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Shoe game: Big deals in Kobes, a look at how jazz players choose their shoes

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Utah Jazz goalie Donovan Mitchell trades shoes with 11-year-old Hailey Black before an NBA game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, November 27, 2021 (Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News)

Estimated reading time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY – Donovan Mitchell would like to make his point: it wasn’t the shoes.

On November 4, Jordan Clarkson showed up to a game with a new pair of DON Issue No. 3. It was one of the most frustrating first minutes for Clarkson of the season. His jump shot wasn’t falling (and, frankly, the shots weren’t close) and he missed rabbits in the lane. Something was clearly wrong.

He looked at DON Issues No. 3 – his teammate’s iconic sneakers – and opted for a change. With a pair of Nikes now on his feet, he scored 9 of 11 for 25 points in a blistering second half.

“I said to him: ‘Brother, you night at the sales!’ Mitchell laughed.

Here’s where Mitchell could point out that he himself is averaging 30.8 points and shooting 54 percent from the field in the last six games – all of the Utah Jazz wins – wearing those same sneaker designs. Clearly, they are not all bad.

So what made Clarkson change that night in Atlanta? It’s really simple, DONATIONS were just too new.

“I was like, ‘Brother, that was nothing against your shoe.’ It was just a new pair of shoes, not broken at all, ”Clarkson said. “If he had given me one that he trained in or something, I probably would have felt better and I probably would have had a better game.”

But that story prompted a few questions: How much thought is actually spent on a player’s shoe selection? And how exactly do players care about the sneakers they wear every game? Here is what we found out.

Joe Ingles leaned over to begin to untie his faded white Kobes and laughed at the question. If anyone on the team doesn’t care about their style, it’s Ingles.

“I wear my Chucks, I wear Crocs and these Kobes – that’s it,” Ingles said. “It’s pretty boring.”

Boring, of course; but comfortable, yes. And to say that Ingles doesn’t care about his shoes is incorrect. He just doesn’t care about appearance, per se.

Ingles has built up a large collection of Converse All-Stars and Kobes – something that came in handy after Kobe Bryant‘s wife Vanessa announced that the family estate would not renew the long-term shoe contract with Nike. The end of partnerships has resulted in a shortage of the player’s favorite shoe (there has been some talk since negotiations resumed, so there is a silver lining).

Ingles said he only has a few more pairs of Kobes he currently wears, but has more styles in store for seasons to come. But even if he didn’t, he didn’t think it would be a big deal. He wears them because they are comfortable. He assumes that there are other comfortable shoes.

“It’s a pair of shoes. I wore them because they are comfortable and I was able to have a lot of them,” Ingles said. “If I can’t have them, I’m just going to wear something else. I really don’t think much about shoes.”

The Kobe shortage, however, is a bigger problem for other jazz players.

Utah Jazz goalie Donovan Mitchell wears boxes of shoes after training at the Zions Bank basketball campus in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, October 19, 2021.
Utah Jazz goalie Donovan Mitchell wears boxes of shoes after training at the Zions Bank basketball campus in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, October 19, 2021. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Hassan Whiteside had their fill of them last season when news started to come out that they might be hard to find. He estimates that he has around 40 pairs in different designs.

Eric Paschall also made sure to pick up a bunch of them before they left, and he hasn’t finished looking. He roamed resale marketplaces like StockX, GOAT, Ebay and Poshmark in search of shoes, and paid high prices to grow his collection to 80 pairs. So high, in fact, that he’s unwilling to reveal the maximum he spent on a single pair of shoes.

Suffice it to say it was more than the sticker price.

“I always liked Kobes when I was younger, I always wanted Kobes, I wore Kobes so you get some cash and you can buy any Kobes you want,” Paschall said. “So I just started collecting them.”

Now, when it comes to which pair players wear for a certain game, a few things come into play. If Whiteside thinks he’ll be paired with a bigger, smaller one, he’ll go for a lighter model so he can chase him more easily. Many players will also consider the jersey and often try to match it. But, for a number of jazz players, they carry whatever is placed in the locker by equipment manager Adam Klauke.

“Adam is the Equipment Manager of the Year, so he just picks the shoes he wants me to wear – I’m just listening,” said Rudy Gobert. “It’s been nine years, so he knows me now. And he knows I don’t really care that much.”

As Gobert answered from a court-side seat after a Jazz shootout, Mitchell interrupted the interview, steadily descending the rows to stand just behind Gobert. So when Gobert was asked who on the team cared the most, he pointed to Mitchell, who also raised his hand high.

“Earn a lot of money too,” Gobert said. “So I don’t blame him.”

To which Mitchell replied, “In a store near you!

Mitchell is the only jazz player to have signed a shoe contract. He is now in the third edition of his own shoe and he has the choice of seemingly endless colorways. Clarkson joked that Mitchell’s shoes “took up the entire locker room” and that he has reached a point where the Jazz are bringing a dedicated sneaker travel bag just for Mitchell’s growing collection.

With so many options, how does Mitchell determine which ones to wear each night?

“It’s really sporadic and spontaneous,” he said.

He likened it to leaving his house – there isn’t a lot of thinking, most nights. He just throws some and heads for the court. If he likes the way they feel and he does a few hits, he keeps them. If he doesn’t, he will change them.

“I’m superstitious,” Mitchell said.

So, yes, he got it when Clarkson chose to take off his signature sneaker when he started a game badly; he did the exact same thing himself.

“I appreciate him wearing them,” Mitchell said. “I appreciate all the guys who carry my stuff. The fact that he even put them on, I just appreciate that. Help promote my stuff. That’s all the love for it.”

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