Every young hooper dreams about hitting the game-winning shot in the NBA Finals, gracing the cover of a video game, making multiple All-Star teams and receiving their own signature sneaker. In today's NBA, having your own signature sneaker is a really hard task to accomplish. Nike, for instance, dominates the NBA population, but only three current players—LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving—have signatures lines. But back in the 1990s getting a signature sneaker was like receiving candy on Halloween.
With the rise of sneaker culture in the '90s and the marketing success of Michael Jordan, every brand wanted their own star. Companies gambled on players coming out of college and high school in hopes of finding the next big thing. With that came a lot of questionable sneaker lines, from players you wouldn’t have expected to receive one. Most of these lines faded into oblivion while some made noise but still never reached “iconic” status. As part of our sneaker rewind, we look back at some of the most memorable forgotten signature sneaker lines of all-time.
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Tracy McGrady: Adidas
Tracy McGrady was a product of the brand war that brewed between Nike and adidas in the late '90s and early 2000s. An unknown prospect throughout most of his high school career, McGrady gained fame after dominating ABCD camp, where he rose to the No. 1 player in his class. Brands took notice, and McGrady explained in the “Sole Man” 30 for 30 that the lure of a sneaker deal was a major reason he decided to skip college for the NBA.
McGrady joined another famous preps-to-pros player, Kobe Bryant, in signing with adidas to try to grow their basketball unit. Three Stripes gave him his first signature sneaker, the T-Mac 1, which was met with positive reviews—even a high school basketball player by the name of LeBron James wore a customized pair during his senior year. All together, T-Mac released six signature models with the brand and his biggest sneaker moment came during the 2004 NBA All-Star, when he wore mismatched patent leather royal blue and red colorways during the game. McGrady never reached his full potential due to injuries and his sneaker line suffered along with it.
Grant Hill: Fila
After Michael Jordan retired for the first time, the NBA was in search of a new talent to carry the torch. They found their potential “Baby MJ” in Grant Hill, who was coming off a successful collegiate career at Duke. Hill quickly became one of the NBA’s brightest stars, earning Co-Rookie of the Year honors with Jason Kidd and being selected to the All-NBA first or second for five straight years, from 1995–96 to 1999–2000. He was also part of the second Dream Team's gold medal effort at the 1996 Olympics.
In 1997, Hill signed a $80 million deal with Fila, which was one of the most lucrative endorsements contracts in history, ranking just behind Jordan’s deal with Nike. Fila was more well-known as a tennis apparel company, but who could blame them for trying to stick their hand in the pot of a booming market. Thriving while Jordan made his return, Hill became a marketing advertisement king, picking up deals with Sprite and McDonald’s as well. Like McGrady, Hill’s career was derailed by injuries and his Fila line never really got the recognition the brand was hoped it would.
Stephon Marbury: And 1
Before the Starbury sneaker phenomenon, Stephon Marbury became the first endorser for AND1’s signature shoe line. The brand was up-and-coming and Marbury’s street style and game matched perfectly with the brand's ethos. With the help of Marbury’s popularity and the rise of Rafer Alston aka “Skip to my Lou”, AND 1 made a connection with young fans through their streetball mixtapes. The brand is alive today through another Brooklyn endorser, Lance Stephenson.
Marbury later turned into a sneaker “Robin Hood” after launching his Starbury line, which was made affordable for parents who couldn't afford to buy premium sneakers from bigger brands. Marbury is living like a King in China, and is still dropping buckets.
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Tim Duncan receives a lot of jokes he's not the most stylist NBA legend. He had one job, and that was to play basketball. But all in all, Duncan still found success in ads back in the day, and even donned some heat with Nike. The Nike Total Foamposite Max, Nike Air Flightposite and Nike Uptempo Max 3 were consumer favorites at the time. While it was hard to market a shoe after a big man, Nike still gave Duncan his own signature shoe in 2001, the Nike Air Max Duncan. The sneaker never gained popularity and Duncan left for adidas in 2003.
Gary Payton: Nike
Gary Payton’s signature sneaker line is not as obscure as the previous lines mentioned, because it was retroed a few times in recent years. But they still never received the iconic appreciation of other signature models. Known as one of the best defenders and trash talkers in NBA history, GP’s personality translated to marketing success with Nike. The Swoosh included him in some of their best commercials, such as the “Fun Police” and gave him his own signature shoe, the Nike Air Zoom Flight 98 “The Glove”. Inspired by his nickname, the sneaker had a shrouded upper and a very unique zipper system. Payton’s line continued for a couple years until he signed with Jordan Brand to finish out his career.
Jason Kidd: Nike
In the same department as Gary Payton, Jason Kidd laced up in Nike early in his career, and he wore some classic Nike models. The Swoosh gave him his own signature sneaker, the Nike Air Zoom Flight 95 after he won the NBA Rookie of the Year award.
Scottie Pippen: Nike
Scottie Pippen’s signature line with Nike is perhaps one of the most overlooked shoe lines in history. But when you are playing alongside the greatest shoe endorser of all-time in Michael Jordan that was bound to happen. In 1997, the Swoosh gave Pippen his own shoe, the “Nike Air Pippen 1”. The silhouettes were popular, but his shoe line was short-lived and didn’t gain the right amount of appreciation.
Latrell Sprewell/Chris Webber: Dada
Both Latrell Spreewell and Chris Webber gained sneaker notoriety for all the wrong reasons when they decided to lace up for DaDa, a streetwear clothing company. DaDa designed one of the most abysmal sneakers of all-time, the DaDa spinners for Sprewell back in 2001.
Webber, who was a bigger star at the time, wore chromed-out editions of his DaDa CDubbz during the 2002 All-Star Game.
Dwyane Wade: Converse
Despite the Heat selecting him with the fifth pick in the 2003 NBA draft, Dwyane Wade was a relative unknown in one of the deepest draft classes of all-time. Wade wasn’t the prized prospect coming out of high school like LeBron James or the beloved one-and-done NCAA champion like Carmelo Anthony. He was overlooked in the sneaker process and landed at Conversend. In time, D-Wade emerged as one of the best shooting guards in the NBA and delivered the Heat its first title alongside Shaquille O'Neal. His shoe line, however, didn’t really hit it off with basketball fans. Wade eventually bounced from Converse to the Jordan brand to Li-Ning. But there was one bright spot during his Converse era: he did create some pretty cool commercials.