Rockets forward P.J. Tucker is the NBA's undisputed sneaker king. He's the Michael Jordan of kicks and, in a newly-crowded sneaker scene among his peers, the race is always for who's No. 2.
Prior to last season, the NBA revised its sneaker guidelines, loosening restrictions that kept the league's sneakerheads in a creative box for years. Tucker, who entered the league out of Texas in 2006, had to show off his shoe game in a much more subtle manner for most of his career. For seven seasons he laced up heat on the floor, but had to follow the NBA's rules, leaving so much on the table.
"Over the years for sure. I would always have to find a lot of white/black, black/white, grey shoes and stuff like that," Tucker told CBS Sports prior to the Rockets facing off against the Miami Heat. "During those times it was always like 'I wish I could do this, I wish I could do that.' But now being able to go back and wear some of those pairs is kind of cool."
Tucker is definitely taking advantage of the new landscape. Catching him in the tunnel pregame is a ritual on social media. Needing to know what beyond-rare shoe he's going to break out next is top priority among the intertwined demographic that is basketball and sneaker culture.
To put things into perspective, Tucker has worn over $200K worth of sneakers on the court each of the last two seasons. Think of a rare shoe, whatever it is, chances are Tucker got his hands on them and wore them in a game. The Nike Air Yeezy 2 'Red October, the Nike Air Fear Of God 1, the Jordan 5 Trophy Room 'Friends and Family,' the Jordan 4 North Carolina PE - he wore them all and that was just a brief synopsis of the absolute run he's on.
What's different this year compared to last season? Tucker did his shoe work as a Nike athlete, but his contract with the swoosh expired during the offseason. He entered the year free to wear whatever shoes he wanted with no brand restrictions at all. He's worn Adidas and Puma, among other brands. And while Tucker says being able to do his own thing is cool, he's looking to make things official and sign with a major sneaker brand in the very near future.
"Yeah it's getting close. It's getting close to the time where I'm going to sign," Tucker said. "Hopefully here in the next couple weeks. We'll get there."
The sneaker free agency won't last much longer, but that doesn't mean Tucker's shoe game will fade once he signs. His creativity and dedication to his craft is second to none. He has a team that helps him track down some of the most sought after and scarce shoes ever.
"It's just like a daily routine. I got interns, guys that work for me, that's all they do all day is just find shoes," Tucker said. "Certain things come across my desk, someone wants to sell their collection or someone just came up on some shoes and they don't even know what they got."
The interns scour the sneaker scene all day and find certain gems, those gems get passed through Tucker who approves of all the decisions. The team purchases the shoes and they end up at Tucker's locker, a simple lace-up away from hitting the court.
The age of the shoe doesn't faze Tucker, either. He regularly breaks out kicks old enough to be in middle school, all while being a defensive stopper on a playoff contender.
"They break all the time. Sometimes I change shoes because they broke. The sole will break, the midsole will be falling apart sometimes, especially if they're deadstock," Tucker said. "If I bring them out deadstock something will usually happen, so some of them if they're really big time pairs I'll go ahead and have them broken in."
There's a team searching the internet at all times. There's a special technique to get older shoes in game shape. Tucker has it all figured out when it comes to this sneaker stuff.
Nothing he does when it comes to kicks should surprise anyone at this point, well, except if you see him on the court in the Nike Air Mag 'Back To The Future' shoes.
"The only shoe is the Air Mag," Tucker said. "It's the only one that I was like 'I'm not doing that.' I tried once, I put them on and was going to fake like I was going to do it but I'm not doing it."