatum is emerging as a superstar right now. Across other sports, Randy Moss was one of my favorite athletes growing up, because I used to play receiver. And then there’s Derek Jeter, because we have that Michigan connection. I’ve been paying attention to the brand for a long time.

Since you entered the league, your college has become a Jordan Brand school. How did it feel when you saw Michigan start representing the Jumpman?

I was a little jealous, because as soon as I left, they switched to Jordan. But I’m happy for the guys who get a chance to play in Jordans. I’m glad that I’m getting a chance to play in them, too.

Your love for Jordans is well-documented in tunnel photos and ‘fit pics. Where did that start?

When I was a kid, I didn’t have a lot of Jordans, because we didn’t really have the means to get them. So when I got to college, I started saving a little bit of my scholarship check to get Jordans, and the first pair I bought were Bred XIs. Then, when I got to the league, I just splurged and got a lot of them. I’ve been a fan since I was a kid, since MJ was playing.

What are some of your recent favorites?

I really liked the Dior AJI collab, that was super cool. And the Air Jordan Vs that Virgil [Abloh] did. Those are some of my favorite pairs this year.

New York City is known as one of the capitals of sneaker culture. How has living in Brooklyn been?

New York is one of the best places for style in the world. Sneakers just go along with that. Everybody has a fly pair of sneakers and a nice ‘fit on. I think I fit into that culture very well.

Speaking of Brooklyn, you guys have a big season coming up. How are you feeling?

There’s a lot of excitement around our team right now. The offseason was quick, but we’ve been grinding, and we’re ready.

What are some of your favorite MJ moments?

My mom’s family is from Washington D.C., and I actually saw MJ play live. It was his last home game there, so that was crazy. Also, when I was a kid, I used to watch Space Jam all the time. My favorite on-court moment is probably early in his career, when he played against the Boston Celtics in the playoffs and had 63 points. For that to have been just his second year in the league is surreal.

Jordan Brand has committed to a mission of “action over words” when it comes to supporting the Black community. Why is giving back so important to you?

We started my organization, 22 Initiative, to mentor kids around the Brooklyn area and help them discover what’s next. That’s really important to me, because when I was growing up, I didn’t have a lot of those people to look up to — people who were accessible to talk to and get advice from. I always said that when I make it, I want to give back and be someone others can look up to. It’s always been super important to me, and I plan to continue.

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