NBA stars turn to Salvador Amezcua, a.k.a. Kickstradomis, for colorful sneaker designs

Kickstradomis, a.k.a Sal Amezcua, is one of the most popular shoe customizers right now, making shoes for NBA, MLB and NFL players.

Some painters stretch a white canvas as wide as possible to realize their creative vision but not Salvador Amezcua. Known as Kickstradomis in the zealous culture revolving around customized sneakers, the 32-year-old artist prefers working on a basketball shoe that spans some 14 inches from heel to toe.

Hunched over a small table in his studio converted from a bedroom in a modest home in Bellflower, he carefully affixes stencils he made of logos of the “Call of Duty: Black Ops” video game onto a black Nike Hyperdunk shoe belonging to Karl-Anthony Towns Jr. of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Self-taught from watching YouTube videos and messing up shoes, Amezcua quickly alternates between white and orange paint misted from an airbrush, a hand-held dryer and markers. Within 45 minutes, he completes a white bereted skull and an orange striped badge against a foggy background on the knitted fabric, atop sunset-like streaks surrounding Nike’s Swoosh on the sole.

Artist Salvador Amezcua
L.A. native Salvador Amezcua, a.k.a. Kickstradomis, works on a custom sneaker design for Minnesota Timberwolves player Karl-Anthony Towns Jr. Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

“Basketball is the perfect platform for what I do,” Amezcua said. “Shoe culture is huge in basketball. I did a lot of football before, but it never hit the way it’s hit in the NBA. That’s because you can’t really see the cleats too well on the field when you’re watching a football game. And NBA players are some of the most famous people on the planet.”

Shoes customized by Amezcua pop on the hardwood-like bouncing billboards displaying players’ personalities, interests and opinions. Consider Towns, the 23-year-old, 7-foot-tall center who was the No. 1 NBA draft pick in 2015. On the phone from Minneapolis a week after Amezcua finished his recent commission, Towns professed to be “goofy” and “an art fiend,” fond of Roman and Greek mythology, TV shows such as “Stranger Things” and “Rick and Morty,” and “huge, colorful paintings.”

“Especially with my foot size being a size 20, I wanted to be able to express myself on the court without actually having to say a single word,” he said.

Amezcua’s own life contains multitudes. The L.A. native started drawing comic books when he was 4. At 25, while staying on his cousin’s couch, he made money by touching up cracked paint on sneakers. In 2015, through a friend’s introduction, he customized cleats for Andre Ethier and baseball players from the Dodgers. Eventually, he personalized Alec Ogletree’s footwear when the football linebacker played for the Rams.

Shoe culture is huge in basketball. I did a lot of football before, but it never hit the way it’s hit in the NBA.

Salvador Amezcua, a.k.a. Kickstradomis

BELLFLOWER, CA - JANUARY 09, 2019 - Artist Salvador Amezcua, aka Kickstradomis, posing with customiz
Artist Salvador Amezcua with customized sneakers for, from left, NBA players Karl-Anthony Towns Jr. of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Terry Rozier of the Boston Celtics, Ricky Rubio of the Utah Jazz and Deandre Ayton of the Phoenix Suns. Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

In 2016, a car accident stunted Amezcua’s momentum. “The doctor said I couldn’t paint until I rehab my back,” he said, “and I fell out of love with art.” He didn’t paint for a year. To take care of his son, he worked 12-hour shifts moving tomato crates at a refrigerated warehouse. He lost 30,000 social media followers during the hiatus.

One follower who stayed was Towns. In summer 2017, Amezcua thought to himself: “Let me send him a direct message and see if he responds.” The athlete invited Amezcua to his L.A. home. “I like dealing with people that have that drive and passion,” Towns said.

The turning point for Amezcua came months later in October, when he reimagined the Swoosh as a bloodied machete on a “Friday the 13th”-inspired style for Towns. The social-media hype generated $6,000 in single-day orders for Amezcua, who soon quit his warehouse job to customize shoes full time.

Los Angeles Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell
Los Angeles Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell holds a pair of Air Jordan XX9s customized by Amezcua that are part of Harrell's sneaker collection. Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

“Once you give an artist any sort of inspiration, especially [one] like him, who’s so good at it, at what he does, magic was just soon to follow,” Towns said.

In a way, Towns has assumed the role of a millennial Medici, boosting the career of a struggling artist who glorifies shoes instead of chapels. “What I love first of all about him is that he does all the work himself,” he said. Plus, Amezcua’s art is “clean” and “really cool,” he said. “You can tell it had some love in it.”

Amezcua has customized more than 30 pairs for Towns. Sneakers designed for the entire Timberwolves team in honor of their late coach, Flip Saunders, raised more than $14,000 in a charity auction.

Terry Rozier (Scary Terry) of the Boston Celtics’ sneaker customized by artist Salvador Amezcua.
A look at a custom sneaker by artist Salvador Amezcua for "Scary Terry" Rozier of the Boston Celtics. Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

Other NBA players have tapped into Amezcua’s talent, which has blossomed following the association’s rule change this season allowing any color combination on players’ shoes. Influenced by animation, he has painted Venom for Donovan Mitchell, “Space Jam” villains for Luka Doncic and Batman’s sidekick, Robin, for Kyle Kuzma. On Complex’s reality series, “Kickin’ It With Kickstradomis,” the tatted designer stood side by side, albeit barely reaching their shoulders, with ballers such as Kelly Oubre Jr. and Tristan Thompson.

“I also know a lot of the guys in college and high school that are pretty much destined to play in the league,” Amezcua said, having formed friendships with some top high schoolers while filming ads with Champs Sports.

Amezcua has accomplished this despite being colorblind. “There are certain hues that I can’t differentiate sometimes,” he said, noting the similarities between blue and purple, for instance. Lucky for him, paint containers are labeled. Waving a dryer over fresh paint on Towns’ sneaker, he said, “I also have people look at my stuff before I send it out.”

In addition to pro athletes, Amezcua caters to the general public. Charging a minimum of $500 for a custom design, he’s shipped sneakers as far as Dubai and Singapore. He now boasts more than 394,000 followers on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. “It’s been a wild ride,” he said, “and it hasn’t even stopped.”

NBA players’ sneakers customized by artist Salvador Amezcua, aka Kickstradomis
Custom sneaker designs for NBA players by Bellflower artist Salvador Amezcua, a.k.a. Kickstradomis. Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

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