BY MAURICE MERRELL
While watching Black Panther, Portland's Stephen Perona couldn't help but notice similarities to a certain basketball player.
The swift moves, darting attacks and timely maneuvers of Chadwick Boseman's titular hero bore a striking resemblance to those of Blazers star Damian Lillard. Inspired, he decided to creatively express those similarities by tying the two heroes together through his newfound artistic passion—customizing sneakers.
"I just felt like Dame's so dynamic in the way that he plays, and the Black Panther is too," Persona says. "So I decided to use a pair of [Adidas] Dame 4s. I had to make a shoe that represents that, highlighting the vibranium that gave the Black Panther his powers."
Initially, Perona posted the custom Wakanda Forever Dame 4s on Instagram to little fanfare. Having just begun his journey as a customizer in October 2017, the full-time software engineer says he wasn't surprised people didn't initially take notice. While he'd received positive feedback, and even been commissioned to create a pair of kicks for Nike, Perona understood he didn't have the following of other big-name customizers to get a bunch of eyes on his latest creation.
But one important person took notice early on.
"A week before they blew up, Dame saw them and reached out over DM," Perona says. "I was at work when it happened, and I was just too excited to even concentrate after that. He messaged me saying, 'I need them,' and I just told him I didn't think they would fit. We kind of laughed about it, but then I, of course, agreed to do another pair for him. I don't know if he can wear them on-court because of NBA regulation, but he'll have them before the playoffs start."
Soon after the exchange with Lillard, Perona says he woke up to a phone full of notifications as nearly all the top sneaker and sport websites picked up the pictures of his kicks.
"It literally happened over night," he says. "I woke up with my phone ringing off because Bleacher Report had picked up the post, and then the flood gates opened. I went from like 11 followers on Instagram to about 6,700 overnight. It was madness."
Aside from Lillard's approval, the sweetest moments for Perona were the cosigns from customizers he admires. Fellow well-known artist Mache275 reached out to say how much he dug his work. While he's still new, and only plans on making one to two customs a month for now, Perona says he's happy to be a part of Portland's burgeoning scene of customizers and creators.
"I never expected to have an impact on people taking notice of what's happening here in Portland," he says. "People focus on bigger cities, and they normally only know Portland because of the brands that are here. But I think [the sneaker community] is starting to get more attention for the things we're creating, and I'm all for it."
FOLLOW: Stephen Perona is on Instagram @mammothnamedjim