ORLANDO, Fla. — When Jonathan Isaac is in the game for the Orlando Magic, he is a difference maker. And after dealing with major injuries for the last few seasons, he is a major reason why Orlando is one of the top defensive teams in the NBA.

Outside of basketball, he still makes time for a lot of his other passions — most recently, launching his own brand, UNITUS, and developing his own signature sneaker.

While he loves to have his hands in a lot of different ventures, he got some help with the designs from some University of Central Florida students across town.

What You Need To Know

  • Jonathan Isaac launched his own brand, which coincides with his values, called UNITUS

  • Isaac was inspired to reach out to the University of Central Florida School of Visual Arts and Design after watching a movie where a character did something similar 

  • Five design students were selected to work with Isaac on creating designs for his signature shoe, Judah 1 

  • The designs became the blueprint he took to shoemakers to create the sneakers he wears on the court

The journey to step back on the court again wasn’t easy between all the injuries and missed games.

“I feel like I am a veteran in spirit and just who I am," he said. "I feel like I’m a rookie who hasn’t been able to showcase who he fully is yet."

When it was time to start this season, Isaac knew he’d be stepping back on the court in his own way, wearing his brand new signature shoe, the Judah 1.

While basketball and sneaker culture go hand-in-hand, two UCF professors laugh at their own connection.

“My daughter is so by extension,” said associate professor Victor Davila. “But personally not.”

“I’m just a dad,” said assistant director Matt Dombrowski, laughing.

In the spring of 2021, Isaac was inspired to create his own shoe line, but he knew he needed some help. 

“When it came to the sneaker, I saw a movie — it was a movie or something — I saw a movie where somebody went to a school and asked them to sign something. That’s what I did,” said Isaac. “I reached out to the design school at UCF, connected with them, and they made it an assignment where students were able to submit their portfolios and come up with an idea for the shoe.”

“Immediately when we met him, he comes off as very genuine,” Davila said of the collaboration with the NBA player. “Very kind of friendly — it was never the air of like, ‘This guy’s a celebrity.’ So it was always very kind of like a very collaborative experience.”

Five UCF design students were selected to work alongside their professors to conceptualize a shoe design for Isaac. 

“One of the things we teach our students at the School of Visual Arts and Design is the first step in any process was really a couple meetings where we just asked him questions,” said Dombrowski. “And the students, I mean, they came prepared. I remember he was, you know, being interrogated. ‘What do you like? What colors don’t you like? You know what is your favorite music? What is your favorite brand?’ And we just absorbed all that information and then went back to the drawing board.”

Isaac met with the group virtually to discuss his vision for the branding and provide his input.

“It was direction. And you know, we all had a sit down with the design classes that I wanted to be lion-inspired," he said. "My middle name is Judah. I want it to feature a Bible verse, things like that. And they were able to go to work and put it together.”

“We adapted and tweaked and we gave him as many combinations as possible," Dombrowski said while going through the students' designs. "You can see the tear-aways — these are obviously pretty exaggerated from the final shoe."

“It was trying to trying to think of ideas. What does it mean to be bold? What does it mean to inject a lion into it? How can we put the personality of the lion into the shoe?" said Davila. "So a lot of times our ideas were kind of like really out there. We think it’s important to have really out there ideas that we can rein in, as opposed to having starting small and trying to build off of that."

Two years later, the Judah 1 was launched ahead of the Magic’s 2023-2024 season. Side-by-side images between the prototype designs and the final product draw many parallels and nods to the students working in 2021. 

“You can see a little bit of it again, just there’s just subtleties, right?" said Dombrowski. "There’s little claws. Again, this is an exaggerated prototype. But then his team of shoemakers and professional designers went in there and kind of took some of these elements, which is really cool to see."

Dombrowski and Davila said they were impressed by Isaac’s compassion and maturity, and how he made sure the five students who worked on this project outside of school were compensated for their efforts accordingly.

All five of the students have since graduated and work professionally in the visual arts and design spheres.