James Worthy on the Return of the New Balance 740 Worthy Express

Made famous by NBA Hall of Famer James Worthy, the New Balance P740 OG “Worthy Express” is finally getting a retro release, dropping today exclusively at Packer Shoes in Teaneck, New Jersey.

The Worthy Express marked the first time New Balance gave one of its athletes a signature sneaker, and the shoe quickly reached iconic status thanks in large part to Big Game James’ three NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers, including a Finals MVP performance in 1988 against Detroit.

The return of the 740 Worthy Express is New Balance’s first-ever basketball shoe re-issue, and it’s coming back with all the original details, materials and tooling, from the full-grain leather upper in black and white to the EVA midsole to the snug-fitting padded ankle.

We caught up with Worthy to get his thoughts on the lasting legacy of the Express and what it means to him a few hours before he heads over for an in-store appearance to help New Balance and Packer Shoes celebrate the shoe’s official launch tonight at 7 p.m. For more info on the event, click here.

SLAM: Did you ever imagine having your own signature shoe?

James Worthy: Coming out of college during the early ’80s, you’re really just looking for a company that will support you. New Balance was a perfect match for me. I went to the factory and saw how it was such a family-oriented company, I wanted to be a part of that. I never really thought about my own shoe per se, I was just happy to wear what I thought was the best shoe built for the type of performance that I was looking for on the floor. It was a dream come true to get the Worthy Express.

SLAM: That was a big deal, since it was the first time New Balance gave an athlete their own signature shoe.

JW: It was kind of cool, because I knew going into New Balance, that they were really community-oriented, they had a lot of runners. They were more into catering to the banker, the lawyer, the average athlete. So to me, it conveyed a lot of support that they were giving me, the fact that they were going to step out of their realm of what they usually do and go for it. I felt good that they felt good about me being able to help them promote, and it was the first time that they stepped out. It was the perfect match.

SLAM: What are your first memories of playing in the shoe?

JW: I just couldn’t stop looking down at it. I was like, Woah, this is my own shoe. It’s not just a shoe, it’s my own shoe. One of the things I was always impressed with, with New Balance, was how they’d build a shoe. And how they’d build it to support the game that I play—fast, running, jumping. It supported my knees. It wasn’t just like, okay, I got a hot shoe and I got my own shoe. I got a really good shoe that helped me perform night in and night out. It was a good situation all the way around.

SLAM: Are you surprised that people are still so interested in the 740 Worthy Express today?

JW: There were a couple years toward the end of my career where I wore another shoe. People never associated me with anything but New Balance. Every day, I’ll have someone tell me, Man, I’ve got that poster in my garage, the Worthy Express poster. People, especially people who were born in the ’80s, they’re really into it. Three years ago, someone asked me, When are they bringing back the Worthy shoes? And here they are.

SLAM: What’s it been like to watch the shoe evolve from an on-court sneaker to an off-court sneaker?

JW: I was very humbled when the shoe came out. At 53 years old, I’m just stoked [laughs]. I tell my kids, I’ve got a shoe coming out, and they can’t even handle that. It’s 2014, looking at the modern day shoes, but the retros are cool. Other players have their retro shoes, but this one really has some significance because of the history that the shoe experienced: Against the Celtics and the Pistons, winning Championships in the ’80s. It carries a little bit more significant meaning to it.

SLAM: Some of the kids buying your shoes this time around probably never watched you play. Is that a weird feeling?

JW: I was in the airport not too long ago, and this gentleman—he must have been about 50—he was trying to tell his grandchild, who was about 7 years old, he was like, Do you know who that is? And the kid was like, No, I don’t know who—he was literally frowning, like, No, I don’t know who he is. And then he got his smartphone, and within like two minutes, his whole attitude changed. He was like, Oh my god! With these smartphones today, kids are really history buffs, and they love the old players. So they look up the history. It’s cool that they can get to the information quickly and associate it to you.