All Eyes Are on PJ Tucker’s Sneaker Free Agency

The NBA's sneaker king opens up to Sports Illustrated about his free agency and why he is considering every brand.
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Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Going sneaker shopping with PJ Tucker is like watching a mad scientist go to work in a lab. He is analyzing every single ingredient it takes to pick a sneaker for an upcoming game in Brooklyn against the Nets. At Flight Club located near Union Square in New York City, Tucker took at least 45 minutes scouting shelves, talking with store associates and making phone calls before shouting, “Man, y’all don’t have anything!”

"It’s a fun but strenuous process because people obviously know PJ as the sneaker king, so he has hundreds and hundreds of pairs of sneakers,” said Eutel Wallace, sales supervisor at Flight Club. “Luckily, he likes copping things two or three times over, so we usually have something for him but sometimes it is difficult. We have to really dig deep to find something for him.”

PJ purchased a pair of all white Air Force 1s and left the store.

So, what is his mindset when searching for a shoe? It is everything. Who is he playing? What city is he in? Is there a sneaker that has a special connection to that city? Is there a particular player connected to a certain shoe that he is playing against? How rare are the sneakers?

Tucker is not just the NBA’s biggest sneakerhead, but he has become an artist of sorts. In the social media era where players have built personal brands, PJ has owned the fashion and sneaker space. He is a mainstay on SLAM’s League Fits Instagram handle and travels to Paris to attend fashion week. Fans are usually gripped to their screens to see what sneakers he is rocking on any given night.

The start of the NBA season has started off a bit different for PJ because he is a sneaker free agent. SI.com had the chance to talk to PJ about having freedom, his thoughts on probably leaving Nike, sneaker pitches and more.

Jarrel Harris: How are you enjoying sneaker free agency? It seems like you are enjoying the freedom but does any part of you want it to be over?

PJ Tucker: Of course, I want it to be over. But it is fun. It’s the first time in my life being able to wear whatever I want. I am enjoying that part of it, but I much rather be signed.

JH: What are some of the factors you are considering before making a decision?

PJ: More than anything, it is just the fit. Something that makes sense. I want to be able to be me but at the same time, I want to create some fun stuff that I want to wear and be with a company that is with me and pushes me to do that as well. There is a lot of different things that goes into that.

JH: Every sneaker blog has covered your sneaker free agency. ‘Where is PJ going?’ ‘Did you see PJ rock Puma’s?’ What made the free agencies of Gilbert Arenas and Kobe Bryant so legendary? Do you remember anything about them?

PJ: Gilbert wearing those Dolce & Gabbanas was legendary. I will never get that aggressive in my life. That was crazy. What’s funny ever since I became a free agent, everyone has been like, 'why you don’t wear Gucci’s' and all this craziness. I can wear a lot of different stuff, but I don’t know if I can do that. That was big. Even Kobe when he left Adidas and before Nike that was huge. Kobe came with the A.I. Reebok Questions in a Lakers’ colorway and even the Jordan III’s that was crazy.

JH: Are you going to try to out-do them?

PJ: Nah I don’t try to outdo nobody; I just try to do me. That is just kinda like my thing, right? I respect everybody and what they do in their lanes, but I just do me at the end of the day whatever that entails.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

JH: The Nike vault is something special. How hard is it for you to leave such an iconic brand?

PJ: I don’t think it would be that hard honestly. I think more than anything on court it would be tough because I am just so used to that but lately, I have been trying out a bunch of different brands and they got a bunch of nice products—people being innovative, getting better designers. A lot of them are really comfortable so that aspect matters on court but even off court, a lot of people are getting designers and doing different things as far on the creative side. Puma is doing things. Reebok hired Kerby [Jean-Raymond] from Pyer Moss. You have everybody kind of mixing it up and making fun stuff.

JH: Why should a brand invest in PJ Tucker?

PJ: Honestly with me, I don’t know if anybody else is a bigger brand ambassador than I am. When I am with somebody, I roll with them. I believe this wholeheartedly, when I believe in something, I rock with it, and I think people see that. I think that is the biggest thing people see. For me, it’s not like a LeBron situation where it’s like monumental. He’s this one-of-a-kind athlete that is the face of the brand—I am like an everyday dude. I am like the dude walking down the street, it just so happens that I can guard people and make threes.

JH: Is there a current pitch that has stood out so far?

PJ: Everybody honestly. Everybody is doing a great job at trying to get their brands going and they all have different ways of getting that across. With all of the collaborations people are doing with the different models people are coming out with like Puma where they only had one basketball shoe last year and now they have three or four. They have bunch of stuff in the pipelines and they do a bunch of stuff with their clothes. Everyone got so much going on, it’s so crazy. Honestly like literally every one of them.

JH: Do James Harden and Russell Westbrook try to persuade you into signing with their respective brands at Adidas or Jordan?

PJ: Nah. They just be like, 'get what you deserve.' That’s just the biggest thing. They take a look at what I got going on, but we never have conversations about stuff like that. But I do get the guys who want to give their two cents about me getting what I deserve and how I’ve worked and done so much. They tell me it’s time for me to reap the benefits.

JH: A lot of kids growing up who want to play in the NBA mention they want their own signature sneaker. Why is that something you don’t want?

PJ: I don’t want my own shoe. That is something I have never wanted. If anybody is pitching that, I would say no. I feel like that is the only thing that limits me, being a signature athlete, because you have to wear your signature shoe all of the time. I don’t want no parts of that. What makes me standout is the versatility to be able to do everything.

JH: What has stood out so far from Adidas?

PJ: I love old Adidas models, man. All the new Yeezy stuff is dope and all the Pharrell stuff and all that innovative stuff is cool but I like the Stan Smiths. I like the Crazy 8s, I like the Original Pro Models which is a top-five hoop shoe ever. I heard they are coming back this year, so that should be fun.

JH: How would you fit alongside Kawhi Leonard on New Balance?

PJ: Honestly with New Balance, I love their off-court stuff. On court, I wouldn’t even care, just let me rock all of the stuff off of it. I love the NB 999. I think we can create some different colorways and have some fun with that. That silhouette would be crazy. I haven’t tried the hoop shoe, but I heard it’s light and comfortable. With New Balance… the off court stuff is incredible. A lot of the clothing and what they are doing with that is pretty dope too. And they have a lot of good stuff going on.

JH: You mentioned Reebok in a story with ESPN. Why are you considering them even though they don’t have new basketball sneakers out?

PJ: Reebok has their own way. They be doing a lot of different things with artists. They really haven’t been doing basketball, but I don’t really see myself with just basketball with anybody. I know that sounds odd and basketball is fine, but I am more of a lifestyle person.

JH: How has it been picking out shoes for road trips now that you are a free agent?

PJ: Now that is the fun part and different because I might still end up with some Kobe IV’s for the comfort and they are my favorites, but I might mix in some little oddballs and stuff I might try.

JH: What do you want people to remember you for when it is all said and done?

PJ: I am a dope dude. I like to hoop but I don’t want to be remembered for one thing, like ‘oh he just plays basketball.’ Everybody has their thing, whether that is guys getting into Hollywood like LeBron or dudes like me and Swaggy P who created their own lanes in fashion and shoes. You got guys doing so much stuff. It makes your story unique. It’s not just about hitting corner threes and playing defense. That’s cool and that’s a part of me but it’s not ME.

Fun fact

PJ did settle on a sneaker for his game against the Nets—the LeBron 8 “112” F&F.

“I am known to bring out some heat in New York because people here embrace it so much. That just fiend for you to wear something crazy. And ever since I did the Fear of God it’s been a whole movement.”