‘My Cause My Cleats’: The top 24 Week 13 customs — and why players wore them Reppin’ everything from the American Cancer Society to the Trayvon Martin Foundation to Kaepernick

Week 13 in the National Football League, at least since last season, is all about creativity, customization and cause. Through the “My Cause My Cleats” campaign, which the league started in 2016, players can bend uniform guidelines and wear cleats designed to represent a cause of their choice.

Typically, players are only allowed to wear custom-painted kicks during pregame warm-ups. Then switch to uniform footwear while the game clock is rolling. But in Week 13, flashy cleats in vibrant colors, featuring unique illustrations and messages, are the norm. Athletes all across the NFL, from every position group, commission the hottest designers in the sneaker game to create the perfect pair of cleats for their cause. This year, around 1,000 players reportedly took part in the initiative, and after games ended, select cleats were sold at auction, with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting causes such as the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, Colin Kaepernick’s #KnowYourRightsCamp, Habitat for Humanity, autism, POW and MIA families, anti-bullying, social justice and criminal justice reform, the Trayvon Martin Foundation and more.

“This weekend, you’ll really see the impact art has had on the NFL,” Los Angeles artist Troy Cole, aka Kickasso, tweeted before Sunday’s games. Last season, he designed every pair of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s anticipated pregame cleats. “Art is a powerful way to tell a story #MyCauseMyCleats.”

Here are The Undefeated’s top 24 “My Cause My Cleats” customs, along with the players who wore them, the causes they supported and the artistic geniuses who brought charitable creativity to life.


Chidobe Awuzie, Cornerback, Dallas Cowboys

Cause: #BringBackOurGirls campaign

Joe Barksdale, Offensive Tackle, Los Angeles Chargers

Instagram Photo

Cause: Fender Music Foundation

Designer: DeJesus Custom Footwear Inc.

Michael Bennett, Defensive End, Seattle Seahawks

Cause: National League of POW/MIA Families

A.J. Bouye, Cornerback, Jacksonville Jaguars

Cause: American Cancer Society

Designer: Kickasso

Antonio Brown, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers

Instagram Photo

Cause: RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)

Designer: Corey Pane

Kurt Coleman, Safety, Carolina Panthers

Cause: Levine Children’s Hospital

Designer: Ryan Bare, SR Customs

Mike Daniels, defensive end, Green Bay Packers

Cause: Anti-bullying

Designer: SolesBySir

Stefon Diggs, Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings

Cause: American Heart Association

Designer: Mache Customs

DeSean Jackson, Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Instagram Photo

Cause: Brotherhood Crusade

Designer: SolesBySir

Malcolm Jenkins, Safety, Philadelphia Eagles

Cause: Social Justice and Criminal Justice Reform, Players Coalition

Designer: Sixth-grade class at Jubilee School, Illustrative Cre8ions

Eddie Lacy, Running Back, Seattle Seahawks

Cause: International Relief Teams, Hurricane Katrina

Designer: Bizon Customs

Jarvis Landry, Wide Receiver, Miami Dolphins

Instagram Photo

Cause: Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

Marshon Lattimore, Cornerback, New Orleans Saints

Cause: Social injustices and honoring close friend Dayton Williams, who was shot and killed in 2010 in Euclid, Ohio.

Rishard Matthews, Wide Receiver, Tennessee Titans

Instagram Photo

Cause: Colin Kaepernick, Know Your Rights Camp

Designer: SolesBySir

Gerald McCoy, Defensive Tackle, Tampa Bay buccaneers

Instagram Photo

Cause: “The Life of a Single Mom”

Designer: The Hulfish Project

Eric Reid, Safety, San Francisco 49ers

Cause: Colin Kaepernick, Know Your Rights Camp

Designer: Tragik MCMXCIII

A’shawn Robinson, Defensive Tackle, Detroit Lions

Cause: Leukemia patients

Jaylon Smith, Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys

Cause: Autism

Designer: The Hulfish Project

Torrey Smith, Wide Receiver, Philadelphia Eagles

Instagram Photo

Cause: Torrey Smith Family Fund, Show Your Soft Side, Players Coalition, NO More Campaign

Designer: Kreative Custom Kicks, Dez Customz

Shane Vereen, Running Back, New York Giants

Cause: Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles

Designer: Kickasso

Anthony Walker, Linebacker, Indianapolis Colts

Cause: Trayvon Martin Foundation

Designer: Desmond J. Jones, Art is Dope

Deshaun Watson, Quarterback, Houston Texans

Cause: Habitat for Humanity

Designer: 5-year-old twins Kayla and Jakwan; Evan Melnyk, Nike

Russell Wilson, Quarterback, Seattle Seahawks

Cause: Why Not You Foundation

Designer: Kate Neckel and Dash Tsai

 

Daryl Worley, Cornerback, Carolina Panthers

Instagram Photo

Cause: CeaseFirePA

Designer: SR Customs

Rishard Matthews brings Colin Kaepernick back to football Miami artist Marcus Rivero on how Matthews’ custom ‘My Cause My Cleats’ were created

On Sunday at Nissan Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee, Colin Kaepernick will once again grace the field of an NFL stadium and take a knee in protest of social injustice in the United States. Now, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback won’t be there physically for the divisional matchup between the AFC South’s Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans. He’s not listed on either team’s roster, having gone unsigned by every squad in the NFL since March 3. But Kaepernick will be present. An image of him kneeling, with his fluffed Afro taking the shape of a Black Power fist, is painted on the custom-designed cleats that Titans wide receiver Rishard Matthews will don against Houston.

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

It’s Week 13 in the NFL, marking the return of the league’s “My Cause My Cleats” campaign, which began in 2016. The leaguewide initiative allows players to bypass uniform guidelines and wear customized cleats in support of a charitable cause of their choice. For his cleats, Matthews, a close friend and former college teammate of Kaepernick’s at the University of Nevada, honors his friend’s youth awareness campaign, the Know Your Rights camp.

“I dont have a foundation, so I have chosen to support my brother @kaepernick7 foundation @yourrightscamp for #MyCauseMyCleats,” Matthews wrote on Instagram, where he debuted the cleats on Wednesday. “He has paid the ultimate sacrifice in order to bring true everyday issues to light. Please follow the page & go to the website to learn more. We Should ALL Know Our Rights & Be Able to Express Them Freely.”

Instagram Photo

The cleats were designed by Miami artist Marcus Rivero, aka SolesBySir, who’s been customizing shoes for football players for the past five years, with an NFL clientele that includes Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco, Tom Brady, J.J. Watt, DeSean Jackson, Terrell Suggs, Jalen Ramsey and more. Before Matthews takes the field against the Texans, The Undefeated caught up with Rivero, who detailed the design process of the shoes, from the wide receiver’s mind to the artist’s final brushstroke.


How did the idea for Matthews’ Kaepernick cleats come about?

Rishard and I have been working together all season. Our first pair was very calm because it was Rishard’s first time doing customs. As the weeks progressed, a lot of current events were coming up and he wanted to take stances. With My Cause My Cleats coming about, he basically told me … ‘I want to stand with Kaep.’ There’s been a bond there since the beginning. I was like, ‘OK …’ We went back and forth, and believe it or not, this was a hard design to do.

What made it hard to execute?

We didn’t know whether we wanted to color the cleats. Whether we wanted to do all-black, all-white, gold. Rishard thought about it, slept on it. And last minute, he said, ‘You know what? Let’s just keep it simple, black and white.’ So my job as an artist is just basically to take what people give you — so, with Rishard, black and white — and make it a loud message, which is difficult. If you’re working with neon green, neon yellow, you can play to your advantage. But when you’re working with black and white, which is the standard color for all cleats issued, it’s hard.

I told Rishard he needs 100 yards and at least a touchdown. Because that’s what the shoes deserve.

What was Rishard truly looking for?

The first thing I said was, ‘Rishard, I want to go one and one. Let’s make each cleat not look like the other.’ He loved the idea. He sent me over the logos of the Know Your Rights Camp, so I put it on both outsides of the shoe. On the inside of his right shoe, it says ‘Know Your’ and on the opposite shoe, it says, ‘Rights Camp.’ So if you put your heels together, and open them up like a V, somebody in front of you can read the opposite of what you’re reading.

I still wanted to add something. He goes, ‘Let’s put Kaep’s name, and some sort of logo.’ We kept bouncing ideas back and forth. One was a fist, like Tommie Smith and John Carlos. I just did a cleat for DeSean Jackson with a brotherhood-type theme, and we used a fist. So I really didn’t want to do it again. I wanted to stand on our own on this. Literally, Rishard and I are FaceTiming. And sure enough we’re Googling images, and then the idea hit us, like, ‘Oh, let’s do Kaepernick on a knee and use his Afro as a fist.’

Instagram Photo

Was it hard to draw the image of Kaepernick kneeling with his Afro as a fist?

It wasn’t so much. I have a Microsoft Surface Pro that I use to make designs. Then I turn them into a stencil, which helps me out. Unfortunately, I can’t hand-draw every letter. We have to do a lot stencilling so that I can lay down the stencil, spray and then peel it off, just timingwise. With the Surface Pro that I’ve been using, it’s generally been like a walk in the park for me. The Kaepernick logo has a lot of detail, but at the same time it doesn’t. It’s very simple. It’s a cool logo.

The idea hit us, like, ‘Oh, let’s do Kaepernick on a knee and use his Afro as a fist.’

How long did it take you to complete the cleats — and what was Rishard’s reaction when he saw the finished product?

I spent about six or seven hours on them because those cleats were both navy blue and that Tennessee light blue to begin with. Sure enough, I did it, and he falls in love with them. Then he says, ‘I’m gonna send him to Kaep.’ He sends them to Kaep, and Kaep loved them. He sent him the fire emoji, which is the same response I got from Rishard when I sent him the photos.

Is this the first time you’ve customized a pair of cleats in honor of Kaepernick, or his stance?

Yes and no. Rishard has been focusing on the equality theme on his cleats this season, and that was due in part to his friendship with Kaepernick, dating back to Nevada. Rishard is an interesting mix in the bunch because his brother died in the line of duty, and he comes from a military family. So he’s kind of a hybrid — because a lot of people believe Kaepernick disrespected the military. Rishard stands on both sides, but he believes there’s a huge injustice in the world, and he just wants everyone to be equal. … But as far as putting the name ‘Kaepernick’ or putting him kneeling on something, this is the first time I’ve ever done it. I’ve done other political shoes that athletes have wanted. The thing is, as an artist, my job is not to show my political stance, my job is to make sure my clients are happy. If they want to put Kaepernick on their shoes, that’s what I’m here to do. Everybody has a right to do what they want.

How important do you think the My Cause My Cleats initiative is in the NFL?

I’m biased as heck, but I’ll be the first one to tell you I think it’s amazing. I started doing this five years ago … and back then it was frowned upon. Back then, tons of my guys were getting fined. There were so many silly rules, and now it’s changed. … Last year, My Cause My Cleats went great, but not a lot of guys knew about it, so not a lot of guys did it. When the league opened it up again, it showed they were happy with it. It brought a lot of positivity. It raised a crap ton of money because 99 percent of these shoes — for example, Rishard’s will be one pair of them — they’ll go up on the auction block. All of the money that the shoes generate goes to the fund of whatever they stood for. It’s a win-win. Cool shoes. Athletes get them. Fans get their hands on them afterward. And all this money goes to a whole bunch of great causes. It’s making the league fun again.

Kaep loved them. He sent Rishard the fire emoji, which is the same response I got from Rishard when I sent him the photos.

How many pairs of My Cause My Cleats did you design for Week 13?

Last year I did about 105 pairs. This year, we’re at about 250 to 280 pairs, and that’s just me. I found out from the NFL on Wednesday that supposedly between 800 to 850 guys signed up for this My Cause My Cleats this year, so I literally almost did 40 percent of the cleats. It’s frickin’ bananas to me. And by the time the season’s over, I’ll have done at least 800 to 1,000 pairs, leaguewide.

Instagram Photo

Just how important are Rishard’s cleats right now?

It’s been a crazy year when it’s come to the protests, and I’ve heard both sides of the story. I work with a lot of players who have knelt or not gone out for the national anthem, and I work with a lot of players who come out and stand for it. It’s a touchy subject … but Rishard was able to touch on it in a way so this gets the attention it deserves — but at the same time not negatively bring attention to it. We need to find a happy medium. Both sides of the line need to come together, figure it out and get it moving in the right direction.

I think these shoes brought more attention to Rishard Matthews. I told him, the only problem he has now is with all the attention these shoes got, if he doesn’t have a 100-yard game and a touchdown, then they’re not doing what they should be doing. So all the pressure is back on Rishard right now. I told him he needs 100 yards and at least a touchdown. Because that’s what the shoes deserve.

How Michael Jordan’s original starting five — from Ray Allen to Michael Finley — became Team Jordan’s first stars Before Russ, Kawhi, Melo, CP3 and Jimmy Buckets, Jordan Brand got its start with All-Stars and future champions

Oct. 15, 1996, will forever be ingrained in Ray Allen’s memory. It was the night he met Michael Jordan for the first time. A young player like Allen viewed Jordan as a god in a league that had already deemed him the greatest of all time. As Jordan chased his fifth NBA title that year, he brought with him a $33 million contract, the richest in team sports history. Off the court, Jordan had brought in millions of dollars for Nike through the sale of his signature Air Jordans, the single most important line of sneakers to hit the market. Yet, as Jordan began looking toward life after basketball, he needed the help of Allen, and others, to continue to make his mark on the business world and the culture.

A 21-year-old rookie, and four months removed from being selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the NBA draft, Allen entered a matchup between his Milwaukee Bucks and Jordan’s Chicago Bulls at the United Center. He’d face his hero, the man from the posters Allen hung on his wall as a kid, in an exhibition game. “I’m intimidated,” recalled the future Hall of Famer, now 42, “because I’m not supposed to be in this moment. I’m supposed to be on the other side, watching and cheering for him. I’m like, ‘You know how many times I rooted for him to destroy whoever was on the other end of the floor? Now I gotta beat him? Now I gotta stop him?’ Now I’m this kid in this position … thinking, ‘Is this situation, this moment, too big for me?’ ”

Before tipoff, Allen and Jordan walked out onto the hardwood, met at half court and shook hands. “ ‘What’s up, Ray?’ Welcome to the NBA,’ ” Allen remembers Jordan saying. “I was like, ‘Man … Michael Jordan knows my name.’ ”

Jordan actually knew Allen quite well. He was the one who’d decided which shoes the rookie wore on his feet that night — and for most of his NBA career. Months before this pregame moment, Allen backed “out of a deal with FILA,” he said, to sign with Nike. The company planned on giving Jordan his own brand and imagined Allen as the young face of a fresh new line of products. So, in his first encounter with Jordan, Allen took the court in Team Jordan Jumpman Pros — the first sneakers designed outside of the Bulls superstar’s signature Air Jordan line.

“I was like, ‘Man … Michael Jordan knows my name.’ ”

“I was the one guy in the league who had Brand Jordans on my feet,” Allen said of his rookie season. “But I didn’t know how connected and linked in M.J. was with what was going on … if it was the company, or if he was making all the decisions. Not yet did I understand what the Brand Jordan meant, or what it was.”

M.J. had in fact selected Allen to be the first player to endorse Jordan Brand, which wouldn’t officially launch until September 1997. His Airness, however, imagined a whole squad of ambassadors representing his brand in the NBA. As a reflection of his own skills, style and swag, he wanted to build “Team Jordan” — and every team needs a starting five.


In 1997, before playing a single minute in the NBA, Derek Anderson traveled to Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, ready to be pitched a potential endorsement deal. “I had no idea who I was meeting,” he says now. “I thought I was meeting with Nike itself, because I didn’t know anything about the Jordan Brand.” He finally got to a boardroom, “ … and there’s Michael Jordan. He says, ‘Hey, D.A., how’s it going?’ and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, Michael Jordan actually knows who I am.’ ”

His Airness sat before the now-retired NCAA and NBA champion Anderson, having done his research on the 22-year-old prospect. Anderson played only 19 games during his senior year at the University of Kentucky before tearing the ACL in his right knee, so Jordan asked about the progress he’d made in his recovery, and Anderson informed him that he could, once again, throw down windmill dunks. The conversation soon turned into an offer from Jordan that Anderson couldn’t refuse.

Derek Anderson (right) of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives against the Golden State Warriors on Dec. 3, 1997, at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

“The way I worked hard, and how I fought back from the adversity of my injury, he really appreciated that, and wanted me to be a part of the Jordan Brand family,” said Anderson, who the Cleveland Cavaliers took with the 13th overall pick in the 1997 draft. “I gave him a, ‘Yes, sir, absolutely … I would be honored.’ It wasn’t even a thought process.” Anderson had previously met with Converse but turned down the opportunities discussed there. He also canceled the rest of his scheduled visits with other shoe companies.

Eddie Jones, then a third-year shooting guard with the Los Angeles Lakers, found himself up for endorsement renegotiation with Nike after rolling with the sneaker giant for the first few years of his NBA career. In hopes of luring the 1997 All-Star (the first of three such honors) who played in the glamorous Hollywood market, Reebok, Adidas, FILA and PUMA all went after Jones. Yet the bidding war came to a screeching halt once Jordan came calling.

“When the best player on the planet, the best player to have a basketball in his hand, really wants you to be a part of something, I mean, you jump onboard,” said Jones, now retired and living in Florida.

Allen’s All-Star Milwaukee Bucks teammate Vin Baker also joined the mix (Baker struggled with alcohol over the course of his All-NBA and Olympic gold medal-winning career, but now sober, he coached this summer at a Massachusetts summer camp). Michael Finley of the Dallas Mavericks began hearing rumors swirling around the league about a master plan that Nike and Jordan had cooking.

“My agent called me,” Finley remembered, “and said, ‘Michael Jordan and his reps are starting their own Jordan Brand and want to know if you want to be a part of it.’ I was like, ‘C’mon, man. That’s a no-brainer. Of course.’ To have M.J. pick you as one of the originals, that’s an honor. It was just us five … our own little fraternity.” (These days, Finley, an assistant vice president of basketball operations for the Dallas Mavericks, is something of a film producer.)

“The goal was to hopefully find athletes that had a little bit of Michael in them.”

Jordan, the alpha and omega of the basketball universe at the time, had handpicked and created an eclectic group of players in his own image to put on for the new brand. “The goal was to hopefully find athletes that had a little bit of Michael in them. In our mind, Michael was the greatest at what he did, and he was great because he did so many things really well,” said former Jordan Brand product director Gentry Humphrey, now vice president of Nike Golf footwear. “And while you may never find that one guy that has the complete package, you can find a little bit of some of those things in several athletes.”

A pure shooter in Allen, a high-flying, acrobatic athlete in Anderson, a Swiss army knife guard in Jones, a skilled stretch four in Baker, and a versatile swingman in Finley — together, they formed Team Jordan.

“Everyone brought something different, but everyone brought something from him. Everything from us was an entity of M.J.,” Derek Anderson said. “It’s almost like we were his kids. Like every kid has genes from his parents, we were a genetic build of him.”


On Sept. 9, 1997, Nike officially announced the launch of the Jordan Brand.

“A sub-brand of NIKE, Inc. the JORDAN brand is a pure, authentic basketball brand of premium, high-performance basketball footwear and apparel inspired by the performance legacy, vision and direct involvement of Michael Jordan,” reads the third paragraph of Nike’s press release from this historic day. “The brand will carry the Jumpman logo and will be packaged together to make its retail debut on November 1 for the Holiday ’97 season.”

Never before in the history of sports had a player, not to mention an African-American one, “entered into a solo venture on such a sweeping scale,” according to a Chicago Tribune report published the day the brand debuted in 1997.

“I have been involved in the design of everything I have worn from Nike since we began our relationship in 1984,” Jordan said at the introductory news conference in New York. “The launch of the Jordan Brand is simply an extension of that process.”

The Air Jordan logo is displayed at a Jordan promotional event July 31, 2001, in Harlem, New York.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

More than a decade had passed since Nike signed Jordan before his prolific rookie season and released his first signature sneaker, the timeless Air Jordan 1.

“I always felt like Jordan was its own brand, and I approached it that way,” said iconic Nike shoe designer Tinker Hatfield, who believed the move that catapulted Jordan into his own stratosphere of the sportswear industry was long overdue. “Jordan’s shoes were as advanced as possible for the best player in the world, but also were a little more sophisticated and with … nicer materials,” continued Hatfield, who’s crafted some of Jordan’s most legendary shoes, starting with the Air Jordan 3s that dropped in 1988.

“I placed Jordan on a pedestal in my own mind, like it was its own separate brand. I was actually the one who thought up the Jordan Brand in the first place,” Hatfield makes clear, “and tried to pitch that numerous times over the years and didn’t get anywhere with it, until it finally did happen. I’m glad it did.”

Nike celebrated the momentous occasion with a huge launch party at NikeTown in New York. The guest list was loaded with stars from all walks of the culture. NBA Inside Stuff host Ahmad Rashad emceed the event, attended by everyone from Sheryl Swoopes, Kym Hampton and Dawn Staley, to rhythm and blues singer Kenny Lattimore, musical groups BLACKStreet and A Tribe Called Quest, and actors Kadeem Hardison and Damon Wayans. “It was like All-Star, Grammys and Emmys all mixed up into one,” Finley remembered.

From day one, everyone wanted a piece of Jordan Brand, which analysts projected to generate more than $300 million in worldwide revenue in the fiscal year 1998 (the Air Jordan line alone raked in $70 million in sales for Nike in fiscal 1997). On Nov. 1, 1997, the Air Jordan 13s, the first shoe under the Jordan Brand umbrella, were released at $150 a pair. The brand’s first Team Jordan sneakers, the Jumpman Pro Quicks and Jumpman Pro Strongs, wouldn’t hit until May 1998. Until then, Jordan entrusted only Allen, Anderson, Jones, Baker and Finley to wear them on the court, and to promote Jordan Brand in its inaugural NBA season.

“The brand was big before I even knew it,” Derek Anderson said. “It took off that way.”


At the end of the NBA calendar, when the season finally ends, players partake in the annual ritual of cleaning out their lockers at their home arenas. During his first season with Team Jordan, after the playoffs ended with Karl Malone, John Stockton and the Utah Jazz sweeping the Lakers in the Western Conference finals, Jones recalls arriving at The Forum in Los Angeles a little late.

By the time he got there, boxes of his Jordans were missing. And the ones that were left? Jones’ teammates were already calling dibs — and mustering up the courage to see if they could get Jones to come up off of his shoes. “I swear, every guy that wore a size 13, size 14, they were like, ‘Eddie, man, I gotta have these. I didn’t want to take them without you knowing, but can I have them?’ ” said Jones, one of two members of the original team to ever get his own signature Jordans: 1999’s Jumpman Quick 6 and 2000’s Jumpman Swift 6. The brand also gave Baker the Jumpman Vindicate in 1999. “I gave them so many sneakers that day, it was crazy. I had no sneakers by the time I left.”

To get a pair of even Jumpman sneakers in the early days of the brand, you had to go through one of the members of Team Jordan. “As original endorsees of the brand, we had exclusive rights to shoes that [other players] didn’t have, and shoes before they hit the market,” Finley said. “We had the ups on guys who considered themselves sneakerheads in the league, whether it was teammates or opponents. Even referees commented on my shoes at the jump ball.”

Eddie Jones (second from right) of the Los Angeles Lakers passes against the Utah Jazz in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals played on May 22, 1998, at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

This was the era before the brand diversified its color palette, so most Air Jordans released in a combination of red, black and white, the team colors of the Chicago Bulls. Yet, for Team Jordan’s Jumpman sneakers, the brand blessed its ambassadors with pairs in their own team colors. Lakers purple and gold for Jones; Cavs sky blue for Anderson and Mavs royal blue for Finley; Bucks purple and green for Allen; and white and black Pro Strongs, with SuperSonics green, red and yellow accent, for Baker, who was traded from Milwaukee to Seattle a few weeks after the brand launched.

“I always feel very humble about being having been with Jordan Brand since day one.”

“Most people were like, ‘I want THAT color right there.’ I had colors that were against what was normal in the market, and what people would see in shoe stores anywhere in America. It created a fervor for wanting those shoes,” Allen said. “The ball kid used to come in the locker room almost every game and say, ‘Hey, so-and-so wanted to know if you could send him your shoes.’ ”

The requests didn’t only come from hoopers.

“Fat Joe literally chased me down from the time I started. That dude, he would be on my heels for shoes,” Anderson said of the Terror Squad rapper from the Bronx, New York (who in 2016 opened up his own sneaker store, which was greenlit by Michael Jordan).

Jones has his own stories: “I remember Usher asking for some sneakers!”

When they weren’t rocking exclusive Jumpmans in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Team Jordan members could be seen on the court in custom, player exclusive (PE) Air Jordans, especially after Jordan retired for the second time in 1999 and not many players were wearing his retros on the court. Jones, who landed with the Miami Heat in 2000 after a trade, received red and black Air Jordan 13s with “E. Jones” inscribed across the tongue.

Ray Allen (right) of the Boston Celtics dribbles down the court wearing a pair of green and gold Air Jordan 11s on Dec. 31, 2010, at the TD Garden in Boston.

Steve Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Anderson loved playing in low tops, so he persuaded Jordan and the brand to make him low Air Jordan 11 Space Jams and Concords. Finley’s PE Air Jordan 16s, with “FIN 4” on the lace cover, became such a go-to shoe in his arsenal that players across the league thought they were his own signature Jordans. Baker also wore PE 16s, as well as PE Air Jordan 9s with his No. 42 on the heel. Allen’s extensive collection of PEs could fill a museum. His favorites? The green, white and gold, and red, white and gold Air Jordan 11s that the brand presented him to honor his two career NBA championships in 2008 with the Boston Celtics and 2013 with the Miami Heat.

“I gave him a, ‘Yes, sir, absolutely … I would be honored.’ It wasn’t even a thought process.”

Nowadays, there’s of course a new Team Jordan, featuring Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard and Russell Westbrook, who all get the PE Air Jordan treatment like their predecessors. In the Oklahoma City Thunder’s opener to the 2017-18 NBA season, Westbrook took the floor in a pair of PE Air Jordan 32s, a little more than a month after signing a 10-year extension with Jordan Brand. The reigning NBA MVP struck the most lucrative deal in the company’s history on Sept. 13, almost 20 years to the day that Nike hosted the event to announce the launch of the Jordan Brand.

Westbrook is the new face of the now billion-dollar brand’s Team Jordan, which all began with Michael Jordan’s first pick in 1996, Ray Allen.

“I always feel very humble about being having been with Jordan Brand since day one,” said Allen. “For me, long term, it ended up being one of the best decisions I made in my career.”

The other original members would say the same. All five took a leap of faith when Jordan asked them to be a part of his vision. And the rest is history.

“We were young kids who admired M.J. so much. He was our mentor, and was putting this thing together,” Jones said. “We knew it was going to be big, only because it was him. Whatever he does, it kind of works out … it’s always big. And everybody wanted to wear Jordans.”

Randy Moss talks the making of the ‘Super Freak’ — the NFL’s first signature Air Jordan The legend and his shoe designer recall the early Jordan Brand moments

Randy Moss didn’t always need a football field to put his inhuman speed on display. All he really needed was a treadmill, and a few spectators.

During one workout at a Florida gym back in the early days of his NFL career, the young Minnesota Vikings wide receiver pushed the limit of human athleticism. His training circuit began with a 15- to 20-second treadmill sprint at 15 mph, which Moss and a friend who joined him completed with ease. Next came 17 mph. They both jumped on and, for about 10 seconds, busted out another run.

Then Moss did something crazy: He upped the speed to 19 mph. “F— that, I’m done with this,” one spectator recalls Moss’ friend saying before tapping out. Moss, however, completed the rep and kept going. He cranked the treadmill to an unfathomable 21 mph and prepared to make his move. While holding on to the rails, Moss planted one foot on the machine’s foundation and used his other foot to judge just how fast the belt circulated as he nailed his timing down. The gears in his brain synced with the mechanics of his body.

“He jumps on and whips out 21 mph, just hauling a–,” said the aforementioned spectator, Gentry Humphrey, product director for Jordan Brand at the time. “Just watching him do that, to me, he was a freak of nature … purely a super freak.”

“I just wanted to pay tribute to Michael Jordan. But at the same time, I looked at the shoes and I was like, ‘Oh, those would look good with my uniform.’ ” — Randy Moss

Humphrey can’t recall the exact date or time of year that the treadmill incident unfolded before his eyes, but he does know it took place sometime between 1999 and 2000, within the phenom wideout’s first two NFL seasons. During this period, Humphrey spent as much time as he possibly could with Moss while in the process of designing Moss’ first signature shoe: the Air Jordan Super Freak.

“I realized,” said Humphrey, “that Randy was very, very different.”


In 1999, two years after Nike and Michael Jordan came to terms on Jordan Brand, Moss — then 22, and coming off a monster rookie season — became the first football player to sign an endorsement deal with Jordan Brand. “Jordans were a basketball shoe, but when I came into the league, I was still infatuated by Nike shoes and Jordan shoes,” says Moss now. “My first year, I was just pulling Jordans off the rack and lacing them up.” And playing in them.

Remember, by this point in 1999, Michael Jordan had already retired from the NBA for the second time in his career and had shifted his focus to the business world. In his early formation of Team Jordan, His Airness wanted to branch out from creating products solely for basketball, so he signed New York Yankees All-Star shortstop Derek Jeter to represent the brand through baseball and light heavyweight world champion Roy Jones Jr. to represent boxing. For football, Moss was his guy.

Randy Moss of the Minnesota Vikings plays in a preseason game in a pair of Air Jordan Super Freaks.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

“I just wanted to pay tribute to Michael,” Moss said. “But at the same time, I looked at the shoes and I was like, ‘Oh, those would look good with my uniform.’ ”

Originally, Jordan Brand’s plan for Moss didn’t include a signature shoe. Instead, he was envisioned as the face of products set to be rolled out as part of a cross-training division. Two factors contributed to a change of plan. First, Humphrey took a look at some of the NFL’s fields and the type of shoes players needed to flourish on them.

“A lot of athletes at the time that were playing on AstroTurf were using basketball shoes,” said Humphrey, who’s now Nike’s vice president of footwear for profile sports. “They were using nubby-bottomed outsoles to really get the traction that they needed on the field. I looked at it as an opportunity to create a new silhouette for training by using that nubby bottom.”

Randy Moss was too athletic, and too much of a superstar-in-the-making, to not have his own shoe.

The second factor was simple: Randy Moss was too athletic, and too much of a superstar-in-the-making, to not have his own shoe. At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, Moss gave defenses matchup nightmares. “With 4.25 speed in the 40-yard-dash … an impressive 39-inch vertical leap and huge hands with tentacle-like fingers that rarely drop passes,” is how The Associated PressJim Vertuno put it in 1997. That was the year Moss emerged as a Heisman Trophy finalist at Marshall University with 90 catches for 1,647 yards and a Division I-A single-season record 25 receiving touchdowns. “Nobody,” Ball State coach Bill Lynch said of Moss after he caught five touchdown passes against his team in 1997, “in America can cover him.”

The Minnesota Vikings selected Moss with the No. 21 overall pick in the 1998 draft, and what the franchise quickly realized it got in him was a football player in a basketball player’s body. Before the start of his rookie season in Minnesota, Moss — a two-time basketball Player of the Year at DuPont High School near his hometown of Rand, West Virginia — flirted with the idea of trying out for the Minnesota Timberwolves and eventually playing in both the NFL and NBA. “I don’t think so,” said Vikings president Roger Headrick in June 1998. “Overlapping seasons.”

In his first year of pro football during the 1998-99 season, Moss recorded 69 catches for 1,313 yards (third most in the league behind Green Bay’s Antonio Freeman and Buffalo’s Eric Moulds) while grabbing an NFL rookie-record 17 touchdown passes, earning him a trip to the Pro Bowl and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

“The things that he did on the field, the way he ran past people, the way he caught things,” Humphrey says, “he was like the Michael Jordan at the wide receiver position. I think that was kind of the obvious.”

After that record-setting rookie season, Humphrey and Team Jordan embarked upon the 16- to 18-month development process of Moss’ first shoe, seeking to incorporate every aspect of his life, training habits and style of play into the design. “ ‘All right, Gent! What do we got today?’ ” Humphrey remembers Moss animatedly saying in his Southern accent as he took the wide receiver through initial concepts and updated samples. “It was almost like watching a kid at Christmas … how much fun he had designing his first shoe.”

Moss knew exactly what he wanted to call the shoes he’d soon be donning on the field. “He’s the one that kind of came to us and told us that he had been given the name ‘Super Freak,’ ” Humphrey said. It was a moniker that Moss picked up during his high school days in West Virginia, and one that stuck with him through college and into the NFL.

To personify Moss’ freak-of-nature identity, especially after that otherworldly treadmill workout, Jordan Brand attempted to channel the wide receiver’s blazing speed into the shoe. Moss, in Humphrey’s mind, moved as fast as fire, leading the designer to test a metallic-sheen, flame-retardant material on the Super Freak as a unique play off the patent leather featured on the Air Jordan 11s. Humphrey, who began contributing to Jordan designs in 1990 with the Air Jordan 5, also toyed with a material worn on the uniforms and footwear of race car drivers. But because of bonding issues, neither material made it to final production. After trial and error, Humphrey finally found something with the stability and durability to match the tempo at which Moss moved.

“The great thing about someone who is so frickin’ fast is … we always found ourselves using analogies and inspiration that represented speed to show what Randy was all about,” Humphrey said. “We wanted to provide a product that could ultimately give people a piece of the Randy dream.”

By July 25, 2000, in the brief section of a St. Paul Pioneer Press story published at the start of Minnesota Vikings training camp, the last line read, “Randy Moss debuted his new cleats. The high-topped, black cleats are called the ‘Super Freak.’ They will be commercially available soon.” With the arrival of his first signature shoe, which he wore throughout his 77-catch, 1,437-yard and 15-touchdown 2000-01 season, Moss lived and breathed the “Super Freak” persona that matched his fresh new Air Jordans.

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss of the NFC runs a pass pattern against the AFC in the 2000 NFL Pro Bowl on Feb. 6, 2000, at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. The NFC defeated the AFC 51-31. (Photo by Martin Morrow/Getty Images)

“I mean, they call me ‘Super Freak,’ ” Moss told a reporter after making a 39-yard game-winning catch in a 31-27 win over the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 22, 2000. “Ain’t nobody out there that can really do it like myself.”


It was Jan. 6, 2001, in an NFC divisional-round playoff matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints at Minneapolis’ Metrodome. For the game, Humphrey designed Moss a custom pair of purple and yellow Air Jordan 11s, with his No. 84 emblazoned on the heel of each shoe. But everywhere Moss turned on the AstroTurf field, a different player was sporting his signature Super Freaks — from his Vikings teammates, most notably veteran wide receiver Cris Carter, to Saints opponents, including wide receivers Joe Horn and Jake Reed, as well as running back/return specialist Chad Morton.

“About eight to nine guys had my Super Freak shoe on,” said Moss. “I’m sitting there thinking like, ‘Wow.’ It was kind of overwhelming to see some of the guys with my shoe.” During an era when Jordan Brand had just begun to expand outside of hoops, Moss had sparked a cultural movement in the NFL that witnessed players taking the field in Jordan cleats on grass and Jordan basketball shoes on AstroTurf.

“He was definitely the right guy for Jordan Brand at the right time,” Humphrey said. Soon, the league witnessed Donovan McNabb, Charles Woodson, Warren Sapp, Marvin Harrison and Michael Vick join the exclusive Air Jordan-rocking football fraternity that Moss founded. Nearly two decades later, that family has grown to include Jamal Adams, Dez Bryant, Corey Coleman, Michael Crabtree, Thomas Davis, Joe Haden, Malik Hooker, Melvin Ingram, Alshon Jeffery, DeShone Kizer, Jalen Ramsey, Jordan Reed, Golden Tate and Earl Thomas as active NFL players endorsed by Jordan Brand.

Yet, Moss still remains in a league of his own as the only football player in history to have his own signature Air Jordans — first with the Super Freak and then with the “Mossified,” released in 2001.

“You still got guys out there wearing Jordans, but it started with me,” Moss said. “I don’t know who it’s going to end with, but I am happy to say that I did start that trend.”

Big Sean embraces ‘The Moment’ in new ad campaign with Champs Sports and PUMA The Detroit rapper and global brand ambassador explains why his PUMA partnership is the perfect fit

Big Sean is living in the moment — or the present, as he likes to call it, because life is a gift. And for the 29-year-old Detroit-repping rapper, 2017 is the gift that keeps on giving. In February, his fourth studio album, I Decided, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 200 chart. A month later, PUMA announced Big Sean, 29, as a global brand ambassador and creative collaborator after his five-year partnership with Adidas. And by April, Sean Michael Anderson became the youngest person in history to receive Detroit’s key to the city.

Now, in the fifth and latest installment of Champs Sports’ “The Moment” series — which has featured athletes and musicians from Brandon Marshall, Julio Jones, Cam Newton and Dak Prescott, to rappers T.I., the Migos, 2 Chainz and Desiigner — Big Sean pays homage to his hometown while debuting the new PUMA TSUGI Netfit evoKNIT trainers, all to the tune of “Bigger Than Me,” the final track on I Decided.

Courtesy of Champs Sports

Before the launch of the campaign, we talked with Big Sean about his love for Detroit, the future of PUMA as well as the brand’s relationship with musical artists — and the new evoKNITs.


How did it feel to get your own PUMA ad campaign through Champs’ “The Moment”?

It’s real cool. I’m happy I got a chance to do the campaign. And obviously people have been going to Champs forever. I used to go to Champs in Northland Mall. … I think it was the first mall built in the country, because the automotive industry was popping way back when. … It’s closed now. It closed down probably a few years ago. But that’s where we used to go to get the new shoes.

What story did you share through the campaign?

It’s another opportunity to highlight where I’m from, my city, and some of the great times I’ve had here throughout my life, throughout my career.

“It’s just a new time. It’s a new day. And PUMA is just right there with the new ways of thinking, the new styles.”

What makes “Bigger Than Me” the right song for this?

I don’t know if that’s for me to answer. … But for me … it’s just something I kept it real on. I really think about the music I make and the message I want behind it, and what it means to me. … I grew up with a lot of people in the D who didn’t have parents, or they only had one parent and may not have even had role models in their life. Sometimes people just need that guidance, especially from people they look up to. I used to have a list of rappers and musicians I looked up to that kept me going and gave me inspiration. So when it was my turn, I wanted to give that too. That’s not necessarily my responsibility, but that’s just something I want to do. If you can give somebody inspiration, that’s the greatest gift you can give — probably even greater than money, because [inspiration is] going to take them further. That’s all I was doing with ‘Bigger Than Me,’ and a lot of the songs on I Decided. I … made that album specifically for the dreamers. I was really happy I got to give something that people could hold on to, who really needed it.

Courtesy of Champs Sports

How was your first year representing PUMA?

What I love about PUMA is that I feel like they’re on an upswing. They’re already a respected and loved brand, but … they’re really focusing on how to take it even further. I just respect working with people who wanna just keep going up. I feel like it’s synonymous with myself, too — I’m still just going up, and I like that we’re on the same mission together.

I’ve dealt with other brands, [but] I feel like this is how it was always supposed to be. I’m sitting here designing my first collection. We’re working on shoes and apparel, and not only do they respect my ideas, but they want to really make them work; that’s something I’ve never experienced from such a big corporation before. That’s how it should be. When the people who wear the brand, rep the brand and make the brand popular can be business partners too, it’s the wave of the future. Like what they’re doing with Rihanna, The Weeknd and myself, among others, the approach is smart because it doesn’t just make you feel like they’re going to pay you this money to wear their brand. It feels way more natural, and it makes me — and I can only speak for myself — but it makes me really want to work with them more. I really appreciate the dynamic and the relationship. I’m excited to work with PUMA, and I think it’s the start of something legendary.

There are several artists who are PUMA ambassadors. What is it about the brand and its products that is so attractive to musicians?

It’s just a new time. It’s a new day. And PUMA is just right there with the new ways of thinking, the new styles. And I’m speaking for myself, but I’m sure The Weeknd and Rihanna would agree that there’s nothing forced about it. It’s a natural partnership. As time goes on and we execute more ideas, I can’t wait to drop my collection, and even my own shoe. Those are things that a lot of these companies aren’t doing. It’s something that PUMA does — they listen to their consumers, and what the people want. What the culture is saying. I think they try and meet those demands, and that’s something I respect. You know, I respect them trying to take it to new heights and new levels, because that’s all I’m trying to do. It’s nothing but love and respect, and I think that’s why I fell for them.

“I can’t wait to drop my collection, and even my own shoe.”

What’s your favorite all-time pair of PUMAs?

The black-and-white Clydes, the red-and-white Clydes, the super PUMAs, all the white/cream Clydes.

Tell us what you like about the PUMA TSUGI Netfit evoKNIT?

I like the trainer aspect of it. And aside from it being comfortable, it just looks cool. Obviously it was just easy for me to self-premiere it with the campaign. It made sense. So when it came across the table, and I found out I could help debut it, it was definitely good news for me.

New Air Jordan 32s channel the swag of Michael Jordan’s Air Jordan 2s The new sneakers draw inspiration from shoes made more than 30 years ago

Nike senior designer Tate Kuerbis must’ve packed his bags, whipped out his passport and hopped into a DeLorean while crafting his latest Jordan Brand creation.

The new Air Jordan XXXIIs, which debuted on Tuesday in Turin, Italy, are the second coming of the legendary Italian-manufactured Air Jordans IIs that dropped more than 30 years ago during Michael Jordan’s third season in the NBA. Both pairs of shoes feature a similar structure, collar wings first seen in Jordan’s signature line on the IIs, and the iconic “Wings” logo on the tongue.

“Our goal with the AJ XXXII was to combine the essence of the AJ II with today’s best innovation to create a distinct design language both on and off the court,” said David Creech, Jordan Brand’s vice president of Design. That new technology is incorporated into the Kuerbis-designed XXXIIs through a “first-of-its-kind Flyknit upper,” formed by high-tenacity yarn. What does that actually mean? In layman’s terms, the XXXIIs boast components that make them the most flexible Air Jordans in history.

That means we should expect nothing less than for Jordan Brand athletes Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and Carmelo Anthony to get busy on the court in the XXXIIs during the upcoming 2017-18 season. The question is, can they channel the same magic that His Airness delivered to the IIs, which he played in during the 1986-87 season.

Here are the top three performances and moments that Michael Jordan had in the Air Jordan IIs — the sneakers that served as inspiration for the latest release on his signature Air Jordan line.


1987 NBA SLAM Dunk Contest

Remember when Jordan soared through the air in his first career NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 1985, with his gold chains swinging and Air Jordan Is on his feet? There was also 1988, when he threw down a dunk from the free throw line while rocking his Air Jordan IIIs. But never forget: Jordan first won the dunk contest in 1987, while rocking the Air Jordan IIs. On his final dunk of the night, Jordan connected on an acrobatic, leaning windmill from the left side of the hoop that earned him 50 points and the win over Jerome Kersey of the Portland Trail Blazers. A day later, Jordan wore the IIs in the 1987 NBA All-Star Game.

Not One, but TWO 61-point PERFORMANCes

Michael Jordan lays the ball up past Portland Trailblazers guard Clyde Drexler at Memorial Coliseum in 1987.

USA TODAY Sports

Jordan had the best scoring year of his life during the 1986-87 season, which he finished with a career-high average of 37.1 points a game and his first league scoring title. Two performances from that season especially stick out. First, on March 4, 1987, against the Detroit Pistons, Jordan scored 61 points, including 26 points in the fourth quarter that he capped off by draining a nearly impossible jumper to send the game into overtime. A month later, on April 16, 1987, Jordan put up 61 points again — while scoring 23 straight at one point in the game. The Bulls lost, but for Jordan, it was a record-setting night. He became the second player in NBA history, along with Wilt Chamberlain, to score 3,000 points in a season and the first player since Chamberlain to score 50 or more points in three consecutive games. Jordan was unstoppable in the IIs in both 61-point performances.

UNC vs. UCLA Alumni Game

Fun fact: The first player exclusives (PEs) Jordan ever received from Nike were a pair of Air Jordan IIs. After the 1986-87 NBA season, Jordan suited up for Dean Smith and his alma mater UNC in a charity alumni game against UCLA at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles. Jordan took the court in a pair of Carolina blue-accented IIs that were specially designed for him. Earlier this year, Jordan Brand paid tribute to the classic alumni game, and His Airness’ first pair of PEs, by releasing the same IIs that Jordan wore 30 years ago.

The “Rosso Corsa” Air Jordan XXXIIs are scheduled to be released on Sept. 23 for the retail price of $185. The “Bred” Air Jordan XXXIIs, in both mid ($185) and low ($165) versions, will be released on Oct. 18.

Summer League MVP Lonzo Ball is Lakers’ newest sneaker free agent Just like Kobe in 2003. Here’s how Ball’s looks compare with the Black Mamba, side by side.

Lonzo Ball is a Los Angeles Laker, but in the sneaker world? He’s a free agent. As innovative and genius as his shoe decisions have been this summer, we’ve seen it before in Los Angeles — from one of the greatest Lakers of all time. Ball already has his own signature shoe — the heftily priced $495 ZO2s, made by his family’s Big Baller Brand — but the rookie point guard and Las Vegas Summer League MVP has kicked off his NBA career by playing the field when it comes to footwear.

In the Lakers’ two opening summer league games, Ball, as expected, took the court in his BBB kicks. First, he made his pro debut in a pair of white, purple and gold “Sho’time” Z02s. These are the same ones he wore when he walked across the stage after the Lakers chose him with the No. 2 overall pick in June’s draft. Playing in them, Ball posted an abysmal 5-point, 5-assist and 4-rebound performance in a 96-93 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. The next game, an 86-81 loss to the Boston Celtics, Ball bounced back with a triple-double (11 points, 11 assists, 11 rebounds) in a pair of black and gold “Prime” ZO2s.

Yet, in the next four summer league games in which he appeared, Ball did not lace up his ZO2s. Instead, he flipped the script by playing in Nikes, James Harden’s signature Adidas, Stephen Curry’s signature Under Armours and Air Jordans. “When you’re a big baller, you can wear whatever you want,” he told TNT’s David Aldridge after recording a monster 36 points in a 103-102 win over the Philadelphia 76ers in a pair of Nike Kobe ADs. Once Ball began to stray from BBB, each night the Lakers were scheduled to play, folks on social media were pressed about what he had in store — like, “What shoes would Lonzo wear next?”

“It’s making a statement to the brands of what they could have had with an open mind,” LaVar Ball told ESPN’s Darren Rovell of his son’s summer league turned sneaker free agency. If you remember, the Ball family met with Nike, Adidas and Under Armour before the NBA draft, but all three sneaker companies passed on signing the 19-year-old phenom. Since he already had a prototype shoe, LaVar Ball was simply asking too much of the companies, calling on them to license BBB from him. Never in the history of sports, or sneakers, had there been such a demand.

Early in his career, future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant spent a season as a sneaker free agent.

“If the price is right,” LaVar Ball continued when asked whether there’s a chance his son could still ink a deal with a big shoe company. Perhaps a bidding war is in store? “Something like that,” Lonzo Ball said before the summer league semifinals.

Yet, as bold as Ball was with his summer league sneaker changes, there’s a close-to-home precedent. Early in his career, future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant spent a season as a sneaker free agent. After signing with Adidas as a rookie, and becoming the face of five different pairs of signature sneakers, Bryant reportedly dropped a whopping $8 million to part ways with the company in 2002.

Also included in the deal was the agreement that Bryant wouldn’t sign with another brand in 2003. So he spent the 2002-03 NBA season, in which he and the Lakers were chasing their fourth consecutive NBA title, wearing every shoe imaginable. From Air Force 1s to AND1s to Converse and even a slew of Air Jordans, including “True Blue” 3s, “Flint Grey” and “French Blue” 12s and “Concord” 11s. As Ball tests the sneaker market, just like Bryant did back in the day, let’s take a side-by-side look at some of the shoe choices made by the rising star rookie — and the retired legend, nearly 15 years ago.

Lonzo in Air Jordan 31 Lows vs. Kobe in Air Jordan PE 8s

When in doubt, just whip out the J’s. During his season without a sneaker contract, retro Air Jordans, in every edition and colorway he could get his hands on, were Bryant’s go-to. His favorite? Player exclusive Air Jordan 8s in purple and gold, with a white base for home games and black base for road games, made especially for Bryant (he also had PE 3s and PE 7s). As for Ball, he didn’t go retro, but he broke out a pair of low-top Air Jordan 31s in the summer league semifinals against the Dallas Mavericks, posting 16 points, 10 assists and 4 rebounds in just 21 minutes before leaving the game in the third quarter with calf tightness — a better night than he had in a full game wearing the ZO2s during his summer league debut.

Lonzo in Under Armour Curry 4 Finals PE vs. Kobe in Converse Weapons

On their feet, both Bryant and Ball paid tribute to championship-winning point guards who came before them. Fourteen years after the Lakers won their final NBA title in 1988 as part of the famed “Showtime” era of the franchise, Bryant channeled his inner Magic Johnson in 2002 by rocking Converse Weapons — the shoes the Hall of Fame point guard, and current president of basketball operations for the Lakers, wore in the 1980s. Flirting with another triple-double (14 points, 7 assists, 9 rebounds) against the Brooklyn Nets, Ball wore the Under Armour Curry 4 Finals PEs that two-time league MVP Curry unveiled en route to the Golden State Warriors winning their second NBA title in three years this summer. Because of a mild calf strain in his right leg, Ball was forced to sit out of the Lakers’ summer league championship matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers. But how dope would it have been if Ball had decided to wear a pair of Weapons, a la Magic and Kobe, and won the title? Too dope.

How dope would it have been if Ball had decided to wear a pair of Weapons, a la Magic and Kobe?

Lonzo in Adidas Harden LS “Night Life” vs. Kobe in Reebok Question

It has to be a little weird to wear the signature shoe of a fellow player. But that’s exactly what Bryant did during the 2002-03 NBA season, and Ball followed suit. Two seasons after the Lakers beat Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2001 NBA Finals, Bryant donned Iverson’s signature mid-top Reebok Questions in multiple variations of Lakers colors. Months removed from his first matchup with Harden and the Houston Rockets, Ball sported a pair of Adidas Harden LS “Night Life” shoes, dropping a triple-double (16 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds) in a 94-83 Lakers summer league win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Lonzo in Nike Kobe ADs vs. Kobe in Nike Air Flight Huarache

What made Ball ditch the ZO2s after two games for a pair of Bryant’s Nike Kobe ADs? “You know,” Ball said after he willed the Lakers to a 103-102 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, “Mamba mentality. Thought I’d switch it up.” The first brand Ball turned to when he decided to shake things up with his sneakers was Nike — the company Bryant signed with in June 2003 after a season testing out Nikes, most notably PE Nike Air Flight Huaraches. With a signature line of 14 shoes and counting, Bryant is one of the most iconic faces of Nike and will be for the foreseeable future.

But could the Black Mamba soon be joined at the brand by a Big Baller? If Ball bases his decision solely on the first performances of his young career, he’ll go with Nike, even if that means completely reshaping his father’s BBB vision and maybe even leaving the ZO2s in the past. Because in Kobes, Ball dazzled to the tune of 36 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds and 5 steals — he did it in Showtime style, the way the Lakers hoped he would.

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

Instagram Photo

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.

Instagram Photo

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

Instagram Photo

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”

Instagram Photo

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.

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.”

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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.”

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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.