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Feats of style: The NBA’s biggest sneakerheads dish about their shoe collections

We ask NBA players what their favorite shoe memories are and how they feel about the NBA rule change.

Many of basketball’s best moments come in the air — players floating through the sky for a gravity-defying dunk, a soul-snatching block or buzzer-beating jump shot.

However, the things that connect players to the court and anchor them to the floor — their sneakers — have become a source of passion and pride for some of the NBA’s best players.

For years, players have built special closets in their homes for obscenely large collections of limited-edition collaborations, small-batch releases and one-of-one custom kicks. A rule change this season opening the door for more creativity has some players bringing their collections onto the court.

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From P.J. Tucker, the NBA’s unofficial sneaker king, to the Lakers’ Lance Stephenson and Kyle Kuzma and the Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell, some basketball players are making a name for themselves because of what’s on their feet — and not just because of what they can do on the court or in the air.

Number of sneakers:

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“I have no idea … probably more than 2,000.”

Most meaningful shoe:

“The first shoes I ever had … My mom bought me the first [Air] Jordan 1, and I still have those shoes to this day.”

Introduction to sneakers:

“Being a child growing up in North Carolina — obviously the home of Michael Jordan — it was pretty easy to fall into shoes.”

NBA sneaker-style icon:

“Who has the best sneaker style in the NBA? That’s easy: for sure, me.”

On the grail list:

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DJ Khaled x Air Jordan 3 “We The Best”
Air Jordan 3 We the Best.
(Nike)

“The [Air Jordan] Carhartt X Eminem 4 is up there; the SoleFly [Air] Jordan 3 is up there; and right now, I love the DJ Khaled We the Best 3.”

Number of sneakers:

“A lot.” More than 200? “Yeah.” More than 500? “Yeah.”

Most meaningful shoe:

“My very first shoe — getting an opportunity to design my own shoe under the Brand Jordan. I remember as a kid not being able to get Jordans, and to get to know M.J. personally and have my own line is the most humbling experience ever.”

Introduction to sneakers:

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“Just being a hooper — hooping my whole life. I just paid attention to the shoes I’d wear. It’s been Nike my whole life. … M.J. gave me a lot of insight into things, like, when he made his 23s, there’s a thumbprint on the tongue. So every time you string up your shoes, you feel like you’re M.J. for a second. So it really gives you the opportunity to tell stories, and that’s what I like to do.”

NBA sneaker-style icon:

“[P.J. Tucker] will be wearing all different types of stuff. Tuck [will] be out there hooping in stuff you have no business hooping in, but it works for him. I don’t know how he does it, but he pulls it off.”

On the grail list:

Nike Air Jordan 1
Nike Air Jordan 1.
(Nike)

“When I was a kid, I lost a pair of [Air Jordan] 13s. Somebody stole them out of my locker, and I didn’t get another pair until maybe my fifth or sixth year in the league. ... The [Air Jordan] 1’s have always been my favorite and always will be.”

Number of sneakers:

“Between Baton Rouge and Detroit, I’d say close to about a thousand pair or more right now.”

Most meaningful shoe:

“I have a pair of LeBron’s — the Stewie Griffin pair [Nike LeBron 6 Stewie Griffin] — the story behind how I got them is crazy … how I tracked them down. … It’s one of my grail shoes. ... It took about five months [to track a pair down].”

Introduction to sneakers:

“I’ve always had a passion for sneakers since I was little. I used to check out the magazines — the Slams, the Eastbays. I remember when Sports Illustrated and ESPN and all those guys would have small snippets on the different sneakers that were coming out at the time. ... I’d always go to sneaker stores like Foot Locker and Foot Action and check out the shoes that were coming out with different players. … But I could never afford them so it was just window shopping at the time.”

NBA sneaker-style icon:

“I’m going to go off the wall here, but Allen Iverson; growing up I was a huge fan of him. I remember the Reeboks — the Answers, the Questions — he had so many different shoes that symbolized him. Reebok really embodied him, so that was cool to see. He took it a long way.”

On the grail list:

Nike Air Mag AKA “Marty McFly’s”
Nike Air Mag, a.k.a. the Marty McFly.
(Nike)

“One day, I want to get the Marty McFlys — the self-lacing shoes — but they’re $12,000 or more right now. And I’m never spending that much on shoes.”

Number of sneakers:

“Probably not more than 200 ... It’s not like it’s a whole room.”

Most meaningful shoe:

“It has to be my all-purple shoe because it was a tribute to my grandmother, and it was both of our favorite color. I’ve only worn it once, and it was at the Garden and we won. So that’s the most personal shoe.”

Introduction to sneakers:

“Probably just basketball in general. In doing my own personal shoe, it felt like I was the architect of my own Iron Man armor. And even before that, I always felt like the shoe was a big piece of the player.”

NBA sneaker-style icon:

“In the league? I’m going to go with, even though we played [his team] last night, P.J. Tucker. Because, if I’m trying to be as unbiased as possible, he’s got a wide-ranging style and he’ll play in anything.

On the grail list:

Zoom Kobe 5 Prelude “Prelude 5"
Nike Zoom Kobe 5 Prelude.
(Nike)

“Here’s the problem: A lot of the ones that were on my grail list, I went out and got them. Like the [Air Jordan] Year of the Rabbit 7s? I wanted them bad, and I went out and got them. [Air Jordan] Gold Medal 7s? I went and got two of those. [Nike Zoom Kobe] Bruce Lee 5s? I got those. Unfortunately, I got hurt in those. You know which ones I haven’t got? The [Nike Zoom Kobe] Prelude 5s — but I’ll probably get them this summer.”

Number of sneakers:

“I was at a slow start because I was signed to Adidas, but now I’ve thrown in a lot of varieties — so I’ve added a lot of shoes over the last year. Probably a little under 150 [pairs].”

Most meaningful shoe:

“Probably my signed shoes by Vince Carter and my signed shoes by D[wyane] Wade.”

Introduction to sneakers:

“I didn’t have any when I was young. I wasn’t able to really buy shoes, but I had a love for them. So as I got older and had the means, I really wanted to show my variety, my taste and my flavor in what I like to wear.”

NBA sneaker-style icon:

“Oh, P.J. Tucker, hands down. There’s no question about it.”

On the grail list:

la-1550110332-rj58az36aq-snap-image
Nike Shox BB4.
(Nike)

“Not[hing] really … If I see it and I like it, I buy it.”

Number of sneakers:

“Not that many ... Less than 200.”

Most meaningful shoe:

“The Just Dons 2 [a.k.a. Just Don X Air Jordan 2], and I’ve also got the All-Star KD 4s too.”

NBA sneaker-style icon:

“Probably P.J. Tucker. His [style] is crazy — and he’s not signed with anybody, so he can wear whatever he wants.”

On the grail list:

Nike Air Yeezy
Nike Air Yeezy.
(Nike)

“Probably the [Nike] Yeezy 1s.”

Number of sneakers:

“Probably about 3,000 [pairs] by now.”

Most meaningful shoe:

“One of my favorites is D[wyane] Wade’s second shoe [for Li-Ning]. … The best part about it is that when we played the [Miami] Heat here at home this year, I asked him to sign them. … He’s an icon, a legend in the game of basketball, and this is his last go-round. So for me to be able to play against him and actually — at the end of the game — get his signature on a pair of shoes, for me, is definitely big.”

NBA sneaker-style icons:

“There are a couple of guys who have sneaker shows on YouTube and stuff like that. They’re all collectors, and one of them actually became a good friend of mine. He goes by Jumpmanbostic.

On the grail list:

LeBron 15 “Fruity Pebbles”
Nike LeBron 15 Fruity Pebbles.
(Nike)

“Marty McFlys, [the self-lacing] Nike Air Mag Back to the Future, and the Nike LeBron 15 Fruity Pebbles [colorway].”

Number of sneakers:

“I’m not really a collector, but I have [somewhere] in the hundreds [of pairs].”

Most meaningful shoe:

“I never had [Air] Jordan shoes growing up, so once I got my first pair of the original Jordan 5s when I was in high school, I was super excited. Michael Jordan is the greatest to ever do it, so to have that shoe is priceless.”

Effect of the NBA sneaker-color rule change:

“This year has been a free-for-all. ... I think it’s fun to be able to express yourself and wear some shoes you may never have worn before — or worn since high school. It’s pretty cool.”

NBA sneaker-style icon:

“It’s a lot of different guys. P.J. Tucker has a lot of different shoes that he wears every single game; Montrezl Harrell from the Clippers — he has a nice shoe collection — but I hope that I’m up there with shoes I’ve been wearing this year. But there’s [also] guys you wouldn’t think of, that don’t get the hype they deserve like Lance Stephenson. He’s up there too.”

On the grail list:

Nike Air Yeezy “Blink”
Nike Air Yeezy Blink.
(Nike)

Probably the old Nike Yeezys, the original high-top ones. ...Those are the shoes I’ve never really had.”

Number of sneakers:

“Probably about 700 [pairs].”

Most meaningful shoe:

“My favorite pair is the [Air Jordan] He Got Game 13s. They’re the best shoe to wear — especially to play in. … I’ve got three pairs of those.”

Introduction to sneakers:

“I’ve been doing this sneaker stuff since high school.”

What’s fun about the sneaker game:

“Just wearing shoes that a lot of people can’t get. When you’re on the court, you’ve got one of the best shoes on. You feel confident about yourself, and you move a little differently. I feel like when you’ve got a pair of shoes that you feel comfortable in and [that] are very exclusive, you play good and you feel good.”

Most exciting new pair:

“I would say the [Air Jordan] 11s, the baby blue [ones]. When they first came out, I was very excited about opening those up [because] they’re limited-edition and hard to get. So when I got them, I felt special.”

On the grail list:

Nike Air Jordan 13 “He Got Game”
Nike Air Jordan 13 He Got Game.
(Nike)

“No[thing] because I’ve got a sneaker connection where I can get any shoe I want, so I don’t have a hard time getting any shoes.”

Adam Tschorn contributed to this report.

FULL COVERAGE: From Nike to Gucci, a brief history of basketball-inspired sneakers »


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