For years now, PJ Tucker has been known for his remarkably rare pairs, variety of vintage finds and surprise unveils, but his latest sneaker to hit the court took on a message and purpose far beyond the multithousand-dollar kicks he has been spotted in.
During a break in the Rockets’ schedule in Ohio, Tucker trekked 40 miles from Cleveland to meet with the Kent State basketball team for an open Q&A session on his global hoops journey and life in the league.
He was also there to meet with Kalin Bennett, a 6-foot-11 freshman center and the NCAA’s first Division I scholarship athlete with autism.
“His story is super relatable to anybody,” said Tucker. “Anybody that has struggles in life to try to attain a goal, to have that type of perseverance.”
Tucker was struck by Bennett’s story and journey, and specifically liked his mom’s phrase of encouragement that helped power the Arkansas native’s path: “Never say can’t.”
While they were seated together on the team’s practice court, Tucker pulled three player-exclusive pairs of the Nike Kobe 4 Protro out of his custom, 16-slotted sneaker travel bag. He wanted Bennett to pick his game shoes for Houston’s matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and to add in his own encouraging inscriptions and autograph.
The familiar “Never say can’t” was penned along the left toe of the red-and-gum colorway picked by Bennett, while “There’s no such thing as can’t” wrapped around the inner right toe for good measure. The Kent State center’s cursive signature and No. 50 jersey number were also scribed along the Swoosh.
Tucker is hoping to not only share Bennett’s story with a larger audience but to also celebrate his achievements in earning a college scholarship and personally encourage him to keep going.
“To be like, ‘You know what, I’m still going to chase my dream and do what I want to do.’ I think it’s amazing,” Tucker said.
While Tucker and more than a hundred players around the league have been lacing up the Kobe 4 in the opening months of the season, Spurs scorer DeMar DeRozan is already on to the next, as he debuted Nike’s upcoming Kobe 5 Protro, 10 years after it was first unveiled by his childhood idol, Kobe Bryant.
“I used to grow a ‘fro out when I was young, cause he had the ‘fro,” DeRozan said with a laugh. “As a kid, we all gravitate to some player that you try to imitate or be like, and Kobe was definitely that.”
Originally worn by Bryant on Christmas Day in 2009, the “Chaos” colorway was one of the first sneakers to feature a Joker-inspired edition, with Bryant relating to the maniacal and sinister mentality of the Batman character.
For DeRozan, it’s the third straight Protro edition of Bryant’s signature line that he has debuted, after being the first player to wear the revamped Kobe 1 and Kobe 4.
“It still trips me out. I grew up watching him and idolizing his game, then playing against him and playing in his last All-Star Game with him,” he said. “It’s a shoe [series] I’ve worn my whole career. To have that really come full circle is definitely something I can’t even put into words.”
For the third season in a row, Russell Westbrook insisted on unveiling his newest Jordan signature model in front of friends and family in Los Angeles, with the Rockets’ schedule lining up for a mid-December debut.
The purposely erratic and frantic look of his WhyNot 0.3 model is styled with a “Zero Noise” theme in mind, with jumbled TV screen colors and graphics making up the design. Westbrook went on to have 40 points and 10 rebounds in his first time out in his new shoes, while helping to fuel the Rockets’ come-from-behind win against the Clippers.
In Milwaukee, a memorable night was in store for the Antetokounmpo family, as Giannis, Thanasis and Kostas were all expected to suit up together when the Los Angeles Lakers were in town. Fittingly, each wore a different colorway of the reigning MVP’s Freak 1 signature shoe for the occasion. The shoe incorporates each of the brothers’ names along the heel, along with a nod to brothers Alex and Francis, and their parents, Charles and Veronica.
Although the Phoenix Suns won’t be playing on Christmas Day, Kelly Oubre Jr. unveiled a holiday-themed pair of the Converse All Star Pro BB, with heavy Grinch vibes channeling one of his favorite Kobe Bryant themes from the start of the decade. Sneakerheads might also make the connection, as the Pro BB’s designer, Eric Avar, is most known for his longtime work on Kobe Bryant’s signature series.
To support his brother’s signature line, Dallas Mavericks shooting guard Seth Curry worked up a themed navy-and-neon pair of the Under Armour Curry 7 Icon, tying back into the loud and oft-debated latest Mavs City Edition unis.
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