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Langston Galloway, the NBA’s king of customs, pays homage to Kobe Bryant on latest pair

The Pistons guard has taken his love for sneakers to the next level with artist Andrew Lewis

5:50

DETROIT — On March 5 at 9:56 a.m., a UPS package arrived at the house of Detroit Pistons shooting guard Langston Galloway. The previous night, the shipment left Las Vegas and traveled more than 2,000 miles in approximately 12 hours before being dropped off on Galloway’s porch.

Sabrina Galloway brought the delivery inside while her husband was at practice. When he returned home a few hours later, she placed the box on their kitchen counter, cut the tape and opened it for him. The contents didn’t come as a surprise — a new pair of kicks for one of the biggest sneakerheads in the NBA. (The sneaker room at Galloway’s house in Michigan stores more than 600 pairs. He says the collection he keeps in his hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is bigger.)

But this pair was particularly special.

Silver ink on the lid of a box containing a pair of Galloway’s Q4 basketball sneakers read:

“KOBE/GIGI TRIBUTE”

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Underneath the words was the signature of Andrew Lewis, a Vegas-based artist who’s been working with Galloway on custom sneakers for the past two NBA seasons. Together, they’ve collaborated on more than 100 different pairs, featuring illustrations Lewis painted freehand that visualize the 28-year-old Galloway’s most revered movies, TV shows, cartoons, historical figures and other off-court interests. Basically, any theme that arises in their imaginations, especially surrounding 1990s pop culture, Lewis can bring to life on Galloway’s sneakers. It’s a perfected process that has transformed the Pistons guard into the NBA’s unrivaled king of custom kicks.

“It’s like a brotherhood,” Galloway said, “that we’ve kind of built over the years. At first, it was us just going back and forth … like, ‘Hey, we’re just doing business.’ And then probably in the last year or so we’ve gotten really close. I think eventually we’ll be able to look back on this and be like, ‘Man, look what we did and look where we’re at now.’ ”

Their goal for the 2019-20 NBA season was simple: A different custom pair for every game on the Pistons’ schedule. And so far, they’ve come close to matching that ambitious mark. In 65 games this season, Galloway has laced up 63 different pairs of customs — and counting. For Detroit’s game Wednesday on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers, Galloway’s sneakers will celebrate the late Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, whose lives were tragically taken along with those of seven others in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 in Calabasas, California.

Out of all the pairs Lewis and Galloway have done, the “Kobe/Gigi Tribute” Q4s — designed with portraits of the Black Mamba and Mambacita on each shoe — might be their most meaningful customs to date.

Detroit Pistons shooting guard Langston Galloway holding his custom “Kobe/Gigi Tribute” custom Q4s that he’ll wear for the March 11 game in Philadelphia.

Jeff DiNicola

“This pair would probably be at the top, for sure,” Galloway said. “This pair … isn’t just for me or Andrew. It’s commemorating everything that, in both of our eyes, Kobe means, and how his legacy continues to reign over all of us. It’s been really tough to see an icon like this go down because I feel like in our era we haven’t really seen that many big icons go down. So this is really special, to commemorate him and really just show him honor.”


The first time Galloway wore customs designed by Lewis in an NBA game, the pair also paid homage to Bryant.

It was Oct. 17, 2018 — the night the Pistons opened the 2018-19 season — when Galloway broke out custom Q4s directly inspired by Bryant’s multicolored “What The” Nike Kobe 8s. The moment was several months in the making after Galloway first reached out to Lewis via direct message on Instagram about the possibility of working together.

“What’s up bro,” wrote Galloway on Jan. 29, 2018. “I see you have been doing some great work! Any chance you could customize some of my kicks.”

Galloway wasn’t new to the creative world of custom sneakers. In four seasons with the New York Knicks, New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings, before he signed with the Pistons in July 2017, the 6-foot-2 guard worked closely with artist Dan “Mache” Gamache, one of the most renowned sneaker customizers in the world, who boasts nearly 575,000 followers on Instagram. Gamache cooked up about 10 pairs for him before shifting focus away from basketball after his workload and clientele expanded into other sports and professional leagues. But Gamache found Galloway a qualified replacement.

“Mache was like, ‘Man, look, I’m so busy, especially with football, baseball … I’ma link you with another guy that I know. … this guy named Andrew,’ ” recalled Galloway. Two of his former Pelicans teammates, Solomon Hill and Jrue Holiday, who had previously commissioned Lewis for pairs, also cosigned the up-and-coming customizer.

A partnership between Lewis and Galloway couldn’t have been a more perfect fit. Their respective careers had taken shape similarly, both having to grind tirelessly to get where they wanted to be. Galloway, a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who played four years at mid-major Saint Joseph’s University, went undrafted in 2014. By January 2015, after just two months in the G League, he was called up to the Knicks and remained with the team for the rest of the season, en route to being named to the NBA’s all-rookie second team.

Lewis, a product of a military family, developed a passion for painting from his two older sisters, whom he spent time drawing with at the dinner table during his childhood while they did their high school art homework. Lewis’ own art instructor didn’t have much to teach him by the time he reached high school, when he took up sneaker restoration, a hobby that introduced him to using shoes as a canvas for paint. About five years ago, around the same time Galloway cracked his first NBA roster, Lewis quit his job in the marketing department at Verizon to customize kicks full time. Then one day, out of nowhere, Galloway hit him up.

“Appreciate it bro. I’d be more than happy to customize some of your kicks. What you have in mind?” replied Lewis to Galloway’s original Instagram message in January 2018. Galloway signed an endorsement deal with Q4 Sports back in October 2017, after spending his first three seasons in the league repping Nike. The low-profile brand presented an appealing offer to a player — and sneakerhead — like Galloway.

“Q4 wanted to give me equity in the company and I thought that was a huge benefit for me,” Galloway said. “Also, they kind of worked in there, where on the court, I’ll wear Q4s. Off the court, I could wear whatever I want … and that’s what I really wanted, so it worked out … but the first year was kind of tough because I was stuck with just wearing basic colorways.”

By August 2018, the NBA lifted its longtime restrictions on footwear, allowing players to take the court in sneakers of any color at any point in the season. Following the rule change, Galloway presented Q4 with a proposal for exactly how he wanted to rock the brand’s sneakers on the hardwood.

“I was like, ‘Look, I’m going to go ahead and customize them. I don’t need you guys to do anything else. Just send me the shoes. I’m going to send them to my guy to customize them and everything will be taken care of,’ ” recalled Galloway of the conversation. Q4 supported the idea fully. “Do whatever you want,” Galloway said he was told. So he and Lewis got to work.

During the 2018-19 NBA season, Galloway wore approximately 35 pairs of customs crafted by Lewis, beginning on opening night with the “What The Kobe 8” Q4s. Galloway broke out pairs nodding to classic shows and movies, from Rocket Power, The Fairly OddParents and The Proud Family to The Grinch and The Terminator. He honored slain black icons Martin Luther King Jr. and Nipsey Hussle, while a special New York-themed Black History Month pair featured portraits of Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Jackie Robinson, Spike Lee, Patrick Ewing and Walt “Clyde” Frazier. On Dec. 15, 2018, Lewis and Galloway broke the internet with their Toy Story-themed customs — consisting of one Buzz Lightyear shoe and one Sheriff Woody shoe — which received so much hype that the pair was sent to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

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“That pair is sitting in the Hall of Fame right now,” Lewis said. “Which is just wild to say … like, ‘I’ve got a piece of my work sitting in the Hall of Fame.’ ”

For year two, Lewis and Galloway thought even bigger — 82 custom pairs for 82 regular-season games. Last summer, they mapped out the entire 2019-20 schedule, and the Pistons guard trusted his proven customizer with creative freedom. It’s a relationship that’s reached an early 2000s, Shaq-and-Kobe level of chemistry.

“I can now almost read Lang’s mind design aestheticwise to be able to tell what he wants to see on a shoe before he even asks for it,” Lewis said. “I’ve got a list of probably 300 different themes and I’ll scroll through it and be like, ‘All right, this fits for this city that he’s playing in.’ ”

In Miami, Galloway unveiled a Bad Boys-themed pair with portraits of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as their characters, Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett. In Chicago, his Family Matters pair featured actor Jaleel White as the timeless Steve Urkel. (Both Lawrence and White reached out to Lewis on Instagram expressing how much they loved the customs.)

“Sometimes when I get the packages, I’d kind of take it for granted what Andrew can do and what he’s done,” Galloway said. “But the artwork that he can put on a shoe … people look realistic … they actually look like themselves … I mean, it’s truly special.”

Back in his home state of Louisiana on Dec. 9, 2019, for a game against the Pelicans that fell on his 28th birthday, Galloway broke out a No Limit/Cash Money pair, and a mismatched New Orleans Saints/LSU Tigers pair. Three days later during a game in Mexico City, his kicks paid tribute to the late Tejano music sensation Selena. On Jan. 29 against the Nets in New York, Galloway’s “Brooklyn’s Finest” pair honored Biggie Smalls and Jay-Z.

Lewis had already locked in on a custom theme for Wednesday against the Sixers in Philadelphia. With the pair, Galloway would represent his alma mater, Saint Joe’s, which is located in Philly. But the plan changed after Bryant died on Jan. 26.

“It was probably three or four days after we found out that Kobe had passed away and I sent Lang a text,” Lewis said. “I’m like, ‘We need to switch up the idea we have for this game. … there’s no way we’re not doing a Kobe-inspired custom. He’s from Philly. This is his hometown. We have to honor him here — and he has to be done correctly.’ He agreed and it was full gas ahead after that.”


Galloway’s 2019-2020 custom sneaker themes, by game

Date Sneaker Theme Worn
Oct. 23 @ IND Minnie Mouse
Oct. 24 vs. ATL Pink Panther
Oct. 26 vs. PHI Kirby
Oct. 28 vs. IND Despicable Me
Oct. 30 @ TOR Pink Power Ranger
Nov. 1 @ CHI Addams Family
Nov. 2 vs. BKN Semi-Pro
Nov. 4 @ WSH Stewie Griffin with AJ4 sole (Shoe Surgeon)
Nov. 6 vs. NY Doug
Nov. 8 @ IND Sonic the Hedgehog
Nov. 11 vs. MIN Montford Point Marines
Nov. 12 @ Miami Bad Boys
Nov. 15 @ CHA Kill Bill: Vol. 1
Nov. 20 @ CHI Family Matters
Nov. 22 vs. ATL
Nov. 23 @ MIL Darkwing Duck
Nov. 25 vs. ORL Cars
Nov. 27 @ CHA Ed, Edd n Eddy
Nov. 29 vs. CHA
Dec. 1 vs. SA The Wild Thornberrys
Dec. 3 @ CLE The Jetsons
Dec. 4 vs. MIL Dumb and Dumber
Dec. 6 vs. IND The Angry Beavers
Dec. 9 @ NO No Limit/Cash Money & LSU Tigers/ New Orleans Saints
Dec. 12 vs. DAL Selena & Rocket Power
Dec. 14 @ HOU NASA
Dec. 16 vs. WSH Dodgeball
Dec. 18 vs. TOR Double Dare
Dec. 20 @ BOS SpongeBob SquarePants
Dec. 21 vs. CHI Garfield
Dec. 23 vs. PHI Elf
Dec. 26 vs. WSH
Dec. 28 @ SA Home Alone
Dec. 30 @ UTAH Aaahh!!! Real Monsters
Jan. 2 @ LAC Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Jan. 4 @ GS Dexter’s Laboratory
Jan. 5 @ LAL Friday
Jan. 7 @ CLE The Ren & Stimpy Show
Jan. 9 vs. CLE Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers
Jan. 11 vs. CHI Animaniacs
Jan. 13 vs. NO LSU Tigers
Jan. 15 @ BOS Pinky and the Brain
Jan. 18 @ ATL OutKast (Speakerboxx/Love Below)
Jan. 20 @ WSH Cow and Chicken
Jan. 22 vs. SAC Pair to support efforts to control brush fires destroying Australia’s wildlife
Jan. 24 vs. MEM Danny Phantom
Jan. 25 vs. BKN The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy
Jan. 27 vs. CLE “Aston Martin” Nike Hyperdunks, “What The” Nike Kobe 7s, “What The Kobe 8” Q4s
Jan. 29 @ BKN Brooklyn’s Finest (The Notorious B.I.G./Jay-Z)
Jan. 31 vs. TOR Freakazoid!
Feb. 2 vs. DEN Jurassic Park
Feb. 3 @ MEM Johnny Bravo
Feb. 5 vs. PHX The Powerpuff Girls
Feb. 7 @ OKC Maya Angelou & Langston Hughes
Feb. 8 vs. NY Ray Charles & B.B. King
Feb. 10 vs. CHA Muhammad Ali
Feb. 12 @ ORL Harriet Tubman
Feb. 20 vs. MIL Jesse Owens
Feb. 23 @ POR Earl Lloyd
Feb. 25 @ DEN Texas Western (Glory Road)
Feb. 28 @ PHX Louis Armstrong & Arthur Ashe
March 1 @ SAC “What The” Kobe 7s, Air Jordan 10s
March 4 vs. OKC Goku
March 7 vs. UTAH Small Soldiers
March 8 @ NYC Ronald McDonald House
March 11 @ PH Kobe/Gigi Bryant tribute

Typically, Lewis will work on a pair down to the wire, then overnight it to Galloway on a road trip just in time for game day. But recently, some customs got lost in the mail and weren’t delivered to Galloway in Sacramento, California, ahead of Detroit’s March 1 game against the Kings.

Lewis didn’t want to take any chances on the “Kobe/Gigi Tribute” pair. So he started working on them at his house in Vegas, eight days before the Pistons-Sixers game in Philly. Lewis opened up a jet-black version of the Q4 Specialist silhouette in Galloway’s size 12, and prepared to airbrush the uppers of each shoe in Lakers purple and the midsoles in Lakers gold. On his laptop, positioned on a table below a rainbow row of acrylic paints, he digitized stencils of the images he chose for the portraits he’d paint on the shoes — one of Bryant from a 2013 game against the Hawks, and one of Gianna from the March 2019 cover of SLAM magazine. Framed and hanging on the back wall of the room were three SLAM magazine issues covered by Bryant, one of Lewis’ greatest inspirations.

“I always looked up to him for his focus and … will to never quit,” said Lewis, who owns about 70 pairs of Bryant’s sneakers. “Something bad happening to you is just an opportunity for you to make it into something good. And that’s kind of what I’ve taken throughout my life with leaving a full-time day job to pursue what I’m doing now as an artist.”

Before Bryant retired, the Lakers commissioned Lewis to design a custom pair of Nike Kobe 9s that were given to the Black Mamba in celebration of his final NBA game on April 13, 2016. Later that year, Lewis met Bryant for the first time.

“I actually brought up that I had made that pair,” Lewis recalled. “And he was like, ‘Oh, wow. That was you.’ He remembered … and that’s something that’ll always stick with me.”

Las Vegas-based artist Andrew Lewis painting Gianna Bryant’s face on Langston Galloway’s shoe.

Jeff DiNicola

Lewis sat at a folding table that doubles as a desk. He pulled up the photo of Gigi on his iPad and started painting her face on the lateral of the left shoe. Hours passed, and Lewis began working on the Kobe portrait. The Black Mamba stared intently at Lewis, whose eyes shifted from the reference image to the sneaker as he worked his brush. Over the course of two days, it took Lewis 18 hours to finish the “Kobe/Gigi Tribute” Q4 customs before he boxed them up and took the package to UPS at 5:30 p.m. PST on March 4, while Galloway and the Pistons were playing the Oklahoma City Thunder in Detroit.

The next day, Galloway opened the box to the sight of Lewis’ complete portraits — Gigi on the left shoe and Kobe, one of his idols, on the right shoe.

Galloway played against Bryant twice in his career, both times as a member of the Knicks. First, on Nov. 8, 2015, at Madison Square Garden. “I remember riding to the game and I was like, ‘My palms sweating,’ ” Galloway said. “I was just so nervous because, man, that’s one of the people I look up to and one of the people I just really cherished — everything that he did for the game.” The last time on March 13, 2016, at Staples Center, a month before Bryant retired. Galloway joined Bryant in the captain’s circle before the game. “What kind of stuck with me is he knew my story and knew what I was going through,” Galloway said of the encounter, “and he would just say, ‘Hey, just keep working, kid.’ … That means so much coming from him.” After the game, Bryant signed a pair of sneakers for Galloway.

“They’re back home. I haven’t locked them up yet, but for sure when I go back I’m going to, and that’ll be a keepsake for my little man to see when he gets older,” said Galloway, whose son, Langston II, is 2 years old.

On the medial sides of each custom shoe honoring Kobe and Gigi Bryant, Lewis incorporated two quotes:

“If you’re afraid to fail, then you’re probably going to fail.”

“Great things come from hard work and perseverance. No excuses.”

Both quotes, from Kobe, were selected personally by Galloway.

“Kobe means everything to me,” Galloway said. “I always think about his work ethic. He wanted to be the greatest at his position, at his time, his era. And I think that’s what I kind of embody in myself … how can I be the best me? That’s what continues to push me every single day.”

After the season, Galloway plans to auction off some of the custom pairs he’s worn in the past two years to benefit his foundation. As for the “Kobe/Gigi Tribute” customs?

“I’ll keep those,” he said. “Those I can’t let go.”

Aaron Dodson is a sports and culture writer at The Undefeated. He primarily writes on sneakers/apparel and hosts the platform’s “Sneaker Box” video series. During Michael Jordan’s two seasons playing for the Washington Wizards in the early 2000s, the “Flint” Air Jordan 9s sparked his passion for kicks.