I remember having numerous back and forth arguments with friends not too many years ago about which shoe brand related squad we would rather run with: Nike’s Second Coming, or the handful of all-pros rocking with adidas. The best thing about the discussion was that no matter which side you chose, you had ample evidence of greatness to back you up.
The team of adidas ballers on the cover of KICKS 9 was made of some all-league type stuff. Agent Zero was fresh off a career best 29 points per; Timmy was a few rings deep; TMac was coming off an injury plagued all-star year; Chauncey had just posted career highs in points and assists; and KG was KG. Nearing the peaks of their games, we got these guys together for some fun like no one else could. Here, less than half a decade later, some things are a bit different. Injuries, new teams, and once elusive championship rings have caused these guys to go in different directions—but there’s no doubt they all deserved their shine at the time. Soon, we’ll all find out who shined bright enough last year to own the cover of KICKS 12.—Adam Fleischer
By Lang Whitaker
“Do not go on YouTube if you have got things to do, because it will ruin the rest of your day.”
Kevin Garnett is preaching, his four fellow adidas All-Stars acting as congregation. It’s the last week of July, and KG, Tracy McGrady, Tim Duncan, Chauncey Billups and Gilbert Arenas are in the same location for the first time since All-Star Weekend in Houston. This time it’s in a photo studio in steamy Santa Monica, CA.
Over the next few days, this starting five will film an adidas commercial due to drop in a few months. But first, they’ve gathered here exclusively for us. As dope as it is to see five of the best players in the League all in the same place, it’s even cooler to see them joking around, swapping stories, waiting until the tape recorder clicks off to trade gossip about coaches and players and tell the greatest stories no other reporter will ever hear.
Almost immediately upon arrival, the guys slot into roles: KG is the life of the party; Duncan the cerebral genius; T-Mac the laid-back pure athlete; Billups the anointed point god; Arenas the new kid on the block. Adidas has selected these five guys to lead their new movement, giving each one a signature shoe and trusting them to lead the way into adidas’ new 11-year deal as the League’s official uniform and apparel supplier. And teamwork doesn’t seem to be a problem—these guys enjoy hanging out with each other.
“I’m telling you, YouTube is amazing,” Garnett continues. “They’ve got videos of
all kinds of crazy things on there. They’ve probably got videos of all of us from back in high school on there.”
From the back of the room, Arenas looks up and speaks up.
“Y’all know who the best high school player was you never heard about?”
Before anyone can give a response, Gilbert answers his own question: “Me.”
Everyone laughs, but in a way he’s right—he wears number 0 because that’s how many minutes the haters predicted he’d log as a freshman at Arizona. But as evidenced by his 29.3 points per game last season and his second ASG berth, soon we’ll all understand what Wizards’ head coach Eddie Jordan has dubbed “Gilbertology,” the study of his quirky, supremely confident, talented point guard.
KICKS: Earlier, all the other guys were saying that they wanted a pair of your new shoes, the Gil Zero. Are you happy with your first signature shoe?
GA: Yeah. It’s a great, great start. I mean, it’s probably one of the best shoes I’ve seen in a while. It’s hard to find a shoe everyone likes, and sometimes I guess you just gotta go simple. You know, one that looks like you could wear it with jeans or to play in. That’s what I like about it.
KICKS: Were you thinking that you wanted something a little different?
GA: You know, I just thought about what would I go buy. For the last six years, that’s why I don’t wear basketball shoes. I just don’t like the way that they look. I can’t buy a pair of basketball shoes and put ’em on and wear ’em at school and look nice, with some jeans and a little polo shirt. That’s the kind of look I wanted in a basketball shoe. “That looks nice with that jersey! That looks nice with those jeans!”
KICKS: We heard you’re already involved with the second shoe.
GA: Yeah, I just told them stay away from straps and overloops. You know, kids don’t really like that.
KICKS: Have you ever been able to play in hightops?
GA: I tried it, but my Achilles always starts hurting, so I just get out of them. I wore ankle tape once and sprained my ankle real bad.
KICKS: You happy with what the Wizards are doing this summer?
GA: Yeah. We got Songaila, he’s gonna help us a lot. I like him because he can pass, he can shoot, he’s gonna help us a lot. But you know, it’s like every summer you want to see them take that big step. You want to see them take a power move. That’s what I’m waiting for, that power move to change your team. You know, like Miami, they took that power move and got Shaq. It’s like, two summers, all you need is two good summers, you’re right there. And I’m just waiting for that.
KICKS: What are your goals for yourself next year, and for the Wizards?
GA: Just to become a better player, just to mature in this League. Each year you try to get better and try to outdo what you did last year. It’s going to be hard to outdo what I did last year, but it’s a goal. I want to get to those Finals. I want that ring.
If It Ain’t Ruff It Ain’t Right.
At the behest of Chauncey Billups, these words have been seared across the tongues of his new signature shoe, the C-Billups.
“That’s my slogan, that’s what I live, what I’ve been through in my career,” says Chauncey, who like Arenas is getting his
first signature joint this year. “I’ve learned to embrace that and say, Alright, it’s tough but let’s get down.”
For a guy who played on a lot of bad teams before hitting Motown and winning a title, Billups has had a massive paradigm shift. Last season, the Pistons won a franchise-record 64 games, but when asked if he can accept last season’s result—an Eastern Conference Finals loss to eventual champs Miami—Chauncey’s face goes blank.
CB: You think I’m happy with the way my season ended, man?
KICKS: Well, what do you do next year to improve on this year?
CB: Just keep grinding, keep grinding. We did everything—we had the best record—we did everything we needed to do, but when it all counted, we just didn’t play that great, so…
KICKS: How is it gonna change now that Ben Wallace is gone?
CB: It’s gonna be different, you know, he was part of our focus, so we’re going to miss him defensively, and I’m going to miss him as a friend, because he’s one of my favorite teammates of all time. But I’m happy for Ben.
KICKS: Is it as cool as you thought it would be to have your first signature shoe?
CB: Oh yeah. For me, this is my first one, so I’m like a kid in a candy store. I’m
loving it for real.
KICKS: What did you want in your shoe?
CB: I just wanted some ankle support in my shoe, and I like to be able to tie my shoe
tight, too, because I wear ankle braces. So I needed it to be kind of roomy in there, I
needed it to be wide because I wear orthotics. I like how it came out.
KICKS: Did you have a lot of input on your shoe?
CB: I did. They’d come to me and ask about different stuff you like. I wore so many
different shoes, and I’d like different things—the backs of some shoes, or whatever, a lot of different things.
KICKS: What’s your favorite thing about your new shoes?
CB: [Smiles] That they mines, you know what I’m saying? I like ’em, they light, and they’re mine.
“I’ve got a question for you.”
“I heard it on XM,” Duncan says, almost defensively. Someone asks Tim if Tracy is good on the song. “Yeah, he’s good. I just…I recognized his voice on there.”
This is jarring news on several fronts. First and most obviously, T-Mac has apparently recorded a song with Young Jeezy. More importantly, Tim Duncan has just announced to the world that he listens to hip-hop in his downtime. For being perhaps the best all-around and most decorated player of his generation—three titles, three Finals MVPs and two regular season MVPs—Tim Duncan remains on the low, a superstar without any accolade or drama. When talk comes around to last season’s disappointing finish for the Spurs, Duncan takes a big-picture approach.
TD: I thought we had a great year, [but] I didn’t have my best year.
KICKS: Was that because of your injury problems?
TD: A little bit of it. But also, you know, guys were playing great. Tony had a great year, and I was asked to do a little less, and that was absolutely fine. We won the most games in our franchise’s history, so we had a helluva year. However you want to put it, we made it work.
KICKS: When you were a kid growing up in the Virgin Islands, were basketball shoes a big thing down there?
TD: Basketball shoes were hard to find. Once I got my growth spurt around 10th grade, it was real hard for me to find shoes. I wore size 14. You can go anywhere and find 13, but once you hit 14 it’s hard as anything to find any shoes.
KICKS: For you, with your new shoes, is style something that’s important to you?\
TD: I think as with everything else with me, I just want to keep it real simple. I don’t want anything too outrageous. I think they’ve done a really good job of kind of keeping it simple and making it look good at the same time.
KICKS: What do you look for as far as support and things like that? I know you had foot problems last season—do you look for support around the ankle, or around the midsole?
TD: Yeah, I like a little ankle support, so probably a little above mid. That’s about it. I just like to be low on the ground. I like to be close to the ground. It improves my speed. [Smiling] I’m a speed guy, as you know.
“What’s wrong with your shit, yo?”
It’s a perfectly understandable question. McGrady is sitting on a couch a few yards away from where the photo shoot is going down, and to show an observer his new
T-Mac 6, he drags a stool over and places it beneath his right ankle, putting the shoe at eye level. So when Garnett enters and spies McGrady with his foot elevated, he asks a logical question, knowing all of the injury struggles McGrady has been through the last few years.
“No, I’m healthy,” McGrady says, adding that with his shaggy beard, KG is starting to resemble Rick Ross.
KICKS: The injury stuff you’ve had the last few years, how would you explain that to someone?
TM: Last year, man, I don’t know, it was a freak accident. I was healthy going into the season, and I had the best preseason of my whole career! And then when I come to practice after the first game, I go around one of my guys, try to avoid Yao, I came
down wrong and right then it hit me. I was out for a while and I was never healthy.
It just kept bothering me throughout the whole season. Then I had stress on me, some off-the-court shit, and that hindered it a lot too. But now I’m healthy.
KICKS: How are you feeling about your new shoe?
TM: I love my shoe, man. It’s comfortable, it’s clean, it’s light. It’s a nice clean look. Real comfortable and supportive.
KICKS: Was there any one thing you wanted specifically on there?
TM: Not necessarily. My logo and number, that’s enough for me. But they added one of my signatures on there, that’s pretty clean right there.
KICKS: Can you tell a difference with the Formotion pods?
TM: I can. When I’m playing, I can notice a difference. Like, I never seem to turn my foot inside. It’s a weird feeling man! [The arch] hardly ever touches the ground.
KICKS: You’ve been in the NBA going on 10 years. How would you assess your career thus far?
TM: I think I had a pretty successful career, being one of the elite players in the League, putting up numbers. I haven’t advanced out of the first round, but shit, I’ve been fortunate enough to get there, you know. I’d say it’s pretty successful but I’m not satisfied, I’m not satisfied.
Just mention soccer and KG goes crazy, screaming the names of his favorite
players. Interviewing Garnett is like asking questions of a wild animal or a locomotive or some other thing that constantly teeters on the brink of spinning out of control. He is the closest thing in today’s NBA to Charles Barkley, always with an honest opinion or a take on a topic, often slipping in a joke to disarm his audience.
But since KG plays in Minnesota, we don’t hear nearly enough from him. Instead we see that he puts up 22 and 12 every damn night, and that the T-Wolves seem to struggle just to be in the playoff hunt every damn year. If KG was in New York or L.A., he’d be an international star on the level of those footballers he shouted out earlier. And from the way he’s talking, he might not be in Minnesota much longer.
KICKS: Your new shoe, the KG Bounce, has all these names on the bottom. What are those?
KG: Well, I have a South Carolina side and I have a Chicago side, and both those sides are just my way of saying thanks to the people that are on that shoe, the people who have been with me since day one, the people who have been through thick and thin with me. I really feel like without one or the other I wouldn’t be sitting here today. I am the way I am because of the things that I know, things that I’ve learned through those two avenues.
KICKS: What were you going for with the shoe?
KG: I wanted to go for something that was different, because my last shoe I went for something that was more of a track shoe, because the Samoa is one of my favorite shoes and I wanted to sort of imply some of that in there. When it came to this shoe, I wanted something different. I love suede on leather. I love a comfortable shoe. I just don’t think a shoe should be built for basketball. I did that with the KG2 and I really wasn’t happy with just the basketball shoe. I like shoes you can rock with jeans. I like a lifestyle shoe.
KICKS: Are you happy with the way things are going this summer for the T-Wolves?
KG: I feel like getting Mike James was a start, but that’s not enough. We need some more solid players to contribute. We lost Marcus Banks. I don’t know if they’re going to re-sign Justin Reed—he’s a hard worker who I learned to appreciate and gravitate to a little bit. And I think in order for us to get back in the race in the West, with the Mavs, the Suns and Timmy and the Spurs, we’re going to have to have a dominant team, we’re going to have to have some guys that run, lay it down, know how to play the game, bring some more veterans in. We gotta make some more transactions, man. I don’t think the summer’s over.
KICKS: You got, what, two months?
KG: Yeah, but, you gotta do something, or something’s gotta change.
KICKS: How would you sum up your career so far?
KG: I’ve met my expectations. Only thing I haven’t met in this League is to achieve a championship. That would sort of sew it all together. I have no regrets, yo. I don’t regret too many things in life, I just wish that the Minnesota Timberwolves would
work a little harder, or work as hard as I work in the summertime.
KICKS: Would you want to leave if they don’t get better?
KG: I got to…I got to. If you’re not working toward a championship, then why are we in this? I’m in it to win, man, I’m not in it to be coming back talking about next year. I’m 30. I’ve probably got four to five years, you know what I’m saying? My clock is ticking, man. I’m almost like a woman who’s trying to get pregnant. My years are limited, so my clock is definitely ticking.