CHARLOTTE — P.J. Tucker walked into a pop-up store at All-Star Weekend sporting a crisp, colorful suit that would serve as the centerpiece of any normal person’s ensemble. As has become custom with Tucker though, the most important piece of his wardrobe was on his feet.
Tucker, who is widely known as the NBA’s sneaker king, was dressed brightly as he prepared to head over to the NBA All-Star Game, rocking a pair of orange Nike Air Force 1 low’s when he arrived at the Tissot Style Lounge to celebrate the official watch of the league.
While his conversation with Sports Illustrated centered on sneakers, Tucker, a do-it-all forward for the Rockets, has much more to offer than just his fashion. This season has been a trying one for the Rockets, who have leaned on James Harden and their cast of role players like Tucker as Chris Paul and Clint Capela have missed large chunks of the season due to injury. Of course, Harden had no problem picking up the extra shots, but the players around him picked it up in other areas, making it possible for the league’s leading scorer to focus on what he does best.
Tucker is an example of that collective effort. He’s accepted matchups with bigger guys and provided toughness for a team that lost two key defenders this summer. Tucker’s efforts have resulted in increases across the board, as he’s averaging 7.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG and 1.6 SPG in 35.3 MPG.
During a much-deserved break from the season, Tucker spoke to SI about Michael Jordan’s sneaker legacy, the best signature shoe in basketball and much more.
DeAntae Prince: It seems like All-Star has been a giant celebration of Michael Jordan with him owning the hometown Hornets and his birthday falling on the day of the All-Star Game. How influential has he been in your sneaker obsession?
P.J. Tucker: That’s where it all started. It was easy being a kid in the 80s and growing up in the early ‘90s, so that’s where it all started for me. Getting J’s at an early age, sometimes not being able to get them and everything you had to do to try to get them. Just the whole culture of, especially the mid-90s, the explosion of it with sneakers and Jordan and the levels it’s reached since.
DP: At my high school there was a Foot Locker next door. People would line up and skip school.
PT: Crazy. We used literally go at five in the morning, man, before school. You had to get them that day, though. Like I had to be the first one to get them so we’d be late, getting there at like second period.
DP: What’s your absolute top Jordan shoe? What’s the No. 1 model?
PT: Probably the Jordan 1’s. I would say 3’s to hoop in but 1’s to chill. That’s probably the only ones I would wear like every day. I could wear Jordan 1’s every day with anything. So many different flavors.
DP: I always wondered about that, too, when you play in retros or something a little older. Does it every feel a little off?
PT: It’s just the old, old ones. The OG ones. Those are the ones where you can tell how far Nike has come with engineering their shoes because those old ones are straight leather and rubber. I don’t understand how Mike used to play in them night in and night out. I’m sure he had a brand new pair every night, but with those it’s always a little tougher.
DP: We talked about you being the sneakerhead king of the NBA. If you’re No. 1, who would be No. 2 in the league?
PT: It’s hard to go against LeBron because he just has one-of-one stuff. I love how he just jumped into it because he’s changing the game with his own stuff but still being able to jump on the shoes that are coming out soon so people get a chance to see them and preview a lot of stuff, like on court and off court. Hopefully they start retroing more of his stuff so it would be hard to go against LeBron.
DP: I saw that he had LeBron and Air Max mashup.
PT: It’s like a cheat code for real. He can do anything he wants and get any shoe he wants.
DP: Of those guys like LeBron or Kyrie or Paul George, which All-Star do you think has the best on-court signature sneaker?
PT: Kyrie, for sure. Those Kyrie’s are dope and all of the colorways they’re doing for them. He’s been coming with so many player editions this year, it’s crazy. But even the ones they’re putting in stores, there are so many pairs. But they’re dope and they’re good hoop shoes.
DP: Jordan has mentioned how his brand matured in an organic way and how he doesn’t think the evolution of Jordan Brand could be duplicated. Do you agree?
PT: There’s no way anybody could ever do that because it was the timing of it too. The way he did it, the timing, the marketing of it—like everyone remembers the commercials and all of that. It’s iconic. Somebody could try to redo it but it would never be the same.
DP: And since we’re at a Tissot event, are you a watch guy? What’s your favorite piece?
PT: This Tissot joint I just got, I like this. It’s lightweight with a big face, kind of sporty leather. I like it. I’ll put it in rotation.
DP: And I saw that you carry a big case for your sneakers. Do you carry a similar thing for your watches?
PT: I only have three watch rolls. It’s not like the shoes.
DP: It kind of seems like you have everything, but is there one thing you’re still looking for? Is there one holy grail sneaker?
PT: It’s just the ins and outs stuff that are hard to find, sizes and such. Usually old stuff, like old SB shoes, old Air Max stuff. I’m still trying to hunt those Parra Friends and Family, the Netherlands pair. I haven’t found those in over a size 12 so hopefully I get those soon if they’re out there.