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Upper Deck Teams with Nike to Launch ‘The LeBrons’ Action Figure Line
Upper Deck Teams with Nike to Launch ‘The LeBrons’ Action Figure Line

Based on the popular TV ad campaign, the All-Star Edition of ‘Athlete LeBron’ will be released on February 15; the full series of The LeBrons — including Business, Wise, and Kid — to hit hobby shops and other retailers in April.
“Don’t be jealous, boy. You ain’t got it like I got it.”
— Wise LeBron     

Carlsbad, Calif. (February 9, 2006) — Quoting from Nike’s “The LeBrons” ad campaign — featuring four characters based on LeBron James’ unique personality traits — the line may also be something sports collectors and “sneaker freaks” will soon be saying.

The reason? They hope to be among a limited group of fans to purchase Upper Deck’s first-ever urban vinyl sports action figure, a 12-inch, heavily stylized designer toy depicting the All-Star forward’s “Athlete LeBron” persona from the now-famous TV spots.

Upper Deck is releasing 750 sneak-peek versions of Athlete LeBron to coincide with NBA All-Star week. All will feature the red special edition Nike Zoom LeBron III shoes and L23 gear James will be wearing at the game.

The edgy, limited-edition figures — a creation in partnership with Nike — will be available online via Upper Deck’s Web store ( on Feb. 15.

“We are excited to work again with Nike, this time to introduce a new style of sports figure to the marketplace,” said Dave Sanders, brand manager for Upper Deck Authenticated. “The edginess of the commercials and the various personalities that LeBron portrays in the spots lends itself well to the artistic nature of urban vinyl figures.”

This is Upper Deck and Nike’s second partnership in as many years. In 2004, the two companies joined to create and launch an authenticated athlete poster line.

Upper Deck Teams with Nike to Launch ‘The LeBrons’ Action Figure Line

All in the Family: Upper Deck’s urban vinyl sports action figure line kicks off with 750 sneak-peek versions of Athlete LeBron to be released during NBA All-Star week (see the special “sneak-peek” figure up top). The complete series of four LeBron characters (Athlete, Business, Kid and Wise) will follow in April, but best mark your calendars now, because each character will be limited to 1,000 individually numbered pieces.

According to Sanders, Upper Deck will release the full series of the four characters (Athlete, Business, Kid and Wise LeBron) in April. Only 1,000 individually numbered pieces of each character will be sold at hobby and specialty shops (MSRP $45).

Upper Deck will unveil All-Star Vinyl lines in different sports in the fall of 2006, including football, baseball and hockey. Preliminary sculpts have already been designed for many of today’s top athletes — as well as legends from the past.

Usually sold in boutique toy shops and through various Web sites, urban vinyl collectibles are limited-edition designer toys that are, for the most part, created by underground artists and released by independent toy manufacturers in very limited quantities.

Remaining True to Medium; Outreach to Sneaker Collectors

“As many of us at Upper Deck are big collectors of these types of toys, we worked closely with our creative team to develop a product line that would introduce sports fans and collectors to the unique styling of this medium while remaining authentic to the underground scene that has supported this new type of collectible toy,” said Sanders.

Sanders went on to mention that the rise in popularity of basketball shoe collecting served as additional inspiration for developing the line. Both the Athlete LeBron and Kid LeBron figures will feature officially licensed Nike shoes and clothing.

And: each vinyl figurine will come with detachable shoes, allowing the ability to swap shoes and colorways from future figures.

“We paid particularly close attention to nailing the details of LeBron’s shoes,” said Sanders. “We feel this element will add an interest beyond sports collectibles enthusiasts and casual fans, offering hard-core sneaker collectors an additional way to fuel their passion for the latest kicks.”

Trend of TV to Toy

This is not the first time a character from a television commercial has made the transition from the tube to the toy shelf. In the mid-to-late 1980s, both The ‘Noid (Dominos Pizza) and The California Raisins were sold at hobby and retail shops, becoming cult collectibles.

Upper Deck Teams with Nike to Launch ‘The LeBrons’ Action Figure Line

Remix the Kicks: Shown above are Business LeBron and the “standard” version of Athlete LeBron. Created by Upper Deck in partnership with Nike, these highly stylized 12-inch vinyl figures truly are works of art. And in a nod to sneakerheads, each figure comes with detachable shoes, allowing collectors to swap kicks and colorways from future releases.

Urban Vinyl Collectibles: A Description, History

The trend originated in Hong Kong and Japan, recently becoming popular in the United States. A sign of its popularity: at the Toy Fair this February, the industry will be officially recognizing this trend with its own exhibit hall titled “Urban Bazaar: Indie Art Toys.”

Urban vinyl figures, or designer toys, are thought of as not just toys, but as pieces of art. Usually made of soft roto-cast PVC, referred to by collectors as “vinyl”, many of the industry’s product launches are held at gallery openings or release parties where the toys are displayed side-by-side with paintings and other types of art.

About the Upper Deck All-Star Vinyl Design Team, Product’s Development

The LeBrons figurines were first sketched by Upper Deck’s lead designer on the product line, Chris Brunner, who has a background in comic books, concept art and illustration.

Using photographs of LeBron from the ad campaign, Brunner’s finalized sketchwork turnarounds were then used as a starting point by artist Rocco Tartamella to create a master sculpt that would be used to tool the 12-inch figure.

An expert sculptor, Tartamella has done numerous projects for major firms, including McFarlane Toys, Sideshow Collectibles and Jazware toys.

Tartamella’s primary goal was to stay true to the drawings, focusing on the likeness — or the facial features of Brunner’s drawing. The rest of the sculpt plays off of the attitude established with that facial expression.

Then, Rocco roughed out the basic form of the figure including proportions and posture according to the concept art. The final steps included adding the numerous details to LeBron’s Nike Zoom LeBron III shoes, including the Swoosh logo and leather paneling.Sole Collector

About the Upper Deck Company
Founded in 1988, The Upper Deck Co. is a premier global sports and entertainment-publishing company that delivers a portfolio of relevant, innovative and multi-dimensional product experiences to collectors, sports and entertainment enthusiasts.