9.27.19

A Look Back: Q&A with ESPN’s Nick DePaula

Whether it’s the latest athlete sneaker signing or breaking sneaker news from around the NBA, feature writer and creative director Nick DePaula has been the industry’s trusted source for sneaker stories and information for years. From his time at Sole Collector, Nice Kicks and Yahoo’s The Vertical, to his current gig with ESPN, I’ve always enjoyed reading Nick’s articles, and he’s one of the first sneakerheads I started following on Instagram.

Nick and I share a similar passion for sneakers, especially kicks that released in the ‘90s. We grew up in an era when print catalogs and TV commercials were the main ways to get a good look at the hottest new sneaker releases. Back when the internet was young and rudimentary, we looked to Eastbay for images, pricing and tech info for every single sneaker. I thought it would be fun to ask Nick a few questions about his childhood and the influence Eastbay had on him growing up:

DH: First of all, where did you grow up?

NDP: Sacramento is home! The Kings meant everything to me as a kid, and are definitely responsible for my love of hoops early on. Purple has been my favorite color ever since. I’ve been throwing ridiculous behind-the-back passes since middle school ’cause of Jason Williams. I’d even go as far as labeling ‘How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days’ a classic movie – it’s the one time the Sacramento Kings ever made the NBA Finals.

DH: What were your favorite sports to play as a kid?

NDP: We played literally everything as a kid – that’s what kids should do. Baseball. Football. Soccer. Tennis. Golf. Street hockey. Volleyball. Ping pong. Aggressive in-line skating even, if you’re old enough to remember that phase in the ‘90s. You name it, and we probably tried it.

Nothing compared to hoops though. You could find us at 10th & P in downtown Sac every Saturday from Noon to 4 getting runs in. My brother Eric and I had a Friday night ritual growing up too: 1-on-1 on the hoop out front. First to 100, by ones.

DH: How did you get introduced to Eastbay and their catalogs and when?

NDP: The first time I saw an Eastbay magazine (we didn’t call it a “catalog!”) was at Foot Locker at the Downtown Plaza around late 1996. I excitedly signed up for a free subscription and never looked back. All through elementary, middle and even high school, I’d read the latest Eastbay and that day’s Sacramento Bee sports page with my cereal, every morning before heading off to school.

I might not have had the craziest sneaker collection growing up, but over the years, I was able to learn about every company’s technologies, design approach, stable of players and their newest innovations, all from the Eastbay pages. I’d read up on sneakers from all sports, and try to memorize the tech descriptions and even the weights listed, whether that was a pair of Mizuno volleyball shoes, specialty runners, cheerleading kicks, or the latest signature sneakers.

Checking out the latest issue with LeBron on the cover still gives me that same feeling. It’s fun to turn each page and find out what new running designs are launching, what NBA shorts Nike has in store, what gear each brand has coming out, and see all the latest lineups for every sport.

DH: What did you order from the catalogs?

NDP: I had a $40 sneaker budget in elementary and middle school, and that got upped to $50 in high school, so I had to get real nice at finding deals. I always kept tabs on the “Final Score” issues that would cycle through the mailbox every so often. Whenever I came to a page with smaller shoe pictures and red circles all over, that’s when I’d get real hopeful that my size 13 or 14 was still listed as available somewhere on the “Great Buys on Large Sizes!” page.

Early on, I was typically ordering signature gear that my favorite players wore, like Allen Iverson’s Reebok collection, 3 Stripes tees that were Kobe-approved, or a variety of Nike Basketball tees that had guys like Kevin Garnett, Penny Hardaway or Scottie Pippen pictured alongside them. This was all back in the pre-internet days, where your mom would literally call Wisconsin and read off the product number to place an order.

Something I loved about Eastbay during the turn of the millennium was how many new brands started appearing in the mag too. I remember buying a few Goat Gear tees to hoop in during high school practices, after reading up on the legend of Earl “The Goat” Manigault. Even though I lived in Sacramento, it felt like I had access to all of the best basketball gear around through Eastbay.

In 2002, I damn near had the entire Jordan two3 beach collection – yes, even the towel! I rocked the two3 Cavvy dress shoe in black to my senior prom. Durasheen dazzle and NCAA replica team shorts were a practice staple for me. Eastbay finds pretty much made up my closet all throughout my school days, even into college at the University of Oregon, once ordering online changed the game up.

DH: What is a grail shoe that was featured in Eastbay that you were never able to pick up?

NDP: Tons – tons of pairs. The first shoe that immediately captivated my attention in the pages was the neon blue Foamposite One. It looked unlike anything else out there. Back then, my boy Austin Hicks and I would take pens and just circle everything we wanted in the mag. Every once in awhile, his mom would surprise him with pairs he was after, but it took me another decade to finally track down the Foams.

The late 90s had so many amazing runners that I was never able to grab at the time. The Tailwind IIs and Zoom Citizens were incredible. Adidas had a great run with the EQT Salvation, Galaxy and Ozweego lines too. Reebok’s DMX runners were instant classics. Every so often, Eastbay would also have exclusive team bank colors for basketball models like the Air Jordan XV, Team Max Zoom or even the Flightposite II, that you just couldn’t find anywhere else.

DH: Who are some of your favorite people you’ve interviewed over the years?

NDP: So many people immediately come to mind! Penny Hardaway was one of my very first cover interviews way back in 2008, and I’ve been able to follow the design process of all of his sneakers since. We worked on a huge ‘Penny Pack’ collaboration for an amazing Sole Collector event in Las Vegas in 2011 that I’ll never forget. He’s literally the best, both with his time and access, and also his passion for the sneaker industry and input. I just was out in Memphis a few weeks ago to see him again, and it’s been amazing now to see how he’s evolved into Coach Hardaway and the impact he’s having on his hometown.

There’s an endless amount of designers that’ve also been great to talk to. Tinker Hatfield and Eric Avar are each the best designers in footwear history, and so great at storytelling around innovations, athlete insights and performance solutions. Gentry Humphrey at Jordan Brand has legendary stories for days and is a hilarious guy. Both Marc Dolce and Denis Dekovic at Adidas are great dudes as well and I love catching up with them to see all that they’re working on at the Brooklyn Creator Farm.

DH: What are you up to these days?

NDP: I’ve been super fortunate to be writing about sneakers and basketball over the past thirteen years. I helped to run Sole Collector Magazine back in the print days and got to work on almost 20 collaboration sneakers in the span of 7 years that I was there. The awesome co-founders Steve Mullholand and Alex Wang gave me a shot to write for the Mag when I was still in college and really helped shape how I view content and storytelling ever since. 

After that, I joined Matt Halfhill, Ian Stonebrook and an amazing team of people passionate about footwear and the culture around it over at Nice Kicks. I spent a couple of months working on a comprehensive Allen Iverson feature about his rise with Reebok in advaance of his 40th birthday that I’ve been pretty proud of since. (Make a couple sandwiches and give it a read…)

Now, I’m writing about the footwear industry at ESPN. It’s been amazing to see how sneakers have grown to be highlighted on a platform of that size and legacy. It’s a best-in-class team across the board. With the vision of OG Bobbito Garcia, we even recently launched a new footwear show on ESPN+ called SneakerCenter that just dropped its latest episode this week.

All along, one of my career highlights was definitely working on a few interviews and special sidebar sections for Eastbay’s 25th Anniversary issue. I really do credit all of those Eastbay magazines that I grew up reading for powering that base of sneaker knowledge that I was so excited to learn more about and add to. Once SLAM dropped the first issue of KICKS in 1998, I kind of realized that writing about sneakers could become a real thing, and have been at it ever since.

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