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PJ Tucker on Kobe Bryant, Virgil Abloh, and Sneaker Free Agency

Last Updated: September 29, 2022
On the latest episode of Boardroom’s “Inside Look,” the NBA’s “Sneaker King” reveals that he actually hates that term, how he “really was” about to sign with Puma in 2019, and more.

For the last decade, from Phoenix to Toronto, Houston to Milwaukee, and now in Miami, PJ Tucker has been showcasing one of the world’s greatest sneaker collections on a nightly basis on the NBA hardwood.

Known for his corner 3-point prowess and lockdown defense, his status as the league’s most prolific sneakerhead has helped raise his profile, leading to brand deals with the likes of Levi’s and eBay, design collaborations with Dolce & Gabbana, Temples & Bridges, and Converse, and even equity stakes in up-and-coming platforms like the Rares App.

All along, he likes to think of himself as just a dude that loves sneakers.

“That’s all I am,” says Tucker. “I just loved shoes my entire life. That’s it. I’m not the King. I just like shoes, bro.”

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

However modestly he likes to downplay his multi-thousand pair collection, his love for sneakers has opened the door to partnerships, deals and visibility that he never dreamed of during the first chapter of his basketball odyssey, when he spent six years globetrotting around Europe to find his professional footing.

Last season, Tucker celebrated each chapter of his career through his “Journey Pack,” splashing colors and stories atop the Kobe 6 Protro to highlight each and every team he played for leading into his eventual NBA path.

“That was like one of those life goal type of situations,” he added. “To be able to make your own PEs, I could never explain that to somebody.”

On sneaker free agency in 2019:

“I was coming from not really having a deal, to being with Nike, but still not financially making money. Them giving me really crazy leniency to let me wear what I want to wear, to now, to actually signing a deal to be paid. And, being able to have that [freedom] – it was the first time in my career where I could go, ‘Oh, I can kind of go into my bag for a minute until I decide. I’m free, free!’ 

“I talked to you about it, like, ‘Yo, I’m about to really go in my bag real quick.’ I got some Three Stripes stuff, I got some Reeboks, and I got some stuff that I wanted to pull out. That little couple months was kind of cool to be able to jump around, wear different stuff. Which I always have, but it’s always been under the Nike umbrella. To be able to go into my bag a little bit was cool. 

“My free agency was weird, because I had the Chinese [brands] – 361 – and some big numbers were getting thrown out there. They were talking about creativity and what they were going to let me do. We talked about that. The talks with Puma were heavy. That was interesting, because that was really in play and really a big-time thing.

“In the end, my relationship with Nico [Harrison], the ties at Nike, it’s tough to break. Because those guys are like family. From Day 1, they’ve always shown love and done so much. Them giving me the leniency before all of this, to be able to wear what I wanted and show my personality that way, that all played a part in all of this. It was short lived, but I had fun with it, so it was dope.”

Timothy Nwachukwu/Getty Images
Wearing Kobe Bryant sneakers after his passing:

“It means so much more now, man … it’s almost like personal now. Before, it was personal, because he would always be like, ‘Oh, why you ain’t got [my] shoes on,’ when you were playing against him and stuff. It was a little personal. After his passing, it got so much more personal. Because it wasn’t just knowing him.

“It was being a friend, a competitor and now it’s like, you kind of represent that. Putting his shoes on, every time I go out, I represent him. The hard work that I put in, that he put in, to be able to do this – I can’t let him down. You wear it a little more on your sleeve since then. It’s something definitely personal, that I cherish for sure.” 

Receiving signed Off-White Jordan 2 Lows and honoring Virgil Abloh:

“That was ill because literally the day before, he had just signed my IIs. I posted, not knowing. I was in Chicago, and it was like, that was one of those days where I just kind of spaced out. It didn’t feel real. And it almost still doesn’t now, just talking about it.

“Once he sent ’em back, I was like, ‘I’m about to rock these in a game, for sure. He signed ’em.’ I was super hyped about the shoe, because I hadn’t had it, and to get it back with his signature on it, was crazy. And like literally, the next day. It was like the wildest thing. Flying back to Miami, hearing it, not believing it, and then getting confirmation. It was crazy.

“That is a pair of shoes that I will cherish for the rest of my life, and obviously, I’ll keep forever. Virgil’s influence on culture and literally everything will not be soon to be forgotten. That’s something you will hold close to your chest.”

Designing his own Converse Pro Leather:

“When you pick a Converse, Pro Leather is like the first one that comes to mind. For me, outside of the Larry Johnson React, the Pro Leather is right up there. It’s up with the iconic models, with the Air Force 1, with the Ship; for me, I think the Pro Leather is right there.

“You could do so much with that shoe … it’s such an open canvas. I knew I wanted to be really clean and simple. Really clean and simple. The original thought was like the OG ’85 Jordan 1, that Neutral Grey. That was like my baseline. 

“From the original ‘Out Tha Mud’ – me and my crew, that’s what we call ourselves. So I wanted that grisly, dirty old bottom, that will continuously get better with time, once you give some wear to the shoe, kind of like that ’85 Retro feel. Then, picking the colors, I just went with that whole feel of Carolina and Texas. That’s my roots and where I come from, and it just all came together from that.”

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About The Author
Nick DePaula
Nick DePaula
Nick DePaula covers the footwear industry and endorsement deals surrounding the sporting landscape, with an emphasis on athlete and executive interviews. The Sacramento, California, native has been based in Portland, Oregon, for the last decade, a main hub of sneaker company headquarters. He’ll often argue that How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days is actually an underrated movie, largely because it’s the only time his Sacramento Kings have made the NBA Finals.