KICK GAME EVOLUTION

Being an NBA sneakerhead has become more than having the biggest closet. Meet three players who have embraced the sneaker culture evolution.

BY NICK DePAULA

PJ Tucker

The Championship Collector

Current holder of The Jump's Sneakerhead Belt

EXPLORE

Kyle Kuzma

The GOAT Innovator

Raising the bar with a unique sneaker deal

EXPLORE

Damian Lillard

The Signature Superstar

Telling stories with the shoe that carries his name

EXPLORE
The Championship Collector Current holder of The Jump’s Sneakerhead Belt

PJ
Tucker

Why “Collector”?

Every week, PJ Tucker spots a pair of sneakers he wants. He'll track down his size 14 -- often within days -- then almost instantly wear them in a game.

"If there were no Instagram, if there were no video cameras at games, I would still change shoes and do it every single day," he said. "It's part of my life."

He estimated that he spent nearly $200,000 last season on exclusive sneakers. On pace yet again, with a new rotation of impossibly rare pairs, Tucker has carved out a lane all his own as the league's sneaker champ.

Behind the scenes
With the help of childhood friend-turned-business manager Marq Bell and longtime PR lead Josh Abba, Tucker leans on a team to keep his collection organized. "This is all my daily stuff that I have to choose from," he said. PHOTOGRAPHS BY Brandon Thibodeaux
“If there were no Instagram, if there were no video cameras at games, I would still change shoes and do it every single day.”
In addition to his on-court heat, Tucker has also been one of the league's leaders for his arena-entry footwear, wearing a variety of limited Air Force 1s, Dunks and exclusive running shoes. "It makes it fun for the players, and it just gives another angle to the game," he said.
Now 33, Tucker still carries a childlike passion for the sneaker game, and an appreciation for the collection he's built over time. "From playing as a kid, getting one pair of shoes a year, and always having dreams of having all of the shoes, it became a lifestyle," he said.
For Tucker, tracking down rare sneakers has been a way of life since the early 2000s. "Back in the day, we used to get on NikeTalk to try and find stuff out," he said. "Now, with social media, more people hit me up. It becomes a whole process, and as a real sneaker guy, I like it and the relationships I've built."
Though some luxury homes feature hidden trapdoors behind bookshelves that lead to man caves, theaters or bars, Tucker's secret room naturally houses hundreds of sneakers.
"My first pair of Jordans, and my first pair of sneakers, were the Jordan 1s," Tucker said. "That's why I hold it special to my heart. I love 1s, and it's probably the Jordan that I wear the most."
PJ
Tucker
Kyle
Kuzma
Damian
Lillard
The GOAT Innovator Raising the bar with a unique sneaker deal

Kyle
Kuzma

Why “Innovator”?

With a Nike deal already in hand, Kyle Kuzma was looking forward to collecting and wearing rare sneakers now that he was a pro. As an unknown forward out of Utah, though, his deal didn't pay much. While still on his rookie contract with the Lakers, he didn't want to burn through tens of thousands of dollars tracking down exclusives, either.

So he got creative and partnered with GOAT, the biggest sneaker resell platform around. Based in LA and short for Greatest of All Time, the app boasts over 750,000 listings and helps Kuzma find coveted kicks he's after, for his arena-entry fits and for games.

"Sneakers aren't just a basketball shoe anymore," said GOAT co-founder Eddy Lu. "It's a lifestyle thing. What we've seen is that sneakers transcend basketball."

Behind the scenes
Almost instantly, Kuzma began scouring GOAT's tens of thousands of listings for on- and off-court sneakers in his size 15. "You can get any type of shoe you want," he said. PHOTOGRAPHS BY Bethany Mollenkof
“Everybody has the perception that when you get to the league, you can get any shoe ... but it's very hard to still get rare shoes.”
In just a few years, Kuzma went from idolizing Kobe Bryant and his sneaker line to teaming up with Nike's current headliner in LeBron James for a historic franchise. "You always see guys with classic sneakers playing here," he said.
With GOAT located in nearby Culver City and its parent company in sunny Santa Monica, Kuzma and his business manager, Vin Sparacio, have been taking advantage of the added business opportunities Los Angeles offers.
Throughout the season, Kuzma meets with GOAT members such as Matt Cohen, VP of business development & strategy (left), to map out his pregame kicks and game shoes for specific games.
All year, Kuzma has rotated among several rare and limited models from Kobe Bryant's line, like this recent exclusive Kobe 1 Protro UNDFTD. "Kobe has always been great about shoes, the innovation behind it and the meaningfulness," he said.
One of James' most coveted collectibles also spoke to his tier of A-list contacts and his off-court business moves. "He's been there and done that with everything and everywhere I'm trying to go," Kuzma said. "He's a great resource [for] learning about both on-court and off the court."
PJ
Tucker
Kyle
Kuzma
Damian
Lillard
The Signature Superstar Telling stories with the shoe that carries his name

Damian
Lillard

Why “Superstar”?

Coming off of a first-team All-NBA season last year, Damian Lillard looked to bridge his standing among the league's best with his growing marketing profile off the court.

Most of all, he wanted to take advantage of the league's loosened color rules and tell stories with his Adidas Dame 4 and Dame 5 signature sneakers, transcending the Blazers' typical red and black tones.

"Now, if I want to wear a mint green shoe because it represents my mother's favorite color ... well now I'm wearing it on TV," he said. "It allows you to tell those stories and use whatever colors you want."

Behind the scenes
One of Lillard's favorite Dame 5 colorways takes inspiration from his favorite childhood bike. "I had a yellow Mongoose," he recalls. "My dad had it with the pegs on it, the gyro so the front could spin around, and I had the plates on it with my neighborhood and the street that I grew up." One summer, the bike was stolen -- gone for good. Adidas re-created the bike as a gift for Lillard, to match his new "DameGoose" 5s. PHOTOGRAPHS BY Samuel Wilson
“Social media has allowed me to bring people closer. ... People are following the person, and not just the athlete that they see on TV.”
There's no mistaking Dame's goal every season: a championship. Inspired by one of his favorite video games, Sega's Sonic The Hedgehog, the "Chasing Rings" theme was born. "I thought that would be a cool story," he said. "I hadn't seen anybody bring that story to life or make that connection."
Along with Nate Jones, Lillard's longtime social media and marketing muscle at Goodwin Sports, Dame has built one of the more genuine platforms across Instagram and Twitter. "People are following the person," Lillard said, "and not just the athlete that they see on TV."
Throughout the year, Lillard will swing by the Adidas Village in Portland and sign batches of sneakers for the brand to use in fan giveaways, employee appreciation moments and store displays around the country. "I'll just drive on down and handle stuff," he said. "Since it's right in my backyard."
Now five shoes in, with a long-term Adidas contract locked down, Lillard is proud to build out his signature collection. "I'm just looking forward to the growth, and hopefully we can continue to have the same type of impact with the shoes," he said.
Being just a 15-minute drive from Adidas' offices has its perks, as Lillard can drop by the office for feedback, or invite the product team over to his house, often on a whim. "It's helped a lot," he said. "If I was in a different city or state, it would be tough to communicate and get in front of each other as often as we do."
PJ
Tucker
Kyle
Kuzma
Damian
Lillard
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