The 2020 All-bubble sneaker teams
As players advocated for change in this country, their sneakers also became canvases for statements and messages of social and racial equality
Since the NBA returned in July, there has been no shortage of sneakers — even inside the bubble.
Players from across the league arrived in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, with bags, bins and boxes of all the pairs of kicks they didn’t have a chance to lace up, on the court and off, during the league’s five-month layoff.
Upon arriving, the players were made aware of the league’s package receiving process from the outside – sneaker deliveries instantly became one of the most common arrivals. All summer long, the bubble has provided games on a nightly basis, and a stage for the NBA’s marathon of sneakers to continue.
P.J. Tucker has maintained his claim to the throne as NBA sneaker king, while we’ve witnessed the debuts of new silhouettes, from the Puma RS Dreamer to the Air Jordan 35, as well as new player signatures, from Donovan Mitchell’s Adidas D.O.N. Issue #2 to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Nike Zoom Freak 2, Joel Embiid’s Under Armour Embiid One and LeBron James’ Nike LeBron 18.
The season continued in the months following the tragic loss of Kobe Bryant, so it’s only right that the late legend’s collection of low-top signatures and team models remained as one of the most popular sneaker lines in the NBA, headlined by player exclusive editions of the Nike Kobe 5 Protro worn by Anthony Davis, Bam Adebayo and Andre Iguodala in the Finals. As players advocated for change in this country, their sneakers also became canvases for statements and messages of social and racial equality.
After presenting the WNBA’s sneaker awards on ESPN.com in mid-September, The Undefeated names the All-Sneaker First and Second Teams for the NBA’s restart, along with a handful of individual awards for the players who impressed the most with their kicks on the court in the bubble.
When Tucker got to Orlando, Florida, he brought 81 pairs of sneakers, stashed mostly in two custom 24-pair duffel bags, with another 16-pair bag in tow. By the time September came around, the league’s reigning sneaker champ was up to around 125 pairs.
“I’ve bought more shoes during the coronavirus than I ever have. Probably in my entire life,” Tucker said with a laugh, the day before heading to the bubble.
Once the Houston Rockets wing arrived – and realized he could also receive packages while in Orlando – the deliveries seemingly never ended. He spent his free time in the bubble – you guessed it – shopping for shoes on eBay and sorting through ongoing Nike deliveries.
Tucker broke out a rotation of rare Kobes in games, had a ridiculous stash of dozens of exclusive and original Air Jordan 1s to kick around on campus, and also packed a batch of original Flightposites, beloved Air Max 1 runners and a set of limited, decade-old Dunks. He wore a different pair off-court to every practice and every game.
“You know me – I can’t change,” he joked.
To cap off yet another stretch of impressive pairs throughout the season, Tucker enjoyed his first sneaker release in late September, as Nike released his own multicolored edition of the Kobe 5 Protro on its SNKRS app.
Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Chris Paul might’ve played college hoops at Wake Forest, but inside the bubble, he exclusively repped historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) on his kicks. He teamed up with sneaker artist Nomad Customs, who painted 22 pairs of Paul’s signature Jordan CP3.XIIs, each of which paid homage to a different HBCU. And on every pair, Paul made sure to ink his personal mantra “Can’t Give Up Now …” next to “#BreonnaTaylor.”
In his first season as a member of Jordan Brand, Jayson Tatum became the de facto headliner of the Air Jordan 34, pairing the sleek and futuristic sneaker with his silky smooth game in a seemingly endless mix of player exclusive colorways.
“All of them have a different meaning, whether representing St. Louis, my favorite food, my favorite drink, lemonade or something about [my son] Deuce,” said Tatum. “I love them all.”
We saw him rock four variations of a “Taco Jay” pair, which he made sure to always break out for any Tuesday games. He also released his own multianimal print edition inspired by his childhood trips to the St. Louis Zoo, which Tucker and other players around the league were also spotted in often. Just one year in, Tatum has already made his mark with the brand with some of the most colorful looks of its latest game shoe, setting the stage for a series of anticipated Air Jordan 35 PEs next season.
After channeling his own Mamba Mentality as he drained a fading 3-pointer to give the Los Angeles Lakers a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals, Davis screamed out “Kobe!” while heading to celebrate with his cheering teammates.
The shot came in the team’s “Black Mamba” jerseys, and all throughout the bubble, Davis has also been wearing a variety of player exclusive colors of the Kobe 5, one of Bryant’s most beloved sneakers. It was also the shoe worn by the Laker icon during the franchise’s last championship in 2010, adding an anniversary tribute this year, as Davis helped to lead the Lakers back atop the league.
“When you think of the Lakers, you think of Kobe. You don’t think of anybody else,” he said. “And for guys to, not just on the Lakers but around the league, to wear his shoes and continue his legacy, for Nike to continue his legacy, it’s amazing. … I fell in love with them, and I want to be able to continue to push his legacy for as long as I can.”
Jamal Murray’s game surely reached the next level during the Denver Nuggets’ run to the Western Conference finals — and he took a solid collection of Adidas models along with him. Murray broke out multiple brightly colored silhouettes, including the “Simeon” D Rose 1s and “Jam Fest” Dame 5s. Yet he really stole the show in a custom pair of Pro Model 2Gs, featuring portraits of police violence victims George Floyd and Breonna Taylor along each side of the early 2000s classic hoop model, that he laced up in a 50-point performance in Game 6 of Denver’s first-round series vs. the Utah Jazz.
With the season’s timeline shifting into the summer, the later start became a blessing in disguise for Donovan Mitchell, as his second Adidas signature shoe was scheduled to launch in early August just as the restart games were getting underway.
“It’s unfortunate how it happened, but I’m glad to be able to let people see my shoe throughout the bubble,” he said.
Short for his “Determination Over Negativity” mantra, the D.O.N. Issue #2 came to life in loud Spider-Man-inspired colors, highlighted meaningful messages through the “Ready For Change” editions, and was spotted in mismatched “Crayola” collab colors all summer. As the only Adidas athlete launching a new shoe during that span, Mitchell was spotted in 11 different D.O.N. 2s in Orlando.
With his longtime signature shoe deal with Anta expiring earlier this spring, Rajon Rondo entered the bubble as a sneaker free agent for the first time since 2013. That led to one of the best surprise rotations of the summer, as the Lakers point guard wore a trio of Puma’s new RS Dreamer model, while also switching into several of Bryant’s sneakers whenever the Lakers donned their “Black Mamba” jerseys.
From the Nike Kobe 1 Protro to retro editions of the Zoom Huarache 2K4, Rondo’s best pair was perhaps the yellow toe Reebok Question, which was originally a Laker-inspired colorway made just for Bryant in 2003 during his own sneaker free agency.
While most sneaker free agents typically sign new shoe deals during the fall, Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander caught people by surprise in July, landing a transfer from his current Nike deal to the company’s Converse subsidiary, making him the only active Converse athlete in the bubble.
“The biggest thing early on is I’ve been able to bring my ideas and my creativity to life,” he said. “That’s something that not a lot of players in the NBA get to do.”
The exclusivity of Converse’s player roster and the newfound creative control were defining factors of the deal for the second-year guard, who vowed to splash “a little bit of SGA spizazz” on the brand’s All Star Pro BB sneaker that he’d wear throughout Orlando.
Montrezl Harrell only suited up for 13 games inside the bubble after leaving for three weeks due to the death of his grandmother. Following his return in mid-August, the LA Clippers big man put on as the NBA’s face of Reebok, which he joined in late February ahead of the season being postponed.
His rotation of Allen Iverson’s iconic Question sneaker, Shawn Kemp’s Kamikaze series and the brand’s Above The Rim line of models kept the best of Reebok’s ’90s run alive for yet another decade on the game’s biggest stage.
When Harrell was named the league’s Sixth Man of the Year, he celebrated the award with a pair of custom, Taylor-themed Reebok Question mids that he had on display during his official trophy portrait photo shoot.
Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker plays by the motto, “Be Legendary,” which Bryant once autographed on a pair of sneakers for him before his sudden death in January. In the bubble, Booker, one of Nike’s lead ambassadors for Bryant’s signature line, wrote the same phrase on two different pairs of Kobe 5 PEs — in white/orange and light blue/pink — that he rotated between during his team’s epic 8-0 run in the playoff seeding games that nearly landed Phoenix in the postseason.
P.J. Tucker / Nike Air Fear Of God 1 PE
Surprise, surprise. The NBA’s undisputed sneaker king rocked the rarest kicks in the bubble. And, of course, Tucker didn’t waste any time breaking them out. In the Rockets’ restart opener on July 31, Tucker debuted an exclusive light bone/infrared colorway of Jerry Lorenzo’s Nike Air Fear of God 1s, dubbed the “Air Tucks.”
In November 2018, Tucker debuted the Fear of Gods on court in the NBA. Now, he has his own version that Lorenzo specifically designed for him. Apparently, only four pairs of the shoe were made — two for Tucker and one each for Lorenzo and his son. It doesn’t get much more exclusive than that.
Jamal Murray / George Floyd and Breonna Taylor Pro Model
“These shoes mean a lot,” a tearful Murray said in a postgame interview on Aug. 30, after dropping 50 points to help force a Game 7 in the Nuggets’ first-round playoff series against the Jazz.
That night — which fell five days after NBA players began a historic boycott in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin — Murray wore a custom-painted pair of Adidas Pro Model 2Gs, featuring Floyd and Taylor, who were both killed by police before the NBA season resumed, on each side of the shoes. In the three games that he wore the meaningful Pro Models, Murray scored a combined 142 points (50, 42, 50).
“I use these shoes as a symbol, to me, to keep fighting,” Murray said. “They give me a lot of power to keep fighting.”
Andre Iguodala / Vice Kobe 5
During Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Miami Heat veteran forward broke the internet in the sneaker world when he unveiled a vibrant teal and pink Nike Kobe 5 PE, themed after his team’s collection of loud “Vice” uniforms.
Since Iguodala was traded to the Heat in February, he’s exclusively worn the late Bryant’s Kobe 5s in several PE colorways, albeit typically in more tame and subtle editions in traditional team colors. However, Iguodala’s Vice PEs have been, without a doubt, the best Kobe 5s of the bubble and 2020 NBA season.
Kyle Kuzma / Puma RS Dreamer
When he originally signed with Puma at the start of the season last fall, there was an immediate expectation for “Kuz” to be one of the key faces of the brand. He’s helped to debut each of the company’s newest basketball models ever since, with the unveiling of the new RS Dreamer coming during the Lakers’ first week of bubble practices. A multipaneled and nuanced design by Jeremy Sallee, the shoe was created in tandem with award-winning artist J. Cole, before being validated on the pro hardwood by Kyle Kuzma throughout the Lakers’ postseason push.
Aaron Gordon / 361
Chinese brand 361 Degrees hasn’t had a headlining NBA player in their shoes since Kevin Love’s deal ended in 2015, so when the company signed Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon just before his anticipated return to the dunk contest in February, it was looking to make a strong return to the league. Unfortunately, Gordon was only able to wear the brand’s current “Big 3” team shoe for a few weeks before the season came to a halt in mid-March.
Once he entered the bubble this summer, Gordon debuted perhaps the best basketball sneaker the brand has ever produced, a flowing and swooping yin & yang-inspired white and black pair with blue accents. The “AG” tongue logo and Magic Johnson-inspired pinstripe detailing only added to the first impression impressiveness of the ZEN.00 model.
“It’s going to be dope,” he said, smiling. “They’re looking for me to really be hands-on with this. They want to know what the style is like in America, and then bring some eastern style into it as well.”