Before the NBA opened up the floodgates on sneaker rules, there was Gilbert Arenas.
Many may remember him for pulling a gun on a teammate in the Washington Wizards locker room, but sneakerheads will always remember him for the 2010-2011 season when he was a sneaker free agent and wore a different pair of shoes each game. The journey was documented on a website Arenas launched called Sneaker Champ, and the pairs were even given away to fans at the end of the season. Arenas played in things people had never seen on an NBA court at the time: unreleased samples, customs, and even a pair Dolce & Gabbana high-tops.
It was a fun side attraction to watch parallel to the actual game. It was also much akin to what P.J. Tucker has done to shake up the league in the past few years.
It’s because of pros like Tucker, who have a deep love for sneakers and bring it to their jobs, that suits in the head office are forced to rethink outdated dress code policies, brands to restructure how they look at their deals, and casual fans of sneakers to gain new interest.
I don’t know Tucker personally, nor am I familiar with his business affairs. But as a fan of sneakers worn on court as much as the game itself, I thought Tucker was going to take it to another level when he announced he was a sneaker free agent. On his second episode of “Sneaker Shopping,” he spent an entry-level salary on non-Nike sneakers that included Kanye West’s x Reebok S. Carters and Pharrell’s Adidas NMDs.
As a Nike athlete, we’ve seen him wear almost everything under the sun—not only on court, but also in the tunnel. Off-White x Jordan 1s? Light work. Animal print LeBron 2s that was thought to be only had by LeBron himself? P.J. got a pair too and could raise the bar to something even more exotic and rare if he wanted to, like a pair of Cheetah Air Yeezy 2s.
In a league where every player has at least some base knowledge of sneakers and resources to get whatever kicks they want at resale or directly from their respective brand, Tucker is at the top of the food chain. That’s something you can’t learn during the off-season or hone during training camp.
In this new age of sneaker endorsements, he would’ve been the quintessential athlete to rep an aftermarket brand like GOAT or even a major retailer like Foot Locker. Something like that would’ve solidified him as a sneaker pioneer in the NBA— a player not directly tied to one brand, but forever linked to moving sneaker culture forward.
There must have been a legitimate reason for him to stay with Nike and for Nike to re-sign him. He may not be the caliber of a signature line (he’s admitted himself he wouldn’t want one), but he does bring other intrinsic value to the brand. He was the first to debut the Air Fear of God on court, a sneaker that was the intersection of fashion and performance. Tucker could also be integral to reviving forgotten basketball silhouettes to a new generation of sneakerheads. With Tucker’s credibility in sneaker culture, he could play an important role in what Nike has lined up away from basketball.
But as someone who’s actual job it is to monitor the sneakers worn in the public eye on a weekly basis, it would’ve been really cool to see Tucker dig into the vaults of other brands. Call me jaded. The reason Tucker is a darling of sneaker blogs everywhere is because he always comes with something unexpected. How much more unexpected could Tucker’s sneaker rotation be if he had an arsenal from every sneaker brand to play with?
I guess we’ll never know.