After sticking to a short rotation of well-worn Kobe Bryant models throughout his first few seasons in the NBA, Giannis Antetokounmpo is embracing the postgame sneaker giveaway trend taking the league by storm.
Nike’s first international player to have a signature shoe, the Milwaukee Bucks star now has an endless supply of special edition Zoom Freak 1 colorways at his disposal, wearing a new pair for each game. After a road dismantling of the Memphis Grizzlies, the reigning MVP peered through the sideline crowd once the buzzer sounded, kicked off his sneakers and found a giddy young fan wearing his familiar No. 34 jersey.
“I wanted a good-looking shoe that could tell a story that a kid could relate to,” he said. “A shoe that could make a kid work hard. A shoe that could make a kid believe in his dream.”
While the model is best known for its simple black-and-white launch colorway, the more colorful pair gifted by Giannis was perhaps one of his most exclusive yet. Created to celebrate his Most Valuable Player award, the white upper is highlighted by an “alphabet soup” design graphic of all-over lettering from his last name.
This player-exclusive pair was inspired in part by his “Alphabet Man” nickname in China, with the heel of each shoe also updated to include an “MVP” accent. On the midsole, his parents “Charles + Veronica” are featured, while the heel rubber incorporates the names of each of his four brothers.
“I wanted my shoe to basically introduce me and my family to the world,” he said.
Antetokounmpo has said he now owns nearly 4,000 pairs of shoes, thanks to his long-term Nike deal, but his humble beginnings while growing up in Greece have allowed him to keep his perspective and insistence on looking out for others. As a young teenager, his family’s tight budget led to him leaning on his older brother Thanasis and even teammates to share their shoes with him, in order for him to be able to practice and play.
“I was just hunting down shoes from teammates,” he said. “After practice, I’d go up to them and ask, ‘Are you done with those? Do you still want those?’ They were like, ‘C’mon, Giannis … but OK,’ and take them off their feet — ‘You can have them.’ I had great teammates growing up. They took care of me like I was their younger brother.”
Once he landed his first Nike shoe deal while still in Europe, Antetokounmpo remembers returning the favor, gifting a pair of size 16s to a then-teammate of his 12-year-old brother Alex.
“What people used to do for me, I did it for him. That was the first time I was in the spot where I could do that,” he said. “A lot of people, you give them stuff and they might take it for granted. But a lot of kids don’t take it for granted. I didn’t take it for granted.”
As he works toward creating future editions of his signature sneaker series with Nike, he plans to incorporate the names of each Antetokounmpo family member into every model, along with continuing to give away both his game-worn pairs and additional pairs to those in need.
Like Antetokounmpo, a fellow newcomer to the selective signature sneaker space this season is Boston Celtics All-Star Gordon Hayward. After signing a shoe deal with Chinese brand Anta in the fall of 2018, Hayward spent the past season working through designs and prototypes with the company to create his new GH1 sneaker for this year.
“More than anything, they were passionate about basketball and they were also passionate about me as an individual,” Hayward said. His debut signature model is scheduled to launch in late December across China.
While he prefers to mostly stick within the Celtics’ classic color palette of white, black and green for his sneakers on the court, Hayward is also teaming up with Anta for a muted black and gum colorway with a nod to a Boston staple since he arrived to the region in 2017: his barbershop called Titletown.
Gordon Hayward is debuting a barbershop-inspired edition of his Anta GH1 signature shoe tonight.
Shoe features his fresh cut silhouette on the tongue and barber’s pole graphics, with a limited release coming soon in the Boston area. pic.twitter.com/PVNiOqnf9H
— Nick DePaula (@NickDePaula) December 13, 2019
With details inspired by the traditional red and blue striped barber’s pole and the typeface font at the entrance of Titletown, the shoe also features a silhouette of Hayward’s swooping hair and faded beard along the tongue tab. Clippers and a comb are depicted underneath the tongue, with the barbershop’s and Hayward’s names each stitched along the upper. Fellow Celtics like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart have also come through the shop for cuts over the years.
“Everybody dreams of having their own shoe one day,” Hayward said. “[Anta] proposing me having a signature shoe was a big piece of the deal. It’s something that I’m really excited for.”
Elsewhere in the league, some of the game’s biggest sneakerheads were spotted in new debuts, custom colorways and vintage favorites. Louisiana native Langston Galloway mapped out a detailed custom honoring one of the state’s most famous artists and icons, with a camouflage Master P tribute pair of his Q4 Sports sneaker that included the rapper’s classic “Make Em Say Uhh!!” hook lyrics down the heel tab.
Jayson Tatum’s latest Air Jordan 34 player exclusive drafted off of one of Nike’s rarest and most exclusive Foamposite themes, with vivid green accents and smoke inspired by the animated movie “ParaNorman” from earlier in the decade.
Of course, PJ Tucker yet again turned heads, breaking out a 2008 Nike Hyperdunk pair that was originally headlined by Kobe Bryant in gleaming purple and yellow patent leather.
Check out each of the best sneakers worn around the league this week, and vote for your favorite pair in our poll below. For real-time updates on sneaker culture and NBA kicks, follow @SneakerCenter on Instagram.