A power ranking of Odell Beckham Jr.’s custom cleats from the 2016 NFL season The New York Giants wideout was determined to break out the heat on any given Sunday

Every NFL Sunday is a footwear fashion show for Odell Beckham Jr. Over the past few seasons, the New York Giants wide receiver has shown up and showed out on the field with the freshest cleats in all of football. His secret? Well, it’s not really a secret at all, because OBJ takes much pride in his custom-made creations, for which he entrusts the skill and creativity of Los Angeles-based sneaker artist Troy “Kickasso” Cole, who cranks out masterpieces inspired by every concept fathomable. From album covers to video games and movies to personal tributes, whatever Beckham Jr. dreams up in his imaginative mind, Kickasso can translate onto cleats.

Yet, as a result of the NFL’s enforcement of its strict in-game uniform and equipment policy, most of the kicks in OBJ’s one-of-a-kind collection are worn exclusively during pregame warm-ups before he changes to a more traditional pair for games. But every now and then, Beckham Jr. will risk a fine to ensure that his flashiest shoes find their way onto the field when the game clock starts rolling.

During the 2016 NFL season, the anthology of custom cleats that OBJ unveiled was second to no other player in the league. Throughout the regular season, playoffs and Pro Bowl, he truly became a titan in the sneaker world, which certainly contributed to Nike recently inking the 24-year-old to the biggest shoe deal in NFL history, estimated to be worth more than $29 million over five years.

Hopefully the huge new contract with Nike doesn’t prohibit Beckham Jr. from continuing his tradition come next season. As we anticipate what else OBJ and Kickasso have in store, let’s take a look at their creativity through this definitive, descending-order power ranking of 20 custom cleats they made pop last season.


20. WEEK 10 VS. CINCINNATI BENGALS — LSU

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s cleats before the NFL game between the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 14, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Every NFL player deserves to rep his alma mater however he sees fit, but, man, these cleats in the signature purple and gold of Louisiana State University — the school the Giants drafted Beckham Jr. out of in 2014 with the 12th overall pick — are quite hideous. A more appropriate salute to LSU would’ve been cleats featuring detailed illustrations of tigers, the mascot of OBJ’s former school. As for these plaid concoctions — in the words of the illustrious 21st century musical talent scout Randy Darius Jackson, “yeah … that’s gonna be a no for me, dog.”

19. Week 5 vs. green bay packers — Breast cancer awareness

Since 2009, the NFL has been committed to spreading breast cancer awareness. Every season in October, players take pride in wearing the color pink as a display of their dedication to finding a cure. Beckham Jr. didn’t disappoint last October. His breast cancer cleats were a simple but very classy tribute to every woman and family affected by the disease.

18 and 17. week 7 vs. Los angeles rams — Burberry and Rolling Stone

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When the Giants traveled to London to face the Los Angeles Rams in October 2016, OBJ channeled his inner European designer by breaking out pregame cleats embossed with the beautiful pattern of British fashion house Burberry (the iconic brand of clothing that Jay Z rapped about swimming in on his 2002 track with his then-future wife Beyoncé, ” ’03 Bonnie & Clyde”). These cleats are uber-swaggy, but don’t hold a candle to when Beckham Jr. went full-on designer and commissioned a pair of Supreme x Louis Vuitton customs to be made after the season.

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OBJ changed his kicks before kickoff, but remained authentic to the game being played across the pond by switching to red, white and blue cleats, and matching gloves, featuring the legendary logo of the English rock band the Rolling Stones.

16. week 12 vs. cleveland browns — Paint splatter

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. stands on the field during practice before a game against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 27, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

AP Photo/Ron Schwane

These are just really fun. Camouflage is always a good look, and the extra splash of color with the rainbow flecks and green and yellow shoestrings set them over the top. Stay tuned for more camo cleats from OBJ.

15. week 1 vs. Dallas Cowboys — sept. 11 tribute

Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants wears cleats as a tribute to the 15th anniversary of 9/11 before a game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Sept. 11, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Giants’ 2016 season opener against the Dallas Cowboys happened to fall on the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 — one of the most infamous days in the history of the United States. Beckham Jr. illustrated his patriotism in the form of U.S. flag-themed cleats with bald eagles on the outer soles of each shoe. OBJ was certainly proud to be an American on the first night of football last season.

14. Week 6 vs. baltimore ravens — “Kirby”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Nike cleats during warm-ups before the game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens played at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

HUGE shout-out to OBJ for throwing it back to our childhoods by paying homage to the one and only Nintendo character Kirby. He unveiled these in the middle of October 2016, taking the NFL’s tradition of wearing pink to advocate for breast cancer awareness and running with it. Beckham Jr. chose a pink character and crafted an entire cleat design around it with the utmost detail, from the warp stars to the Whispy Woods (Kirby’s recurring foe in the video game series). On this NFL Sunday, OBJ represented the video game nerd that resides in every one of us.

13 and 12. week 13 vs. pittsburgh steelers — Make-a-wisH (Dora The EXplorer and The Simpsons)

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears cleats supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation during warm-ups before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

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For one week during the season, the NFL, aka the “No Fun League,” allowed players to wear their in-game cleats however they wanted, outrageous customization and all, without receiving fines in violation of the league’s uniform policy. The #MyCauseMyCleats initiative, which required players to commit to supporting a charitable cause, saw approximately a third of the league (around 500 players) participate. Beckham Jr. chose to represent the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which, according to its website, has a “vision to grant the wish of every child diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition.” And true to his cause, OBJ depicted the child within himself on two pairs of cleats he had designed. One pair was inspired by Homer and Bart Simpson, two of the main characters of the popular animated sitcom, The Simpsons. The other pair, which he wore during the Week 13 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, featured characters from the educational children’s series Dora the Explorer. Not the league, nor Swiper, could steal these cleats from Beckham Jr.’s feet on #MyCauseMyCleats Sunday. OBJ did it for the kids.

11. WEEK 2 VS. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS — “NOLA BOY”

New Orleans Native New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears Nike cleats with Nola Boy on them before the game between the New York Giants and the New Orleans Saints played at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

“Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” Beckham Jr. has surely come across this legendary James Baldwin quote at least once in his life — or heard a variation of it from his grandma, aunties and uncles, or parents — while on his journey from growing up in Louisiana to becoming an NFL wide receiver in New York. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is OBJ’s hometown, but he also claims New Orleans. So when the Giants faced the Saints early in the 2016 season, Beckham Jr. made his allegiance to the city known with “NOLA BOY” custom cleats in Mardi Gras colors. These are pretty special.

10. week 9 vs. philadelphia eagles — “Salute to service”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears cleats with a camouflage pattern while warming up before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 6, 2016, in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

On the Sunday before Veteran’s Day, Beckham Jr. honored the nation’s armed forces with camouflage cleats reminiscent of the Japanese clothing brand A Bathing Ape’s fresh camo print. These are pretty sweet.

9. Week 14 vs. dallas cowboys — 300

Division matchups in the NFL are always battles. And no one went to war like the Spartans, whose combat skills were epically portrayed in the 2006 film 300. So when the Giants went up against their NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys in Week 14, OBJ imagined he was taking the battlefield for Leonidas I, unleashing these SUPER dope 300-inspired red, black and gold cleats.

8. wild-card playoff vs. green bay packers — “grab the cheese”

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In January, the Giants journeyed to the land of cheese for a wild-card matchup with the Green Bay Packers. Before the playoff game, Beckham Jr. countered Green Bay’s cheesehead fans with cheese feet. He donned a pair of yellow cleats that resembled blocks of cheese, with carefully drawn holes and images of Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Itchy the Mouse from The Simpsons. Like these two mice, OBJ was after the cheese. Too bad the Giants took that smooth L.

7. week 15 vs. detroit lions — craig sager tribute

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Craig Sager tribute cleats during the third quarter of the National Football League game between the New York Giants and the Detroit Lions on Dec. 18, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Beckham Jr. was fined only once last season for violating the NFL’s uniform and equipment policy with his flashy cleats. The penalty was issued following Week 15, when OBJ played against the Detroit Lions in a pair of multicolored, and multipatterned, cleats honoring longtime NBA broadcaster Craig Sager, who died at age 65 three days before the game. Known for his bright and brazen sideline outfits, Sager would’ve loved OBJ’s cleats, which he auctioned off following the game to benefit the Sager Strong Foundation for cancer research. Yet despite Beckham Jr.’s heartfelt gesture, the NFL still slapped him with an $18,000 fine, which didn’t sit too well with the superstar wide receiver.

Yet if you asked Beckham Jr., he’d probably tell you that, for Sager, the fine was worth every single penny.

6. WEEK 17 VS. WASHINGTON REDSKINS — KANYE WEST “GRADUATION”

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Kanye West dropped out of college and became a 21-time Grammy Award-winning musician. Beckham Jr. never graduated from college, either, deciding to forgo his senior year at LSU and enter the NFL, where he is now an All-Pro wide receiver. So the only commencement the two have in common is OBJ’s cleats he had designed after the cover of West’s 2007 album Graduation. On these kicks, the colors morph from an orangish-pink to a drank purple, and illustrations of Kanye’s signature bears are beautifully done. Hot take: Graduation is one of the best, if not the best album of West’s career. Obviously, it’s up there in the ranks for OBJ, too.

5. week 4 vs. Minnesota vikings — OVO

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s OVO custom-made cleats are seen on the field during the first half of a game against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 3, 2016, in Minneapolis.

AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King

If you didn’t know that Beckham Jr. and Drake are BFFs, you must have been living under a rock like Patrick from SpongeBob SquarePants for the past year. Last NFL offseason, Beckham Jr. house-sat the hit-making musical artist’s Calabasas, California, mansion, known as the “YOLO (You Only Live Once) estate,” while he was on tour. Drake later shouted out his bro OBJ on his October 2016 track “Fake Love” with the seminal line, Just when s— look out of reach / I reach back like one, three / Like one, three, yeah — a reference to the most revered play of the NFL wide receiver’s young career, which also happens to be arguably the best catch in league history. And even this year, Drake stopped one of his shows to get Beckham Jr., who was in the audience, to sign a fan’s jersey. Yet, before all of these epic chapters of their friendship, OBJ paid tribute to his big homie during the 2016 NFL season with these simply gorgeous October’s Very Own (OVO)-themed cleats. The sky blue base of the shoes, with softly drawn white clouds, is a subtle nod to the cover of Drake’s 2013 album Nothing Was the Same, and the perfect complement to the metallic gold illustrations of Drake’s trademark owl on the outer soles of each shoe. Man, these cleats are a truly a work of art.

4. 2017 Pro Bowl — Toy Story

OBJ definitely “gotta friend” in Troy Cole, because the artist appropriately known as Kickasso absolutely did his thing with these Toy Story-themed cleats that the wide receiver sported in January’s Pro Bowl. What a beautiful touch to dedicate one shoe solely to Sheriff Woody Pride, and the other to space ranger Buzz Lightyear. Beckham Jr. is surely ready for 2019’s Toy Story 4, and so are we.

3. WEEK 16 VS. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES — GRINCH

Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants warms up wearing Christmas cleats featuring the Grinch before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Dec. 22, 2016, in Philadelphia. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

There’s only one way to celebrate Christmas on your feet, and that’s with the Grinch. Basketball great Kobe Bryant did it with his signature Nikes in 2010, and Beckham Jr. continued the tradition in custom fashion last holiday season. The vibrant colors and details on these cleats are amazing. We wouldn’t be mad if Beckham Jr. rocked them all season long — they’re that nice to look at. Yo, OBJ, if you’re reading this, next Christmas you gotta go full Home Alone with your kicks. It’d be the perfect way to tell every D-back in the league, “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal! … and a Happy New Year.”

2. WEEK 11 VS. CHICAGO BEARS — “BACK TO THE FUTURE”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Nike Cleats with “Mattel Hover Board” and “Back to the Future” on them before a game between the New York Giants and Chicago Bears on Nov. 20, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

All three films of the Back to the Future trilogy were released before Beckham Jr. was born in 1992. But as we saw last season, OBJ is a young Marty McFly at heart. He and Kickasso put their creative minds together to give the people not one, but two pairs of Back to the Future-inspired cleats, incorporating multiple elements and moments from Back to the Future Part II, in which Marty and Doc Brown travel 30 years into the future from 1985 to 2015. Beckham Jr. wore the first pair during warm-ups before a Week 11 matchup with the Chicago Bears, which included illustrations of the Mattel hoverboard, Marty’s metallic hat and the DeLorean time machine, all featured in the film. These cleats are glorious, but Kickasso saved his best work for what OBJ wore during the game. The wide receiver took the field in a pair of remarkable silver-and-electric blue creations, designed after the self-lacing Nike Mags that debuted in the 1989 film. Nike released the shoes for the first time nearly three decades later, and again in 2016, making OBJ’s Back to the Future cleat idea timely and relevant in the world of sneakers.

1. WEEK 3 VS. WASHINGTON REDSKINS — THE Joker

OBJ has a unique obsession with The Joker, which we’ve seen translated through his on-field apparel in the past few seasons. The wide receiver first made his infatuation known during a December 2015 Monday Night Football game, when he wore cleats and gloves illustrating the comic book supervillain’s chilling face. Last season, however, he took the obsession a huge step further. Everyone knows OBJ and Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman aren’t too fond of each other. And, coincidentally, Norman’s favorite superhero is Batman, The Joker’s archnemesis. So, in all his pettiness, Beckham Jr. had two more pairs of Joker cleats made for a 2016 Week 3 matchup with Norman and the Redskins. The pregame pair featured graphic details in bold colors, from The Joker’s eyes on the tongue of each shoe and his stained teeth on each toe, to his tattoos and catchphrases such as Why So Serious?, on the inner and outer soles. The pair he wore during the game were more subtle — mostly white with speckles of lime green around the laces, and red ink circling each shoe to represent The Joker’s blood-stained smile. With 11 catches for 121 yards against Norman and the Redskins, Beckham Jr. became the fastest wide receiver in NFL history to reach 200 career receptions and 3,000 receiving yards. So, now, his in-game Joker cleats are displayed at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. You know what that means, right? OBJ has a Hall of Fame cleat game.

The most iconic sneakers from every NBA playoffs since 1997 With stakes high and games on the line, these are the shoes that got laced up, ‘flu’ or not

The NBA playoffs never disappoint — especially when it comes to kicks.

Michael Jordan, Game 6, Allen Iverson and the infamous step over, King James ascending his throne at the Palace of Auburn Hills — each one of these historic playoff moments was seized in a fresh pair of sneaks. From Air Jordans to Converse, player exclusives to limited editions and zip-ups to high-tops, every year, style and circumstance dictate which pair is crowned the freshest of all. Starting with the pinnacle Air Jordan XIIs in 1997 and ending with a heartfelt tribute on a pair of Nike Kobe A.D.s in 2017, these are the most iconic sneakers from every NBA playoffs since 1997.

Air Jordan XII ‘Flu Game’

Michael Jordan (No. 23) of the Chicago Bulls rests during Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals played against the Utah Jazz on June 11, 1997, at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

1997

No pair of sneakers on this list — or in the history of the NBA playoffs, for that matter — is more legendary than the Air Jordan XIIs that Michael Jordan wore on June 11, 1997, in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. In them, Jordan played through “flulike symptoms” (although his personal trainer revealed years later that it was food poisoning, while conspiracy theorists still believe the sickness was the result of a hangover) to put up an incredible 38 points (13-of-27 field goals, 10-of-12 free throws), seven rebounds, five assists and three steals in 44 minutes. Like the game itself, the red-and-black colorway of the Air Jordan XIIs he wore that night has since been referred to as the “Flu Game.” In 2013, the autographed game-worn shoes, which Jordan gave to a Utah Jazz ball boy after his performance, were sold at auction for $104,765. No game-worn Jordan shoes have ever been sold for more.

Air Jordan XIV ‘Last Shot’

Michael Jordan (No. 23) of the Chicago Bulls celebrates after a play against the Utah Jazz in Game 3 of the 1998 NBA Finals at the United Center on June 5, 1998, in Chicago.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

1998

Psycho: I’m liable to go Michael, take your pick / Jackson, Tyson, Jordan, Game 6, raps Jay Z on the 2011 hit “N—-s in Paris.” Jay references Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz, which produced one of the greatest shots of Michael Jordan’s career: a 20-foot jumper over Bryon Russell with 5.2 seconds left that ultimately won the game and a sixth championship for Jordan and the Bulls. The sneaker Jordan wore in this moment was dubbed the Air Jordan XIV “Last Shot” because in January 1999 he announced his second retirement from the NBA, making the jumper not only his last shot in Game 6 but also the last shot of his career — at least at the time. Jordan returned to the NBA in 2001 to play for the Washington Wizards for two seasons, so the XIVs now commemorate the “last shot” Jordan took as a Chicago Bull.

Nike Air Flightposite ‘The Future’ PE

Kevin Garnett(R) of the Minnesota Timberwolves shoots over San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan(L) for two of his 23 points during second half action at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas 11 May 1999.

PAUL BUCK/AFP/Getty Images

1999

For the 1999 playoffs, Nike blessed a then-22-year-old Kevin Garnett with Nike Air Flightposite player exclusives (PEs) for the first round, which saw Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves face Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. These rare black-and-white PEs are glorious — with Garnett’s initials on the tongue of each zip-up shoe and the words “The Future” on each heel tab. The Spurs beat the Timberwolves, 3-1, in a best-of-five series, but Garnett won the sneaker battle against his then-fellow Nike-endorsed athlete (and career-long foe) Duncan, who sported the Nike Air Vis Zoom Uptempo. Duncan did win the 1999 NBA championship in his shoes, though.

Adidas The Kobe

Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers holds his injured ankle after becoming tangled up with Jalen Rose of the Indiana Pacers, June 9, 2000, during the first half of Game 2 of the NBA Finals at Staples Centers in Los Angeles.

HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images

2000

Before he was one of the faces of Nike, Kobe Bryant was endorsed by Adidas, signed by the company out of high school in 1996, when he was drafted. Bryant appeared in his first NBA Finals in 2000, when the Los Angeles Lakers faced the Indiana Pacers, and during the series he wore his third signature sneaker, the Adidas The Kobe. Perhaps the most memorable image of the shoe is that of Bryant lying on the Staples Center hardwood, writhing in pain as he clutches his foot. In the second quarter of Game 2, Bryant suffered a left ankle sprain after he went up for a jumper and his defender, Jalen Rose, landed on it. The injury forced Bryant to miss Game 3, although he returned for the remainder of the series to help lead the Lakers to the first of three straight championships. The sprain didn’t necessarily mean the shoe lacked ankle support — because Rose eventually admitted to purposely injuring Bryant.

Reebok Answer IV

Allen Iverson (No. 3) of the Philadelphia 76ers during the 2001 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

2001

No one had a better view of the kicks Allen Iverson wore in the 2001 NBA Finals than Tyronn Lue. With less than a minute left in overtime of Game 1 between the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers, Iverson translated his trademark crossover into a fadeaway jumper to seal the game. While contesting the shot, Lue fell to the ground and Iverson punctuated the swish (two of his 48 points on the night) by stepping over Lue in slow motion and planting both of his signature Reebok Answer IVs firmly on the floor. Everyone remembers Iverson’s “step over” — and the shoes he was wearing when he did it.

Nike Flightposite III

Antonio Daniels (No. 33) of the San Antonio Spurs goes up for a shot during Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals during the 2002 NBA Playoffs against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Alamodome in San Antonio on May 10, 2002.

D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images

2002

T.I. once said, “You ain’t gotta be a dope boy to have money.” In a similar regard, you ain’t gotta be a superstar to have some dope kicks. During the 2002 postseason, Antonio Daniels was far from a superstar, coming off the bench in all 10 of the San Antonio Spurs’ playoff games. But, boy, were his shoes sweet. Daniels rocked the Nike Air Flightposite IIIs in a white-and-black colorway that is virtually impossible to find on the resale market nowadays — even on eBay. Here’s to hoping A.D. still has a pair.

Air Jordan XVIII

Richard Hamilton (No. 32) of the Detroit Pistons played against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2003 NBA playoffs at The Palace of Auburn Hills on May 6, 2003, in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images

2003

On April 16, 2003, Michael Jordan played in the final game of his NBA career while wearing the white, royal blue and metallic silver colorway of his Air Jordan XVIIIs. Unfortunately for Jordan, with his Washington Wizards missing out on the playoffs, the shoes didn’t make it past the regular season — at least on his feet. Dallas Mavericks swingman Michael Finley and Detroit Pistons shooting guard Richard “Rip” Hamilton both swagged the XVIIIs during the 2003 postseason. For Hamilton, a former teammate of Jordan’s in Washington, it was a long time coming. The greatest of all time once told Rip that he wasn’t good enough to wear Jordans.

Nike Air Zoom Huarache 2K4

Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the 2004 NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons at Staples Center on June 6, 2004, in Los Angeles.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

2004

After six years with Adidas and a year as a sneaker free agent, Bryant inked an endorsement deal with Nike in the summer of 2003. But not until 2005 would Bryant get his signature sneaker, so Nike tided him over with the Nike Air Zoom Huarache 2K4s. In the 2004 All-Star Game, Bryant wore the sneakers in red, white and blue. During the regular season, his Huaraches matched his Lakers uniform in either white, purple and gold, or black, purple and gold, depending on whether the team was home or away. The 2004 Finals brought a battle of the Huaraches, with Bryant in his Lakers colorways and Detroit Pistons guard Lindsey Hunter in the All-Star colorway. Hunter beat Bryant in his own shoes, with the Pistons winning the series, 4-1.

Air Jordan XX PE

Ray Allen of the Seattle SuperSonics in Game 1 against the Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference quarterfinals during the 2005 NBA playoffs at Key Arena on April 23, 2005, in Seattle.

Jeff Reinking/NBAE via Getty Images

2005

Ray Allen has been Team Jordan since day one. When Nike first announced the launch of Jordan Brand on Sept. 9, 1997, Allen’s name was listed in the press release among the original group of NBA players endorsed by the future multibillion-dollar sub-brand of Nike. Because Allen is an Air Jordan O.G., the player exclusive sneakers he received in 18 NBA seasons are next to none. The best in his PE collection? The Air Jordan XXs that he wore in multiple variations of his green, gold and white Seattle SuperSonics colors during the 2005 playoffs. How Allen pieced together the best postseason of his career (26.5 points per game) in a shoe with a flimsy ankle strap is beyond even the basketball gods.

Converse Wade 1 Playoff Edition

Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat elevates for a dunk against the Dallas Mavericks during Game 2 of the 2006 NBA Finals played June 11, 2006, at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

2006

When’s the last time a player dominated an NBA Finals in a pair of Converse? Surely in the 1980s, during the Magic Johnson and Larry Bird era … right? Nah. In the 2006 NBA Finals, a young Dwyane Wade threw it back to the good ol’ days, wearing his two-tone Converse Wade 1 Playoff Edition sneakers all the way to hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the Miami Heat. Wade was the best player in the series against the Dallas Mavericks, averaging 34.7 points in six games to earn the honor of Finals MVP. Since 2012, Wade has been endorsed by the Chinese company Li-Ning, after also spending a few years with Jordan Brand. But the first sneaker deal he signed as a rookie was with Converse.

Nike Zoom Soldier 1 ‘Witness’ PE

The new Zoom Soldier sneakers of LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of the 2007 NBA Finals at the Quicken Loans Arena on June 14, 2007, in Cleveland.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

2007

It was hard not to marvel at the sight of LeBron James in the 2007 playoffs — especially in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Detroit Pistons, when he dropped a whopping 48 points, including the final 25 of the night for the Cleveland Cavaliers in a double-overtime win. Two games later, we saw James lead the Cavs to the NBA Finals at the youthful age of 22, which Nike celebrated with the “We are all witnesses” marketing campaign in anticipation of James winning his first championship. The company’s special gift to The King was two player exclusive editions of his Nike Zoom Soldier 1 (one pair in white, wine and gold for home games, and the other in navy, white and gold for the road) which featured the motto “Witness” on the outer sole of each shoe. The San Antonio Spurs swept the Cavs, 4-0, to end James’ magical 2007 playoff run.

Adidas Team Signature KG Commander Limited Edition

Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics wears a pair of unique Adidas sneakers in honor of the 2008 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers on June 17, 2008, at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

2008

When Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett were traded to the Boston Celtics in the summer of 2007 to join forces with Celtics stalwart Paul Pierce, it wasn’t a question of if, but rather when the “Big Three” would bring an NBA championship back to Boston for the first time since 1986. The Celtics wasted no time. In the first season of the Big Three era, Boston won the title in a throwback series against the Los Angeles Lakers. During the 2008 Finals, Garnett wore the limited edition Adidas Team Signature KG Commanders, which commemorated Boston’s run to the title and Garnett’s first Finals appearance with his face on each shoe’s outer sole and an illustration of the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the inner soles. Adidas released only 48 pairs of the shoe (eight for each of the series’ six games), sold at retail for $1,017 each. All profits were presented to the NBA Cares community partners in the Boston area. In his first season in Boston, Garnett gave back in more ways than one.

Nike Zoom Kobe IV ‘61 Points’

A view of Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant’s shoes during Game 1 of the 2009 NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic at Staples Center on June 4, 2009, in Los Angeles.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

2009

On Feb. 2, 2009, Kobe Bryant went into Madison Square Garden and put up a monstrous 61 points against the New York Knicks. Four months later, when the Los Angeles Lakers advanced to the NBA Finals to face the Orlando Magic, Bryant came out in the special edition Nike Zoom IV “61 Points” in both home and away colorways, which paid tribute to his historic scoring night at MSG and the Lakers’ run to the Finals with a Sharpie scribble-style design. Like he did to the Knicks in February, all Bryant did was score against the Magic in June, averaging 32.4 points in L.A.’s 4-1 series win. After the Finals, Nike rolled out an updated version of the shoes, the Nike Zoom IV “Finals Away,” featuring the letters “MVP” on the tongue of each shoe — a nod to Bryant being named the 2009 Finals’ most valuable.

Nike Air Force One High PE

A detail of sneakers worn by Rasheed Wallace of the Boston Celtics against the Orlando Magic in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA playoffs at Amway Arena on May 26, 2010, in Orlando, Florida.

Doug Benc/Getty Images

2010

Rasheed Wallace had the swaggiest sneaks in the 2010 Finals — fact. Playing for the Boston Celtics in his second-to-last season in the NBA, Wallace balled against the Los Angeles Lakers in some green patent leather high-top Nike Air Force One PEs. He’d begin games with the shoes strapped up tight, but as the night went on he’d let that ankle strap hang like he was on the blacktop. In Wallace’s 15 NBA seasons, Air Force Ones were his staple, so Nike gave him a stockpile of PEs, which featured a silhouette of him shooting a fadeaway jumper.

Adidas adiZero Rose 1.5

Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls walks towards the bench against the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA layoffs on May 26, 2011, at the United Center in Chicago.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

2011

It’s easy to forget that Derrick Rose was once the best player in the NBA. Every now and then he’ll show flashes of his healthy past, but it’s hard to imagine that he’ll ever match the version of himself that was so fun to watch during his NBA MVP-winning 2010-11 season. That year, the Chicago Bulls earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference over a Miami Heat team led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Playing in his signature Adidas adiZero Rose 1.5s, Rose averaged 27.1 points and 7.7 assists in the playoffs, taking the Bulls to the Eastern Conference finals, though the Heat claimed the series over Chicago, 4-1. Based on Rose’s numbers and durability (he played 97 games during the 2010-11 season), the adiZero Rose 1.5s appeared at the time to be the best-performing basketball shoes Adidas had ever released. Now they’re yet another relic from his now unbelievable season.

Nike LeBron 9 Elite ‘Home’

LeBron James of the Miami Heat wears Nike sneakers while playing against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4 of the 2012 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena on June 19, 2012, in Miami.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

2012

In 2007, he couldn’t get it done in the Nike Zoom Soldier 1s. Four years later, he fell short in the Nike LeBron 8s. But finally in 2012, LeBron James won his first NBA championship. And when James hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy after defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games, he was wearing the white, black and gold-accented Nike LeBron 9 Elite “Home.” Like Michael Jordan winning his first title in the Air Jordan XIs and Kobe Bryant winning his first in the Adidas The Kobes, the Nike LeBron 9 Elites will forever be connected to The King’s championship legacy.

Air Jordan XX8 PE

The sneakers of Ray Allen of the Miami Heat during Game 3 of the 2013 NBA Finals on June 11, 2013, at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

2013

If the Air Jordan XXs that Ray Allen wore in the 2005 playoffs are his best PEs, the line of Air Jordan XX8 PEs he wore in 2013 playoffs are a close second. Allen certainly had a bigger moment in the XX8s — arguably the biggest shot of his career. In the waning moments of Game 6 of the 2013 Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, Allen scurried back across the 3-point line and hit a heroic game-tying deep ball with 5.2 seconds left. Allen and the Heat stole Game 6 and beat the Spurs in Game 7 to win the title. Weighing in at just 13.5 ounces, the XX8s are the lightest Jordans ever made. So who knows, if Allen had been wearing a different (and heavier) sneaker in that moment, maybe he wouldn’t have made it back across the line. Maybe the Spurs would’ve won in 2013?

Nike LeBron 11 PE

Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs showcases his sneakers against the Oklahoma City Thunder during Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals during the 2014 NBA playoffs on May 19, 2014, at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

2014

It must have been humbling for LeBron James to see his opponent, Manu Ginobili, come out in Game 1 of the 2014 Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs in a pair of Nike LeBron 11 PEs. Then James must’ve felt some type of way four games later when Ginobili was celebrating his fourth NBA championship in the 11s. Yes, Ginobili beat James in his own shoes. Savage.

Nike LeBron 12 Elite PE

A detail of the shoes of LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the third quarter during Game 6 of the 2015 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 2015, in Cleveland.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

2015

One of the most disrespectful things in the game of basketball is LeBron James being denied the Finals MVP award in 2015. It went to Golden State’s Andre Iguodala as James lost in his first year back with the Cleveland Cavaliers. But James absolutely dominated the series, averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists a game. He also was a sneaker showman in the series, wearing seven different pairs of Nike LeBron 12 Elite PEs in six games (he swapped shoes during Game 3). We can only imagine what he would’ve whipped out had the series gone to a Game 7.

Under Armour Curry 2 Low ‘Chef’

A view of the sneakers of Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors during practice and media availability as part of the 2016 NBA Finals on June 12, 2016, at Oakland Convention Center in Oakland, California.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

2016

At the beginning of the 2016 Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry’s signature Under Armour Curry 2 Low “Chef” sneakers were released. And when Twitter got a hold of a picture of the low-cut, plain-Jane white shoes, the roasting began, with people calling them everything from the “Let Me Speak to Your Manager 5s,” to the “Life Alert 3s,” and the “Yes, Officer, I Saw Everything 7s.” Curry pettily clapped back at the haters when he wore the shoes to practice after a win over the Cavs in Game 4. He reportedly wanted to play in them in Game 4, but Warriors general manager Bob Myers and his agent, Jeff Austin, talked him out of it given his history of ankle injuries. Maybe if Curry would’ve worn the Chefs in the series the Warriors wouldn’t have blown a 3-1 … never mind.

Nike Kobe A.D. PE

Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics ties his shoes, with messages dedicated to his late sister Chyna Thomas, who was killed in a car accident April 15 during the first quarter of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Chicago Bulls at TD Garden on April 16 in Boston.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

2017

It only took one game for the most important sneakers of the 2017 playoffs to be determined. A day after his 22-year-old sister, Chyna, was killed in a car accident in their home state of Washington, Boston Celtics star Isaiah Thomas played in Game 1 of a first-round series against the Chicago Bulls in a pair of Nike Kobe A.D.s PEs that he customized by writing the words “CHYNA I Love You,” “CHYNA R.I.P. Lil Sis” and “4-15-17,” the date she died, on them. The sneaker tribute could not have been a better way to remember his late sister on the court.

Being a black Power Ranger New actor RJ Cyler joins the elite and small club of black superheroes

RJ Cyler is the new Blue Power Ranger. Not the Black one.

Well, he is the black one. But his costume is blue.

He was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. “Duval County,” Cyler said emphatically of the big port city. He spent most of his adolescence dancing, skating and playing a lot of video games. A DJ since he was 16, Cyler also played drums for and sang in his church choir. Though he admitted he can’t sing all that well. “I think,” he said, “they were only doing it because they felt like that was the Christian thing to do.” He also grew up watching Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, favoring the Red and the Blue Rangers because those were his favorite colors. “I’m not,” said Cyler, “a confused gang member or nothing like that.”

What is he? A part of a growing list of young black male actors breaking out in Hollywood — John Boyega (Star Wars), Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), Corey Hawkins (24: Legacy) and Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta). He also joins the ranks of Michael B. Jordan, Chadwick Boseman and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as blacks starring in big-budget superhero franchises that gross billions of dollars.

For Cyler, that’s Power Rangers (Lionsgate), a 21st-century reimagining of the original series that debuted on Fox Children’s Network in 1993 and aired each weekday afternoon and on Saturday mornings. The show’s initial characters, Zack, the Black Ranger; Billy, the Blue Ranger; Trini, the Yellow Ranger; Kimberly, the Pink Ranger; and Jason, the Red Ranger, will all be returning.

Last Halloween, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving dressed up as a milly-rocking Red Ranger.

During the height of the show’s popularity, if any of those original five cast members even went out in public for dinner, dozens of fans would line up for an autograph, sometimes ignoring other arguably more famous stars at the same restaurant. The Power Rangers would regularly outdraw Santa Claus at shopping malls. The Los Angeles Times once referred to Rangers mania as “the pre-adolescents’ equivalent of the Beatles.”

That impact lives on: Lil Wayne named a track from his 2012 mixtape Dedication 4, “Green Ranger,” referring to the show’s most popular character. Professional wrestler Austin Watson, who performs in WWE as Xavier Woods, has long incorporated Power Rangers into his character, even starring as the Black Ranger in a fan fiction YouTube series.

Last Halloween, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving dressed up as a milly-rocking Red Ranger. And in 2015, famed film director Joseph Kahn released a critically acclaimed fan film that envisioned the Power Rangers as dark, brooding mercenaries, a la Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. There’s also the someone’s-drunk-uncle-on-the-highway Blue Ranger who took over the internet last year.

When they’ve met the Power Rangers, even grown men have cried.


Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was created in 1993 by former music producer Haim Saban. The Godzilla-like, low-budget series about five teenagers being given intergalactic and prehistoric superpowers quickly became one of the most successful children’s television shows of the 1990s. Saban, who also produced the highly successful animated X-Men series, had his Power Rangers idea rejected by almost every major network before Fox greenlit the show in the summer of 1993.

The cast from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (from left to right): Amy Jo Johnson, Thuy Trang, Austin St. John, Walter Jones and David Yost.

Alamy

Then-Fox Children’s Network president Margaret Loesch, who was responsible for putting the show on the network, was told by the head of Fox Broadcasting to shelve the project before it even aired because it would be a “disaster.” But within months of the show’s September 1993 premiere, it was the highest-rated children’s show in America.

The most recent season of Power Rangers averages a respectable 1.5 million viewers a week, but during its first and second seasons, the show averaged 4.8 million and 6.9 million viewers a day, respectively. During its peak, five martial-arts-practicing teenagers were regularly battling the likes of Jerry Springer, Ricki Lake and Maury Povich. And at one point, Power Rangers was drawing more TV households than Oprah Winfrey. With a mixture of cartoonlike explosions and monsters, plus teenage superheroes whom the targeted audience could relate to and aspire to be, Power Rangers unearthed the secret formula to capturing the attention of candy-riddled children.

While the show’s strongest viewership was among boys age 8-11 racing home from school to watch each episode, it was No. 1 among 2- to 11-year-olds, scoring a whopping 40 share within a month of its premiere episode. Alongside Bobby’s World, Tiny Toon Adventures, X-Men, Batman: The Animated Series and Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?, Power Rangers made the now-defunct Fox Kids the most-watched channel for children’s programming in the early 1990s. A children’s research executive estimated at the time that 26 million kids were watching Fox programming in 1994, not including the millions of children watching across 40-plus other countries.

The show spawned two movies — 1995’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie and 1997’s Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie. They grossed more than $70 million combined. And according to the Los Angeles Times, 1 million videocassettes of the series were sold over a two-week span in December 1993. Power Rangers was the No. 1 boys brand in the world from 1993-97, responsible for more than $5 billion in product sales for Saban and his production company. Saban Entertainment made an estimated $1 billion in U.S. sales based off Rangers paraphernalia within its first 15 months alone, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Fox executives estimated that the total rose to $2 billion when including worldwide sales.


Tall, wiry and as baby-faced as a high school freshman, Cyler, 22, has played a teenager on numerous occasions, including in the new Power Rangers. An admitted “weirdo” who will rock a bucket hat and taco-adorned dress shirt one day and a gold grill and tie-dye T-shirt the next, he’s also a fan of Star Wars, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead, and considers the Isley Brothers his favorite musical act of all time.

Growing up, he was the water boy for his middle school’s basketball team. “It was because,” he said, “I wasn’t good enough to be on the basketball team.” At Jacksonville’s Englewood High School (which boasts such distinguished alumni as the Washington Nationals’ Daniel Murphy and Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst), he was named sophomore class president. “I was definitely Theater-Band Geek/Straight-Up Boss Subgroup C [in high school],” he told the Chicago Tribune in 2015.

“At one point, Power Rangers was drawing more TV households than Oprah Winfrey.”

Cyler knew he wanted to be an actor at 16. “I used to watch the Disney Channel,” he said, “like it was a drug.” He needed to be in a career that allowed him to express his creativity, and when he heard a commercial about an acting camp in Los Angeles, he went, excelled, and the next thing he knew he had a one-way ticket out of Jacksonville, which he compared to a war battlefield. “If I wouldn’t have moved out of Jacksonville when I did, nine times out of 10 I would be in jail or dead, and that’s not just being a stereotypical thing, it’s just in my city, it’s not a place where you can just be like, ‘Oh, yeah, do this, do that.’ No, people die in my city every single day.”

In 2013, the family totally committed to his dream when his parents cashed in their retirement savings so the then-17-year-old and his mom could move to Los Angeles. After about a year of just him and his mother Katina living on the West Coast, Cyler’s “papa,” Ronald, sold the family’s home in Jacksonville and drove to California to join them. But shortly after Ronald arrived, life, said Cyler, “kicked me in my nuts.” For three months, the family was homeless. They lived out of their Toyota Highlander and at a Motel 6. The family’s faith kept them whole. “If God brought us to this place, [there was] a reason for it, so we can’t question that,” said Cyler. “We just got to remember that we gon’ make it through.”

The family got back on its feet after Cyler nabbed a role in the award-winning indie teen drama, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl. “I lost my mind,” said Cyler said about booking the movie. “I just screamed … at the end of the day, God is too damn good.”

RJ Cyler attends a fan event at Y100 on March 6 in Miramar, Florida.

Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for Saban's Power Rangers

Which makes Cyler a busy man these days. HBO’s raunchy comedy Vice Principals premiered last summer, and the second and final season is set to air this year. In it, he plays the foul-mouthed teenage son of no-nonsense character Dr. Belinda Brown. The series premiere of the Jim Carrey-produced Showtime sitcom I’m Dying Up Here debuts in June — Cyler co-stars. And he will star alongside Brad Pitt in Netflix’s Afghanistan war satire War Machine in May. In December 2016, it was reported that Cyler will star in a “modern retelling” of Cyrano de Bergerac called Sierra Burgess Is A Loser.

That busy schedule leaves no time even for a girlfriend. “Oh, hell, no. My last — oh, Jesus Christ! My last relationship showed me why I just need to chill.” Although, now that he is more visible than ever, he has a twinkle in his eye for singer and former Disney star Zendaya. “Ever since she’s been on TV, she’s always had a really cool, cute vibe. And now that she’s growing up, she’s just bossy lady-ing it up. That vibe is like 10 times worse, and I’m like, ‘Yassssss, queen, yasssss.’ ” Zendaya, though, can’t hold a candle to actress and country music star Reba McEntire. “Reba is one fine country woman to me.”

Cyler, like many, was excited to hear about Power Rangers coming back to theaters, and about a year after the studio’s announcement, he was asked to audition. In the middle of filming War Machine, Cyler sent in his audition tape. He was soon offered the part by director Dean Israelite. “I lost my mind,” said Cyler. “I was like, ‘Hell, yeah! I’m in.’ ”


In the nearly 25-year history of Power Rangers, there have been more than 100 actors and actresses who’ve donned the show’s patented multicolored spandex suits and helmets. Of that total, 16 are black, though there was no shortage of representation on-screen. David Yost, who starred on the series from 1993-96, came out as gay in 2010. And one of the biggest headlines to emerge in the run-up to the new film is that there’s a gay character in Power Rangers: “the first big-budget superhero movie to feature an LGBT protagonist.” From the show’s inception there was a concerted effort “to avoid racial and sexual stereotyping,” Loesch, the former Fox executive, told the Los Angeles Times in 1993. (An African-American playing the Black Ranger and a Vietnamese-American playing the Yellow Ranger on the original show, though, was a coincidence.) “For a change, female characters are as vital as the males. They’re superheroes, and little girls don’t have that too often,” Loesch added.

The women performed their own stunts and went toe-to-toe with their male counterparts, leading to young girls to make up more than 40 percent of the show’s audience after its first season. The TV show appealed to a diverse audience, and dodging stereotypes in the new film, Ludi Lin, who is Asian, is a shirtless male hunk who also raps. “The fact that it was a diverse cast,” said Walter Jones, the original Black Ranger, Zack Taylor, “it gave everybody a possibility of being that hero.”

Per Adilifu Nama’s 2011 Super Black American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes, other than Eartha Kitt as Catwoman in the Batman television series (1967), Avery Brooks in A Man Called Hawk (1989) and Carl Lumbly in M.A.N.T.I.S. (1994-95), there was little to no representation of African-Americans as superheroic. While the 1990s was a golden age of black television — The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Martin and Living Single, and more — it did lack black characters, such as a Superman or Batman, saving the world. Black comic book heroes such as Luke Cage, Falcon and Green Lantern premiered in the 1960s and 1970s, but the Black Ranger, as a part of the culture-defining television series, became the default hero for black kids growing up in the 1990s.

From left to right: Roger Velasco, Catherine Sutherland, Selwyn Ward, Tracy Lynn Cruz and Blake Foster from Power Rangers Turbo.

Alamy

Blacks have donned every costume color on the show. In 2015, then-21-year-old Camille Hyde became the first black actress to play the Pink Ranger. Every season has a character who plays the leader role — normally the Red Ranger — and black characters have held that position three times — Jessica Jones and Empire actor Eka Darville starred as the Red Ranger in 2009. Though none has been a black woman.


Walter Emanuel Jones heard about an audition for a new kids superhero show between auditions for Star Search. Jones was trying to break into show business as an actor, singer and dancer, and Saban Entertainment was looking for a suave, hip individual who could do two of the three for its upcoming children’s show. For the Detroit native, this was an opportunity to showcase his various talents, overcome a rough childhood in the Motor City, and play a black crime fighter. Jones, a former college roommate of Jamie Foxx, beat out thousands of others to play Zack Taylor on the first season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

With his signature hairstyles — the hi-top fade, and later on, twists — as well as smooth dance moves and unmitigated swagger (he once dapped up the show’s robotic sidekick, Alpha 5), Jones embodied early-’90s hip-hop music, style and fashion. He even created his own form of martial arts called Hip Hop Kido — the only character in the history of the show to do so — which mixed b-boy breakdancing and Jackie Chan-inspired tae kwon do.

“It’s literally a kids movie, it’s a show. Shut up. God, Everything isn’t about race.”

Jones, when he went home to Detroit, saw firsthand the effect his casting had on little boys and girls across the country. “Listen, I grew up here,” he would tell students at his former schools. “I grew up in a single-family household with a mom who couldn’t always pay the bills … I didn’t know what my direction was going to be right away, but I found an opportunity and I took advantage of it, and I’m able to succeed. If I can do it, you can do it.”

He remembers one incident during the show’s pilot episode in which he was told to constantly say, in a stereotypical fashion,“What’s up?” when entering a scene. “They wanted me to say [it] like 25 times: What’s up, what’s up … whazzup, whazzup, what’s up, what’s up. This whole crazy thing, and I was like, ‘Can I not say what’s up that many times? It’s a bit excessive.’ ”

Actor Walter Jones attends the Third Annual Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo held at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Nov. 1, 2014, in Los Angeles.

Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

Jones left the show at the height of its popularity in November 1994 over contractual issues, but unlike most former Power Rangers actors, he has carved out a nearly 30-year career, working as both a film and voice actor. “I’m proof that kids from underprivileged areas have what it takes to achieve whatever they want,” Jones told PR Newswire in 1994. “If they put their minds to it.”

The 16 actors who’ve taken on these roles — not including two who had recurring roles during seasons two and three — have unfairly been tasked with representing the millions of young black kids who’ve watched Power Rangers over the past two decades. Some readily accept that duty, recognizing the importance of black faces on television, while others are more colorblind, focusing on the broader impact the show has had on all young children.

John Mark Loudermilk, who was a part of the 2013-14 “Megaforce” seasons, and identifies as “Hispanic plus white slash half black,” was the franchise’s most recent black male character. As a child he gravitated to the Black Ranger, and once on the show, referred to himself as the “brown Billy,” in reference to the original white character. The 25-year-old, who was adopted by white parents when he was 2 weeks old, has never paid much to attention race. “Being the token brown guy, if you will, I never really thought about that,” said Loudermilk. “I don’t really look at people as a color. I see people for who they are in their heart.”

Keith Robinson, who appeared on the show in 2000 as part of “Lightspeed Rescue,” didn’t watch the show as a teenager, but once he moved to Los Angeles, he took an acting class and the first role he read for was one on Power Rangers. He played comic relief Joel Rawlings, who also happened to be a cowboy. “It was unique that they did make him a black cowboy,” he said. “Which was [something] you … see hardly ever on TV.”

Robinson, who’s since appeared in 2006’s Dreamgirls and 2007’s This Christmas, filled a void simply by existing. Representation, he realized, matters, even on a campy show about fighting poorly contrived monsters like the Pineoctopus. “You see a lot of young black boys who say, ‘Hey, there’s somebody who looks like me. I can be a superhero. and be positive.’ ”

Karan Ashley was the first black woman to play a Power Ranger, appearing in seasons 2 and 3 as Yellow Ranger Aisha Campbell. She also starred in the franchise’s first feature-length film, 1995’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie. Ashley was once in the all-girl singing group Krush, who appeared on the soundtrack for 1992’s Mo’ Money. She’s also had guest roles on Kenan and Kel, The Steve Harvey Show and One on One.

The stars of The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images

“I loved my character, obviously. I was the Black girl,” Ashley told the Los Angeles Sentinel in 2015. “They let me get braids — they let me be the Black girl. For me, it was such an important thing to be a positive role model for young Black girls because I felt like we had never had that on TV, especially that young.”

Nakia Burrise replaced Ashley in 1996 to become the show’s second black female character, spending two seasons playing Tanya Sloan, the Yellow Ranger. Like Ashley, Burrise also starred in a movie — 1997’s Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie.

The California native studied theater at UCLA, alongside former Grey’s Anatomy actor Cress Williams, and was cast in the fourth season of Power Rangers during her junior year. After leaving the show in 1997, Burrise has since appeared on Smart Guy, Moesha and various television commercials.

And she, too, directly saw the impact of her face being transmitted to millions of little black kids every day. “Power Rangers gave children and adults alike the feeling that you can do anything. ‘Oh, my gosh, I see someone on television that looks just like me and is saving the world.’ It gave them the opportunity to look up to someone.” Aside from representation for African-Americans, Burrise said, the show was also meaningful for the millions of impressionable youths tuning in as well. “There were a lot of elements to the show that really helped with bullying, self-image, making right choices in life,” she said.

“People come up to [me] all the time,” said Burrisse, “and tell me how Power Rangers or my character saved their life.”


The character Billy Cranston was the nerdy, awkward outcast of show who was always picked on by bullies, and was normally the butt of everyone’s jokes. Unlike the other well-trained members of the Power Rangers group, Billy didn’t originally know any martial arts, and was less undaunted when it came to facing raspy-voiced antagonist Rita Repulsa and her gang of Putty Patrollers. Despite those limitations, Billy was the most intelligent citizen of fictitious Angel Grove, California, most notably creating the group’s wrist communicators — the precursor to wearable technology like the Apple Watch.

Yost was nowhere near as intelligent as his character. “The writers would write these ridiculous lines with all these big words, and I had no idea what my character was saying, so I’d have to go into my dressing room and break out the dictionary.” And, as is the case for many bespectacled youths navigating adolescence, no child wanted to be the Blue Ranger. “Sorry, but our 8-year-old a—s really weren’t down with the one mega geek on the squad,” Black Nerd Problems’ Ja-Quan Greene wrote last year. But that all may change with a black man taking over.

“I used to watch the Disney Channel,” RJ Tyler said, “like it was a drug.”

Like Jones before him, Cyler brings a coolness to his character that was perhaps absent with Yost. The new Billy has traits of the old — dresses like a high school science teacher, gets picked on a lot — but he also brings in bits of Cyler. From his deadpan humor (“That’s a strong a– hologram”) to his facial reactions, all the way to his fresh shape-up, Cyler could make kids want to be the black Power Ranger, even while wearing blue. “I think he’s going to be a little bit more humorous than my Billy was, maybe,” Yost joked. The character is also on the spectrum in the new movie.

But for Cyler, color — whether referring to race or the hue of his costume — never crossed his mind when considering the movie. Heading into the audition process, he knew would be reading for the part of the Blue Ranger, believing that Billy’s persona — quirky and geeky — matched up perfectly with his. “This just sounds like me when I was 13.”

From left: Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Dacre Montgomery, Ludi Lin and Becky G in a scene from Power Rangers.

Kimberly French/Lionsgate via AP

During casting, there were no ethnicities designated for any of the starring roles, so he wasn’t limited to just going out for the Black Ranger because of who played the part almost 25 years ago. “Power Rangers had no business being something that was looked at as, ‘Oh, they’re doing this for racial reasons.’ It’s literally a kids movie, it’s a show. Shut up. God, Everything isn’t about race,” he said. “It’s just annoying when people read into stuff too much. It’s just like, ‘Oh, crap, there’s no way in hell that the black dude could be the smart dude?’ You guys are serious right now? It’s the dumbest s— I’ve ever heard of.”

Ever since nabbing the part, Cyler has been asked by just about everyone why he isn’t playing the Black Ranger. For those who grew up on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, nostalgia won’t allow them to accept a Zack who isn’t black, a Kimberly who isn’t a Valley Girl in distress or a Billy without blond hair and glasses. As much as the world evolves and demographics change and societal norms are broken, humans are still creatures of the past, comfortable only when things stay the same. But for Cyler, the young man who broke into Hollywood just two years ago, and whose future is as bright as the metallic armor he wears, the answer is rather simple for him.

“Bro … I’m a Power Ranger, period.”

Behind the design of Spike Lee’s custom anti-Trump Air Jordan 1s The legendary sneakerhead commissioned Brooklyn muralist Danielle Mastrion

From the pair of Air Jordans Michael Vick wore in games on turf during a Pro Bowl season, to LeBron James’ first signature Nike sneaker, which eventually led to a billion-dollar endorsement deal and retro release, to Tinker Hatfield’s vision to design a sneaker based upon Michael Jordan’s catlike persona — every shoe has a story that deserves to be told. In an effort to ensure that these sneaker tales live on, The Undefeated presents a recurring series, “Sneaker Stories,” which begins with the story of a pair of shoes filmmaker, actor and sneakerhead Spike Lee had customized as a representation of his protest of President Donald Trump. On Lee’s 60th birthday, we tell this story through the artist behind the sneakers, Brooklyn’s own Danielle Mastrion aka @daniellebknyc.


“He went to the same high school that my mom went to,” answers Danielle Mastrion.

The question? What was it like, you know, meeting Spike Lee? For many people, this fun fact would be a footnote. An interesting tidbit, but nothing too special, right? Not for Mastrion, 34, who’s always felt a special connection to legendary filmmaker and actor Lee,who celebrates his 60th birthday today. In Mastrion’s mind, the two are kindred creative spirits for the simple fact that Brooklyn, New York — the place reflected in much of their work — is for both of them, home.

“I’m a native New Yorker, but I’m a Brooklyn girl, through and through,” said Mastrion, a muralist and painter, “and there’s a lot of Brooklyn love that comes with growing up watching Spike Lee movies. I always felt that he really represented, and captured the borough. He’s always been a huge creative influence — besides being an incredible storyteller and producer. I felt like I was meeting one of my lifelong idols.”

So, how did Mastrion, after years of living and working in Brooklyn, finally get to meet one of the borough’s most beloved sons? Their artistic genius crossed paths in February when she customized five pairs of Air Jordans for Lee, whose character Mars Blackmon from his 1986 debut feature She’s Gotta Have It became Michael Jordan’s quirky companion in one of the most popular ad campaigns in sneaker history. (In 2006, Lee received his own line of “Spiz’ike” Air Jordans.)

Lee wanted the shoes to reflect his protest of Trump. He wanted the words “Repel Agent Orange” and “Resist” on them.

The first four pairs Mastrion designed for Lee weren’t for the man himself. As filming for his upcoming Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It, which is based upon the film, drew to a close, Lee wanted a unique way to show his appreciation to the four main characters of the series. He wanted to gift each actor a pair of sneakers. But not just any sneakers.

So, Lee commissioned one of the show’s writers, Lemon Andersen, with the job of finding an artist capable of customizing sneakers up to his standards of dopeness. Andersen deferred to New York artist AVone, aka Anthony Vasquez, who recommended Mastrion. Andersen scheduled a time for her to pick up four pairs of “White Cement” Retro Air Jordan IVs, which Lee wanted completed ASAP. So, time was time ticking for Mastrion. She had 24 hours.

“I think it was a last-minute idea, so I had to move quickly,” said Mastrion, who customized her first pair of sneakers several years ago in a live-painting sneaker competition at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, which she won. Since then, she’d occasionally done customs through private commissions, but not for anyone quite as famous as Lee.

“They asked me to custom-paint each sneaker with the characters’ names and the She’s Gotta Have It logo. My idea for them was to kind of go back to the late ’80s, early ’90s … the aesthetic from the old A Tribe Called Quest albums, that kind of typography. It has the kind of tribal feel. And then it has a little bit of old-school graffiti.”

Instagram Photo

The next day, Mastrion hand-delivered the boxes to Lee at the studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He opened them to the sight of each name of the main characters in She’s Gotta Have It — Nola Darling, Mars Blackmon, Greer Childs and Jamie Overstreet — fluidly freestyled on the outside of each pair’s right shoe in vibrant red, green, pink, blue turquoise and yellow. On the toe of each left shoe was the She’s Gotta Have It logo.

“When he opened up the sneakers, I was very nervous, and a huge smile spread across his face,” Mastrion recalled. “It’s like he looked at them really seriously, and then just his face broke. I was so proud to do something creatively that he approved of. Because he’s been such a huge creative influence on me for so long.”

Mastrion passed Lee’s test. So the next pair she customized would be for his personal collection. After A Tribe Called Quest’s performance with Busta Rhymes at the 59th Annual Grammys on Feb. 12, Lee felt inspired by the shade Busta Rhymes bazooka’d toward President Donald Trump. “I just want to thank President Agent Orange for perpetuating all of the evil that you’ve been perpetuating throughout the United States,” Busta Rhymes said onstage that night. “I want to thank President Agent Orange for your unsuccessful attempt at the Muslim ban.”

For NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, Lee needed a fresh pair of kicks. He discussed his ideas with Andersen, who relayed them to Mastrion. This time, she picked up a pair of “Black History Month” Retro Air Jordan 1s, in 9.5. Spike’s size.

Courtesy of Danielle Mastrion

Again, she had 24 hours to complete the request. Yet unlike the Jordans she did for the She’s Gotta Have It cast members, Mastrion didn’t freestyle Lee’s shoes. He knew exactly what he was looking for, and Andersen passed along the instructions through copy-and-pasted texts to Mastrion. Lee wanted the shoes to reflect his protest of Trump. He wanted the words “Repel Agent Orange” and “Resist” on them. In big, bold and clean letters.

“He gave me specific directions on the colors, on the lettering and the placement, so that he really oversaw the creation of sneakers. He had a very clear vision in his mind what he wanted them to represent. He gave me a lot of directions for those,” said Mastrion, who researched historical Cuban, German and Russian propaganda posters to ensure that she got the bold lettering just right.

The words, depicted on both sides of each shoe, were done with Posca, Molotow and Deco paint markers — “Repel Agent Orange” painted in red and “Resist” painted in white, both gone over with acrylic paint and brush, to complement the gold Nike Swooshes on the shoes.

When it comes to sneakers and politics, there’s been a long-held notion that the two should function on a separation-of-church-and-state basis. It’s a concept primarily driven by the infamous quote, supposedly from Michael Jordan: “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” This is something that he may or may not have even said, and if he did, it was a joke. But, in the past year, a few titans of the sneaker world have spoken out on social issues. Last summer, in the wake of the number of shooting deaths by law enforcement of African-Americans, Jordan said he could “no longer stay silent.” In late January, Nike CEO Mark Parker issued a statement on the company’s behalf condemning Trump’s Muslim and refugee immigration ban. A few weeks later, Lee felt the need to speak out through the artistry of his sneakers.

This is the time when people, especially artists, do need to be a little bit more outspoken.” — Danielle Mastrion

“I felt like his message was completely aligned with how I feel. I try not to mix politics up too much in my pieces,” Mastrion said. “I try to paint more inspirational figures, but I feel like this is the time when people, especially artists, do need to be a little bit more outspoken, so I didn’t mind doing the message at all.”

Instagram Photo

Mastrion had a quick second shoe delivery to Lee. During the interaction, Lee opened the shoes, told her she did a great job and gave her a hug. More praise, however, came on his Instagram account, where he posted a photo of him holding each shoe, with the message, “RESIST – REPEL AGENT ORANGE. DATS DA PUTIN TRUTH, RUTH. YA-DIG? SHO-NUFF. BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY.” At the end of the caption were four words that certainly made Mastrion smile: “Artwork by Danielle Mastrion.”

“I was so happy and thankful he did a post,” she said.

The next day, Lee posted on Instagram again. This time, it was a photo of him, as Mars Blackmon, and Michael Jordan from their old ad campaign days. In the caption was a fun fact about the greatest of all time that few people know. “Happy Birthday To The Greatest Of All Time, Michael Jordan. He was Born 54 Years Ago Today At Cumberland Hospital In Fort Greene, Brooklyn.” Lee, Mastrion and Jordan. All three connected — all children of Brooklyn.

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