(photos by Liz Barclay)

It was 2000. NBA sophomore Vince Carter was fresh off of breaking an endorsement contract with Puma and was a sneaker free agent. The player’s acrobatic acts was a fixture on the nightly sports highlights, which made the anticipation for his appearance in that year’s NBA Slam Dunk Contest in Oakland California even more palpable.

Almost scoring a 50 in each round of the contest, Carter had left his mark on the basketball world, and he did it in a pair of And 1 Tai Chis. 

The brand started through hand-to-hand sales of graphic tees—out of the trunk of a car, no less—and eventually grew to become a national phenomenon in streetball, sneakers, and in the NBA. Put on the map by Rafer Alston (better known as Skip To My Lou), And 1 would go on to be worn by NBA All-Stars the likes of Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett, and Stephon Marbury, among others in the ‘90s and early ‘00s.

But then things changed.

Ownership of the company switched hands and And 1 ended up off of the walls of Foot Locker and into the self-serve racks at Wal-Mart. It’s presence in the NBA dwindled, with major endorsers (including Alston) jumping ship for other brands. 

Now after being quiet for some time, And 1 is placing a big bet on Charlotte Hornet Lance Stephenson, the brand wants to return with the same distinct personality as in the past and resuscitate its old rebel persona and re-enter the NBA arena with proper punch.

“To really regain all that street credibility, we had to go to the top level of the sport, to the elite players that play day-in and day-out in the league,” said Robert Capener, And 1’s senior vice president. “We’re doing it by putting the product on court, and having a great product that withstands the rigor of a NBA season.”

Along with Stephenson, And 1 also picked up four other upstart NBA players: Mitch McGary of OKC, James Johnson of Toronto Raptors, Jamal Franklin of the Memphis Grizzlies, and Isaiah Cannan of the Houston Rockets. Rafer Alston, a crossover personality who helped build And 1’s mixtape tour buzz in the late ‘90s while also managing to hone an NBA game, is also back with the brand.

“I’m going to try to give them input and ideas that could help keep the And 1 brand in the public eye,” Alston said, adding that he’s also helping with signing new players and developing the current players on the And 1 Roster. 

The shoe that And 1’s NBA guys will be wearing for the majority of the season is the Xcelerate—a new performance sneaker that’ll be sold at stores like Foot Locker, Champs, Footaction, and Eastbay for $85. One of the brand’s seminal styles—the yin yang-inspired Tai Chi that was worn by Stephenson a majority of last NBA season—is also still going to be a major story for the brand. Stephenson is expected to debut three new makeups this season: A Charlotte Hornets-themed colorway, a St. Patrick’s Day/Green Week colorway, and a gold colorway.

Everybody in my neighborhood had Tai Chis growing up,” Stephenson said of his memories of the shoe that was famously worn by Vince Carter in the 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Stephenson will also be rocking special PEs of the Xcelerate that feature his new And 1 “LS” logo.

Aside from being the brand’s new leader in the NBA (this new crop of NBA talent has been dubbed by the brand as the “Born Ready Crew”) he’s also having input on what sneakers And 1 should be retroing.  “I want the Sprewells to come back out. I want the Stephon Marburys to come back out,” the New York-native said. “I try to tell them give me all of them in different colorways.”

Retros in And 1’s archives include the Stephon Marbury signature the The Marbury 1; the Rise that was once worn by Jason Williams; the Chosen One famously rocked by Ben Wallace; the Desire, a shoe you might recall Kobe Bryant sporting during his sneaker free agency; Latrell Sprewell’s favored And 1 silhouette, The Fingerroll; and several signature sneakers for Kevin Garnett. 

And new retros aside from the Tai Chi are a part of the plan, according the Capener.  “Bringing Skip back is the precursor to a whole series of retro product that you’ll see,” he said, declining to mention which exact styles would be coming back out. “The Tai Chi is  just the tip of the iceberg and in the fall we’ll release an iconic retro style that the brand hasn’t retroed yet.”

Gerald Flores is the Editor-In-Chief of Sole Collector. You can follow him on Twitter here