Q&A with Catalog Cover Artist, Destyni Swoope

Q&A with Catalog Cover Artist, Destyni Swoope

It’s 2020. You’d think by now we’d have flying cars, alien best friends, and gender equality, but before those dreams come true, science has more to discover, and we’ve got more to conqHER.

In the meantime, Eastbay continues making history of its own. For Women’s History Month, Destyni Swoope designed our March catalog cover, becoming the first external artist to do so. If you’re on our catalog mailing list, you’ll be able to see her cool art in person, but her inspiration and her story are equally amazing, so we decided to talk with her about Eastbay, her art, and women’s empowerment. Here’s what she had to say:

Destyni Swoope, artist, leans against a graffit wall.

Q: What was your experience with Eastbay growing up?

A: Growing up as a young athlete, I anticipated getting the Eastbay catalogs in the mail. It was like the sneaker bible! Back then, my brother and I would circle and star all the things we wanted and leave it out on the table in hopes that our mom would feel generous and buy us something. Haha! It was fun to see the gear that our favorite players wore and then be able to copy their swag. Eastbay catalogs have always been a huge part of the culture; I don’t know too many people who didn’t love flipping through them as a kid.

Q: You said you were a young athlete, what sports did you play growing up?

A: My love for basketball began when my older brother introduced it to me. We shared a room most of our younger years, so I naturally took after him and embraced hoop culture. I started playing with the kids on my block, and eventually my family signed me up at the rec center where I played through high school. I had coaches, but my father was the one who really pushed and supported my desire to play – we practiced and worked on my game constantly. When I got older, he even took me to the gym to play games of 21 with grown men on the courts to really put me to the test. That’s where my drive and love for basketball flourished.

Q: So, as a former youth athlete to now being an artist, what life advice would you give to young Eastbay athletes?

A: I’d say, always let the passion you have for your craft lead the way. Be open to learning experiences and remain a student of the game, because, outside of the game, you’re a student of life. The fundamentals and skills you learn in your craft follow you into life. Embrace your inner beast and constantly reach for perfection. A great high school coach of mine drilled this into my head saying, “MTXE,” which stands for “Mental Toughness, Extra Effort.” I found that this follows me outside of athletics in my journey as an artist. I strive to always reach higher and put my all into each opportunity.

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

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.

Interview: Hy Rosario from Merrell

Interview: Hy Rosario from Merrell

merrell lacelock system

words_Sara Accettura

While Merrell is well-known for their outdoor shoes and apparel, this year they have added another notch to their belt by creating a barefoot running line. Available through Eastbay in both men’s and women’s, these shoes are as minimalist as they come, but they are sturdy where it counts thanks to a specially designed Vibram outsole. While the Merrell barefoot line can be considered minimalist, the instruction they provide about barefoot running is anything but. Check out Eastbay’s Athletic Resource Center for more information about barefoot running courtesy of Merrell.

We were able to chat with Vice President of Men’s Product Development, Hy Rosario, to learn more about Merrell’s new line and the inspiration behind the construction of their barefoot-inspired footwear.

Sara Accettura: How involved are you, then, with this new focus on barefoot running?

Hy Rosario: Very. Basically, in a nutshetll, I’m responsible for all of the men’s product that Merrell puts forward to the marketplace. So, there’s obviously a team of designers, developers, and others, but at the end of the day, it’s kind of my job to make sure that what we’re doing is right for the brand and the consumer we’re targeting.

Merrell Pace Glove womens

Could you talk a little bit about the brief of the shoe and maybe just some the insights that you guys were going after for the shoe.

Let me just back up for a second and start with the reason why Merrell is doing barefoot shoes. As you probably know there’s a really large movement with technical runners in this arena of getting back to natural running. And really what our shoes are trying to do is put the body in the right angle of attack, if you will, to the ground to facilitate what people would consider natural running. So really what that is is that we want to make sure that your toes and your heel sit at the same level to each other, and that’s defined by what we call zero drop. So, when a heel has a zero drop, it means that the heel and the toe, or the forefoot of the shoe, sit at the same level relative to each other. If you have a shoe, like a traditional running shoe that has a cushioned heel, it can have anywhere from 10 to 12 mm in the heel relative to the forefoot. So, your heel would sit 10 to 12 mm higher than the toes of your feet. So, the philosophy of barefoot running to try and get your feet are in a neutral, zero drop stance, and then if you use the right running technique the logic is you would be closer to mimicking what would be considered natural running. And the shoes that Merrell has engineered are designed to promote this natural running gate or natural form of running.

I’m going backwards a little bit, I realize that, but I wanted to make sure we were setting up the reason why Merrell was doing barefoot shoes. And what we’ve done is partnered with Vibram, they are also the makers of the Vibram Five-Fingers product, so there’s a lot of know-how there that we’ve been able to tap into as Merrell developed it’s own version of barefoot-friendly, run-able product. And that was really the start of the Vibram and Merrell partnership to build a Merrell barefoot story.

So, once you understand zero drop, then the next thing that we’ve really worked hard to do is to really make the shoes foot-friendly and also sockless-friendly, and that really encompassed trying to do things like reducing layers in the shoes to make them lighter, more breathable. It also included things like reducing the number of stitching panels in the upper, so if you do wear the shoes without socks, which a lot of true barefoot technical runners do, then you’re more likely to have a more comfortable running experience than if you had a shoe with lots of stitching where you actually get what’s called hot spots where the foot and the stitch actually rub against each other and create blistering and chaffing and that sort of thing, so a lot of attention was paid to minimalizing the number of panels and layers to make the product that much more barefoot-friendly, comfortable and functional.

So, the three shoes that you spoke of are basically a manifestation of that idea of less is more. So, we really tried to take things out that you didn’t need and leave in only the things that you needed. So, just to illustrate that point, for instance, there is no heel counter in these shoes, so they all basically formed the shape of the individual human foot, because there is no big, plastic part in the heel preventing that sort of individualized fit. So, that’s one other example of a “less is more” construction methodology. There’s no sockliner, so in most running shoes you would get a removable sockliner, or insole as some people call them. In our barefoot shoes, the sockliner is actually part of the shoe; it’s not removable. But, it’s designed to be comfort-oriented and barefoot-friendly, again, so you could wear it without socks. And then, all three of these shoes use Merrell’s Omni-Fit lacing system, which is a proprietary lacing system that really allows you to secure the foot without inhibiting or creating any pressure points, so that’s another little detail that we’ve placed into the product just from a design and functional story. Those are some examples of the “less is more” mindset when we were working on the designs for the barefoot product.

Merrell True Glove


What really drove you into the barefoot arena? What sort of inspired you to go in that direction?

Well, I think for us, it was easy to see that this was an up-and-coming long-term trend, not a fad, and because it was based in the functional arena, we felt that we could make a point of difference by coming to market with a Vibram partnership to really bring barefoot to not just to the outdoors, but just to runners everywhere.

So, what would you say would be the difference between your shoes and the Fivefingers?

That’s a really good question. The Fivefingers product obviously have five separate sockets for each of the digits of your feet, so that’s firstly the big difference. We don’t have that; we’ve kind of got the mitt versus the glove kind of feel, if you will. So, that’s first the biggest difference. The second thing is, obviously our uppers are designed with lacing systems, whereas most of the Fivefingers product are designed with either Velcro or stretch panels. So, the closure systems are significantly different between most Fivefingers products and the Merrell barefoot products. We share a lot of the DNA in the outsole in terms of the build or geometry of the build. So, for instance, we have four millimeters of EVA that run from the heel to the toe, but again, at a zero drop. There’s a little bit of cushioning, and then we’ve worked really hard to make sure the product is stable, and on the toes, in particular on the Trail Glove, that it’s also protective. So on that particular product, we worked really hard to give you a very thin, protective plate underneath the ball, so that if you do run on technical trails, that the ball of your foot is protected from stone bruising, because that ESS plate actually takes the shock and moves it sideways instead of allowing it to come straight up on the edge of the foot.

When you were choosing the upper materials, what were some of the deciding factors?
Again, really good question. We were looking at things that were lighter, that were more breathable, in some cases materials that were applicable without stitching, so those were kind of some of the criteria. And also the normal things you would expect from Merrell: durability, strength and things like that that you would expect from Merrell. We were really looking to make sure the material spoke to what the barefoot consumer really wanted, which was light weight, breathability and comfort.

One thing that I think is really interesting is the toe bumper, because I’m sure that it has a completely different reason for existing than for what I enjoy it for, but I feel like it keeps a little bit of stuff out as you’re running. [laughs] Because, stuff just does get in. Was there any other reason; was it just a protection type of a thing?

Yeah, the rubber that you are looking at, especially on the men’s product, is actually a technique of painting the rubber on rather than stitching it on, so that it’s a lighter layer, but still protective. It’s just like you said, it’s a bumper so that if you scrape by a rock or shrubbery, it should give your toes a little bit of protection, and also keep from totally gouging the shoe and turning up a potentially big hole where then you have bigger problems coming through.

What were some of the weartesting processes like as you were developing the shoe? Did you target certain people? And was that a long process?

It was a very intense process that we put these shoes through. We had probably about 50 weartesters that we used at an outside testing firm. So, they were independent; they weren’t affiliated with Merrell. We also had a lot of internal runners wearing our product, and then finally, there were quite a few independent bloggers in the world of the barefoot community that were also at the tail-end of the testing program that really helped to put a stamp of approval if you will. And the bloggers were free to comment both positive and negative on the product and its functionality, so it was kind of great for Merrell to actually have a choosy group of individuals actually give those shoes some major props. So, we’re very excited about that. That been a really great process and a great opportunity for the brand.

What was the biggest challenge as you were going through and developing the shoes and fine-tuning all of these elements?

I think the biggest challenge, to be honest, was probably two things. One is we were on a very short development schedule relative to the remaining portion of the range for Spring ’11. So, whenever you cut the time to do something, you know everyone’s working a little harder and a lot closer to make it happen, and the second thing I would say was just reminding ourselves to really think about less is more, so removing things that you didn’t really need, you know really scrutinizing things that you would normally not worry about, like where a stitch is or where two panels meet, you know, should that panel meet there or should it meet in a different place to help with comfort and flexibility. So, those kinds of minutia details we really had to work hard to get right, because at the end of the day, that little thing could be the reason the user could find the experience unpleasant.

What was the timeframe for developing the shoe? You said there was a little bit of a crunch  – is that just sort of the normal experience, or did you guys get the ball started more recently with this whole line?

Merrell Pure Glove WomensFor Spring ’11, by the time we got our sort of plan together and let all of our partners involved know, whether it was Vibram or on the manufacturing side, we lost some ground, but we were able to make it up by just working really hard as a team to work with Vibram and with our suppliers in Asia to develop the product on time and on functional track, if you know what I mean. So, the timeline was cut, but good news is it wasn’t a point that we compromised weartesting. So, it actually meant that we had to do a lot more weartesting in less time, whereas in the past maybe the weartesting was done over a longer period with less weartesters.

If you had to pick out an element of the shoe that you are most proud of, and I know that this is sort of like a trick question, but is there one aspect of the shoe, or even a couple, that you are just the most proud that you guys pulled off in this timeframe?

Yeah, I think the main thing that I think the whole Merrell team is really proud of is that we really have delivered a runable, functional, and actually aesthetically pretty good-looking product, and it’s not bad for a company that historically isn’t known for running, if you will, in our product mix. So, for our first time out of the gate, I think the team did an amazing job of delivering a truly run-able product.

I agree! So, that sounds like the line is going to continue, that you’ll keep building on it each year. Is that something people can expect?

Absolutely. In fact, for spring ’13, we’re going to take the barefoot story to different categories, including road running, water sports, sandals and also lifestyle products. So, one of the insights we’ve learned is that barefoot runners are now actually finding it more comfortable to be in barefoot product all of the time, so the zero drop construction is almost finding a craving, if you will, from many users, and we want to make sure that we deliver a Merrell story to barefoot consumers and surround their entire barefoot life, if I could say it that way.

I like you’re use of “craving”. That’s a really good way to describe that.

Merrell Trail Glove mensYeah, and I think when you talk to barefoot runners, and I assume you’ve been running in the shoes because you sound like you’ve given them a little whirl. … I think once you do barefoot activity, whether it’s running or walking – or minimalist if you will – you get that craving. You just end up wanting to do more of it, and that’s the reason why we think this is not something that’s just going to be a blip on the radar. You only have to read any blog site that caters to the barefoot community and how fanatical and passionate they are about it. I don’t think any toning website was ever built with that kind of passion.

That’s a good point. And when you find other people that feel the same way, you’re right, it’s like that instant connection because you feel so similarly. And you guys won the best debut by Runner’s World [2011]. How did you feel about that? That’s a big deal.

It was a nice pat on the back for the brand, and it’s just spurred us on to really do the right thing for the end user. So, it’s been a nice compliment, but we have to continue to look forward and improve on all of the things that we have done well and also continue to do better.

I know I’m kind of jumping backwards, but with regards to my personal experience of lack of hotspots in the shoe and I know you talked about minimalist stitching was there anything else you took into consideration with fit. I know you have the lacing system; was there anything else that you focused on or that was really important to make sure that the shoe fit correctly while still being so minimal?

I think it’s just the whole ethos of less is more. And you’ll see that as you go into the future seasons of barefoot. . . . So really, that ethos is the thread that we will continue to develop and finesse as we go into the future seasons. If I could hang my hat on one design language, it’s really about following that ethos of less is more and really considering the details and, “Do we need that, and if we do, great, how do we make it more minimal. And if we don’t need it, let’s get rid of it.”

You guys have a really intense instructional-type initiative along with this. You didn’t just release these shoes and say, “Here you go.” I mean, you have a lot of support on your website for helping people ease into this [barefoot running]. Was that something you thought about on the product development side as well?

When we started in our first phases, one of the things a lot of the retail partners really said to us to focus on almost equally as big as the shoes was educating the consumers. And we take the fact that our consumers really look to us and trust us to be good partners to them. So, we almost felt obligated to make sure that we educated them about how to use the shoes so that they didn’t injure themselves, because it’s quite easy to injure yourself. . . . So, we wanted to make sure that people who were just trying barefoot for the first time had a wonderful experience from the get-go and we felt obligated to make sure that the education was as important to the brand as the product itself was. And that’s why we invested so much on the educational side, especially when you go to our website, the amount of content and resource there is pretty enormous, again, for the first time being out of the gate. . . . We’re really passionate about making our products better each season. We’re really excited about where barefoot’s going and how Merrell can be the innovative partner in that journey for consumers.

Interview: Aaron Cooper Details Huarache Trainer

Interview: Aaron Cooper Details Huarache Trainer

words, interview & images_Nick DePaula of Sole Collector Magazine

The original Nike Huarache Trainer has to this day stood out as an iconic piece of Nike’s history of innovation, and for good reason. A full-length neoprene inner sleeve, dramatic ankle cutaway and relatively minimal midfoot strap didn’t quite give off the impression of tremendous lockdown and support that most athletes were used to in 1994, but as with most Tinker Hatfield designs, there was quite a bit of reasoning and logic behind the shoe’s parts and pieces. The Huarache Trainer’s lighter and more comfortable fit and feel took people to a new place in footwear, and soon won over athletes of all sizes.

More than fifteen years later, Nike Training is once again returning to the original Huarache concept. Packed with today’s latest and greatest materials and construction methods, including Fuse and the ever-responsive Zoom Air, the Zoom Huarache Trainer hopes to take Tinker’s lead and quest for innovation well into the next decade.

Sole Collector had a chance to chat with Aaron Cooper, who during his time as Design Director at Nike Training helped create Nike Training’s newest Huarache-based all-purpose sneaker. Make a tasty sandwich ahead of time for some company and dive in for a detailed account of just how the Zoom Huarache Trainer was designed and developed.

Nick DePaula: Can you talk about how this shoe began, and why it was decided that you would be creating a modern update of the Huarache Trainer?
Aaron Cooper: I went back and found some stuff that Tinker [Hatfield, seen at right, designer of the first Huarache Trainer] had pulled out on the original Huarache, and the idea about comfort was the key point to the whole thing. The idea of not feeling like you have a shoe on, and then you have a strap that held the shoe on your foot. To me, that was the most important thing, because I thought the original Huarache series was some of the most comfortable shoes Nike has ever done. The most important thing to me was to maintain the comfort from the past Huarache, and bring it into today’s performance because the athletes have gotten bigger, faster and stronger and they have the desire for more flexibility.

Unless you’re designing a shoe that is going to be the lightest weight shoe for a particular reason or a problem you’re trying to solve, comfort and flexibility were the two biggest things for me, in designing the shoe. Weight, no matter what I’m doing, is always important. You can ask people in Asia at the factory, and when they bring me samples, they bring an exacto knife, ‘cause they know I’m just going to cut them apart. [laughs] I question every last millimeter, to reduce as much weight as possible. Obviously we want a lighter weight product, but it was as a result of always being concerned about the millimeters.

This was the original sketch out of my sketchbook, and it just represented the comfort, more breathable materials and lighter weight bootie and that minimal exoskeletal structure around the heel. Finally, there was the strap, and then I just wanted to focus on the flexibility and it turned out pretty close to the original. I cut up a bunch of pieces of the shoe, and I have parts where just the bootie is on the bottom. I have shoes that are cut in half and I have pieces of the bottom and also just this exoskeletal structure separated. When you separate all of that, it really brings the story to life about the skeletal nature of the shoe. You can feel how light the bootie and the bottom is, and you can feel how light just the strap is, and you’re like, “Well, you can’t take any more away.” You can’t make it lighter, in terms of the form that we created here. It surprised me once we cut it all up, and it was cool to go back and dissect it like CSI. [laughs]

NDP: There’s a lot that did carry over from the original, but there’s also a new and more modern shape to it.
AC: Of course. To me, up to this point, nobody had really gone back to the original Huarache and brought it back in a form that paid homage to the original. They always spun off into different forms. I thought that was fairly important, and I think there’s still opportunity to bring back the Huarache idea and concept and do it a new, never-been-seen-before form, but I thought it was important to pay homage to the original form that Tinker created, but use all of the current materials and manufacturing processes of today. This strap is fused, which is Nike’s latest and greatest technology that’s just now in the marketplace. The strap, with the innovations that have happened with materials, it’s softer, takes a mold better, without getting hard, and then there’s also the no-sew heel counter.

NDP: That’s real sharp.
AC: Yeah, and then the interior foam footbed is Cushlon, made famous by the Nike Vomero, which I actually worked on. [laughs] That tested out to be the most responsive, most comfortable and best balance of all. There’s nothing else in there except for the Phylon carrier foam, the Cushlon in the forefoot, and then the huge Zoom bag in the heel. That’s it.

NDP: And the heel Zoom bag is 14 mm?
AC: Yeah, 14. That’s it. The factory did an amazing job, and it’s beautifully manufactured. They did a really, really nice job. Taking all of those materials and maximizing them so they can create the most comfortable, lightest weight, most responsive and flexible shoe possible, that like the old Huarache, you don’t even have to lace up to keep on your foot. You feel like you have a pillow around your foot.

When you want to go to the gym, maybe you just lace it up, and then when you want to go out on the field to run some routes, you can use the strap as the last piece of security. Some shoes almost design themselves, and this one, obviously the canvas was the original Huarache, and then, I just had to put all of the latest and greatest materials and manufacturing and work with the amazing factory partners that we have at Feng Tay.

NDP: The Trainer 1 was obviously a re-make that you worked on and it had a lot of success with a visible Air unit. Did you guys toy with any different cushioning set-ups, or was Zoom in mind all along?
AC: Comfort was the plan all along. Responsive, flexible comfort. Zoom Air being the most responsive cushioning in the marketplace and in the industry, in my opinion, and the athletes love it, so we basically wanted to fill up the heel with as much Zoom Air as possible, and then leave the forefoot “Free,” but utilize our current foam technology that we had.

NDP: Is it a 20/ 10 mm offset?
AC: It’s more like an 18/ 8, which is pretty much where all of our Training shoes are. You’re lower to the ground here, but still with Cushlon, you get that nice comfort and bouncy responsive cushion. The Cushlon actually goes all the way back over the Zoom Air, so you get a nice transition.

NDP: Did you bounce the design off of Tinker at all during the process?
AC: Yeah, for sure I did. He liked it, and I think he appreciated the homage to the original and making it better. I definitely showed Tinker a couple times through the process.

NDP: Larry Fitzgerald is a huge part of this shoe and I understand he offered a lot of insights into the performance. How’d the Super Powers pack come about?
AC: The Super Powers pack really began with Larry’s super power of having the best hands in the NFL. I always thought about it as receiving the ball, but after learning more from Zach [Bromert, Training Senior Product Manager], just because he played football, Larry’s skill-set is truly impressive when you consider what he does as soon as he initiates the play. The hand-to-hand battle and combat that he has with the defense to get away from them, to create that separation and then, the speed to get away and the leaping and flying ability that he has to make the play.

When we presented it to him, I talked to him about the hands that he has, the ability to fly higher, and the ability to run faster. The key thing about that, I believe, is that there might be faster people in a straight line, like Superman is the fastest in a straight line, but I have read somewhere that the Flash is actually the fastest superhero in the world, but specifically on angles and side to side. I was thinking, “Wow, that’s perfect. His speed and angles and the relationship between him and the Flash, being the fastest on angles, works great.”

I was more inspired by Larry. It’s not like he’s a huge super hero fan, but it was more about his abilities. I always refer to it as super powers. The important story is the ability and those super powers, because I believe he has those super powers on the playing field. He can get to a spot without a defender still on him, and if they are still on him, he can jump higher and get to the ball at its highest point.

NDP: In terms of the colorways, there’s a whole story of versions that relate to his life. You have the ball boy inspired version from when he was a teenager working for the Vikings. His college and pro colorways, and the Monday Night Football version inspired by his silver cleats. You guys also did two friends & family versions for him too?

These are the original renderings and colors that we presented to him and the stories. In addition to all of his team colorways, last season, he went over to Iraq and spent some time with the guys there, and I thought that was a really cool story. He sincerely went over there, it wasn’t like someone asked him to. He’s such a sincere person and wants to do well and is so meaningful in what he does in his life, that I thought that was a really cool story.

NDP: You’ve talked a lot about Larry Fitzgerald, but were there any other athletes that you got feedback from or that wear tested the shoe?
AC: Actually, Adrian Peterson was in one time, and I had met him a couple of times and worked with him a little bit, so I valued his opinion. Not just as an athlete for performance, but he’s a big sneakerhead. I always think it’s funny how these modern day athletes, they not only care about the best performance and push us to new places, but a lot of times, they’re also sneakerheads.

NDP: And the style is still important.
AC: That’s always important for them. You wouldn’t have gotten an athlete twenty years ago to put a shoe on that they thought was ugly, but now, they have the history of the sneaker culture. When I showed an early prototype to Adrian, just to get his opinion about it, he immediately said, “Oh, is that a new Huarache!?” I said, “Yeah,” and I asked him what were the top three things about a Huarache that you can’t compromise and they have to be in the shoe, and he said the bootie and the midfoot strap. He didn’t even go to a third, and said those were the two things you had to have. It was funny, because at the time, we were talking about the midfoot strap versus a forefoot strap, versus no strap. Is that something that we want to completely change, or is that a main ingredient to the DNA that we want to keep. He was so adamant about it. I may have been on the fence on it a little bit, and he pushed me over pretty easily. It’s a perfect example of just listening to the athlete, and that’s why I think Nike is awesome, cause you’re surrounded by those types of athletes and so many athletes and they help you build the product.

Above: Early exploration sketches of the Huarache Trainer, with and without a strap.

NDP: Do you have a favorite colorway yourself?
I honestly like them all, because there’s a story behind them. When you’re designing “signature product,” you want the athlete’s personality in the shoe, both from a performance desire and need and style, which would include the materials and the color. The one I really like is the Minnesota ball boy one, because not everyone knows that story, the material is really cool, and it’s like a football-but-not material. I just think it’s fresh and super clean, and purple is kind of an off color.

NDP: Hey now, that’s my favorite color!
AC: Nick loves purple! [laughs]

NDP: I grew up with the Kings, so I have an excuse.
AC: But it’s super wearable, it’s got a cool twist with the material and it’s a really deep story and something out of Larry’s life that not a lot of people know. That part of his life meant a lot to him.

NDP: For somebody that see this shoe on the shelf, what can they use it for and what will the higher cut offer as compared to a lower-cut trainer?
AC: Honestly, I think it might be the most versatile trainer we’ve done, because of the comfort, the fact that you can wear it without even lacing it up. You can lace it up when you go to the gym if you want to have a little bit more support, and then, the fact that you have the strap can give it that last bit of support. You really can lace it all the way to the top and it engages like a mid, but your foot can move a little better in the Huarache because of the design and the way Tinker had the cut out, which is another thing we wanted to maintain, because it’s a performance shoe. It’s really versatile in terms of how an athlete wants to wear it. You can kick around in it and it’s super comfortable, almost like a slipper feeling shoe, to something that you can just go out and tear it up on the field. The flexibility provides comfort, but keeps you really nimble on the field. The traction has proved out to be our best multi-surface traction. We’re all pretty happy with how it turned.

NDP: When did you show Larry the final version? Did you get to show him in person and get some feedback?
AC: It was during the summer, and he was sent all of the shoes. I need to ask him what camera he was using and tell him he needs to get a new one. [laughs] He sent us back a cell phone picture of him with a big smile — and you can definitely see him smiling cause you can’t miss that — but he was wearing the shoes and had just gotten them, and somebody took a picture of him wearing them when he had just gotten them and he sent that to us. Which is always great, like “job well done.” He said he loved the weight of it, the way it felt and performed in the gym, and he said he was actually able to go out and run routes in it. You want to make somebody happy when they’re not training, and make somebody happy when they are.


NDP: Was there anything on the development side that was a challenge?
AC: For sure, and Lisa Cato (Senior Development Manager at Nike Training) was the developer and she’s great. Big fan of Lisa. There’s always challenges though. If there aren’t challenges, then you’re not moving forward. The fusing of the strap and keeping the strap fused together, but also pliable so it wasn’t stiff, was the big thing. The old strap was an injected plastic strap, which was injected flat, so it’s always going to want to go back to being flat. This was fused together flat, but because of the nature of the materials and the new manufacturing process, it’s a lot more flexible than the original one. That was absolutely a challenge, but again, the factory was just an awesome team effort. For Lisa, it’s her job to raise all the red flags, but she’s also one of the first to try and break down the barriers. The factory folks that we were working with, and both the developers on campus and in Asia got behind it. Usually I can pick one thing out that we weren’t able to do and I wish we could’ve, but everything that we wanted to do is in this shoe. The fused strap, the no-sew heel counter, the material for the bootie and everything.

NDP: Are the panels around the collar molded as well?
AC: Yeah, it’s molded. A lot of times, this molding gets really stiff and hard, but between material exploration and the factory doing manufacturing exploration, they were able to come up with a package that was really soft.

NDP: That’s real cool. I think whenever people think of a molded collar, they think of the Jordan V or VI and those can be a bit more stiff.
AC: Exactly, and this is really soft. The tooling wasn’t easy either, and it came back just really precise.

NDP: With the Trainer 1, it seemed like you had about four to six months to do the entire shoe. Was working on this shoe under a more normal timeline?

AC: Yeah, but it actually got pulled up by a season. It started off for Spring ‘11, so it got pulled up (to Holiday ’10). Sometimes I like projects like that. We were currently working on Fuse, so that wasn’t new and there were experts that we could pull in to solve those problems. All of the materials in the midsole had been done, it was just about how we were putting them together. No-sew heel counter had been done, and there were a lot of experts that we could pull together very quickly and solve problems quickly. One detail that Kris Aman (Nike Athletic Training Vice President) suggested along the way that I really do like was these two little faster lines along the heel. It lined up with the break of a traditional running heel crash area.

NDP: And is the outsole still considered Diamond Flex?
AC: Similar to Nike Running, how they have a continuum of Nike Free, and Nike Running carries off of that continuum in their running line, we kind of see the same thing with our Diamond Flex. You can do completely hyper Diamond Flex, or you can just take material out and it’s more flexible in those areas, but it’s not as overt as other products that we do like the Trainer 1 or our Free product. The Summer 2012 Free that I’m working on, that one is going to have even better Diamond Flex incorporated into it, as you would think. Free will be the most flexible, and we just wanted to make sure that we maintained the flexibility as much as possible from heel to toe in the Huarache Trainer, and then we also added in this longitudinal groove. Those are the two most important things to us, and the third priority for this shoe was the Diamond Flex.

NDP: All of the colorways have the same mesh package?
AC: It’s called nu-foam, but it’s a funny story. It kind of spun off from the Taiwanese vendor Tiong Liong, and it spun off from the foam that we used in the original Zoom Generation for LeBron.

NDP: The Sphere liner.
AC: Exactly. And Katy Liao worked for Tiong Liong and has been a good friend of mine and has worked with Nike for many years. At the time, she was with them, and with LeBron’s desire for the most comfortable shoe, we told him when he was in high school and we were close to signing him, that we were going to build him the most comfortable shoe he’s ever worn. We knew, to be able to do that, you had to create a new lining that was going to be a big deal. That lining had never been done before, until we did the Zoom Generation, and now Katy actually works for Nike and is a materials person, and Tiong Liong has a whole package of different types of it. It’s basically a lycra, foam and mesh sandwich package. The original idea was introduced with the Nike Sphere jackets, and the idea was that if you only have half of the material touching your body, you create some area for air to flow through and keep you cooler. Our idea, on top of that, was that if you take half of the foam away, it’s also lighter. It’s like an egg crate, and the less materials that are touching your skin, the more comfortable it can be and it’s lighter. That’s how that mesh material originally spun off.

NDP: Do you have a favorite detail or element?
AC: Actually, one of my favorite construction details that we ended up refining was something that Sergio Lozano (designer of the Air Max ’95) helped me with. Whether I see him in the halls, or just bump into him, I try and get his opinion, and the one thing that he suggested was the way that this back layer on the strap comes out just a little bit further than the front. The factory definitely liked that for durability, and it finished that off a little better than the original. I guess that’s the beauty of working at Nike, and that’s why I’m really excited about working in the group that I’m now, because we all together design a product that we’re working on and being able to bounce ideas off of people is great.

NDP: Can you talk about your role now?
AC: I’m just working with Tinker and Eric Avar’s group now in Special Projects (in the Nike Innovation Kitchen). We look across all business units and look for category opportunities. There’s some categories that can come to us with specific desires that we’re working with. There’s other categories that we’ll approach and try and sell an idea into them, based off of an insight that we have about their marketplace.

Specifically, we’re always working directly with the athlete and in this case with the Huarache Trainer, I think capability and opportunities allow us to work more directly with the athlete, which is great. Eric and Kobe, obviously, also have that. Quickstrike projects have happened in the group too, and will continue to happen, and then, we work on “What if?” We want to balance it out, so that you have projects that keep the lights on season to season, and then the “What if” projects are something further out there that we see an opportunity to design around that may take a few years or even longer.

NDP: Is this one of the last models you designed out of the Training group?
AC: I was working on the Free 2012 Olympic shoe with Eric and Tom Luedecke, and there’s always a bunch of people working on all of the shoes. I’m working on a project right now out of the Kitchen that’s a Training shoe that’ll go into more of the innovation section of the category. Training is near and dear to my heart, and something that I’ll still focus on. Training is an essential part of an athlete’s life, so we’re going to definitely be paying attention to it and innovating around it.

NDP: So it’s safe to say there will be future Huarache based shoes, since this is like the big return of the franchise?
AC: Well Nick, that could be something that I’m currently working on in my new job. [laughs] The Huarache concept is so strong that I think you can design future product around it well into the next century.

Now Available: Nike Zoom Huarache Trainer

Interview: Aaron Cooper Details Huarache Trainer

Interview: Penny Hardaway’s Legendary Signature Series

Interview With Penny Hardaway: His Legendary Signature Sneaker Line

words_Nick DePaula
images_Steve Mullholand

With Penny Hardaway suddenly back in the news after expressing his desire to return to the NBA in a veteran role, we figured we’d republish a portion of our exclusive interview from the fall of 2008, originally featured in Issue 25. That November also marked our 5th Year Anniversary, and for the Sole Collector team, there couldn’t have been a better interview to experience. Read along as Hardaway discusses how his legendary signature series began, and also what he loved most about each model. Today just also happens to be his birthday — Happy 39th Penny!

Originally published November, 2008 in Issue 25 of Sole Collector Magazine.


Long before the riches and fame of the NBA entered his life, Penny Hardaway came from humble beginnings, growing up just 10 minutes south of the University of Memphis, then known as Memphis State, where he always dreamed of one day playing basketball. It was at Memphis where he’d indeed go on to star during the early 1990s, after a high school career at nearby Treadwell High where he put up a ridiculous statline of 36.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 3.9 steals and 2.8 blocks per game. We’ll assume it wasn’t much of a race, as he was named the Parade Magazine National High School Player of The Year. Once a Tiger, he lead the team during his sophomore and junior seasons and was named an All-American in back-to-back years, coming into his own as he averaged 22.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game in his final season. It would be the only two years he would play for Memphis, as the lure of the NBA proved too strong to resist, and he was drafted third in the 1993 NBA Draft.

Interview With Penny Hardaway: His Legendary Signature Sneaker LineSince he last played in the league in 2007 for the Miami Heat, [Notice I won’t call it a retirement, so don’t rule out a comeback!] he’s returned to his roots in Memphis, where he’s currently enjoying his time away from the game. He still holds a deep love for his hometown school and can still be found at the Memphis training facility, where he plays in pick-up games and lifts weights at least four times a week. In August of 2008, Penny donated $1 million to help build a 30,000-square-foot athletic Hall of Fame building on campus that will bear his name. He’s also dedicated a bulk of his time to his love of golf, as he’ll hit the links almost every day at his neighborhood course, which happens to be the highly esteemed championship TPC Southwind.

For this interview, Penny welcomed us into his Memphis-area home, and in it we found not only a taste for fine art, sculptures and historic paintings, but also a great deal of memorabilia from throughout his career. Upstairs lies every guy’s dream room, as several flatscreen TVs as well as billiards, ping pong and card tables are arranged for a night of sports and entertainment. While rows of reclining chairs and a projection screen in the adjacent room are surely impressive, it was the jerseys of every member of the 1996 Olympic Basketball squad and his Atlanta-earned Gold Medal framed along the walls that truly caught our attention. It’s a moment in Penny’s life that he’ll forever cherish, alongside his First Team All-NBA selections, many All-Star game appearances and five Nike sneakers bearing his iconic 1 Cent logo. By captivating us with his on-court abilities, in commercials and through his iconic footwear, Penny has accomplished what few players have. It also gave us plenty to talk to him about.

Nick DePaula: When you were coming out of Memphis, you were highly touted, but were there a lot of sneaker companies coming after you before your rookie season?
Penny Hardaway: Oh yeah, Converse was coming real hard because that’s what we wore in college. It was really between Converse and Nike. Converse had really wanted me because I had played with their shoes throughout my college career, but I was really always a Nike guy. In my dorm, I had all Nike shoes, but then on the floor we’d wear Converse. [laughs]

NDP: Did you wear Nike during high school also?
Actually I wore Converse and Nike in high school as well. The Weapons were really hot with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson wearing them, and then I started wearing Flights in the 10th and 11th grade from Nike.

Interview With Penny Hardaway: His Legendary Signature Sneaker LineNDP: Once you got to the league, were there any players whose shoes you would find yourself looking at, or did you talk to any other players that had their own shoes like Michael, Shawn Kemp or Grant Hill?
I always was looking at Michael because Michael always had a really unique shoe, and everyone was always waiting for his shoe to come out. I always admired him and his shoes.

NDP: When Michael came out of retirement, there’s a famous game in the 1995 Playoffs where you both agreed to wear each others’ shoes, and you wore the Jordan IX, and he was wearing your shoe, the Flight One. How
did that come about?

I didn’t think he would do it, but when he first came back, just to see him in the shoes that I was wearing, I was like, “Wow!” I couldn’t ever believe that he had them on. He could’ve easily worn any Jordans that night, but it was just crazy that he really did wear my shoe, and I was just trippin’. I would wear Jordans anyways back then just because, but to see him in mine and the shoe that I was wearing was just crazy.

NDP: How much did it mean that you guys actually went on to win that series?
Oh it meant a lot! We were the only team to beat the Bulls with Michael Jordan in the Playoffs while they were winning championships. He won six rings [in the 90s] but no one beat him but us that one year. And as a team, we were the last team to ever beat him in a Playoff series, and that’s just a great part of history.

NDP: Did he ever give you any advice, or did you ever ask for any advice about how to have a successful shoe line or career?
No, we never really got into anything like that, but he was just a really nice guy to me because he respected my game, he respected how hard I went, and he respected that I didn’t bow down and that I looked at it as competition. He’s the greatest of all time, but I’m a competitor, so I was always trying to go after him.

Interview With Penny Hardaway: His Legendary Signature Sneaker LineNDP: Did you guys have any memorable exchanges that you can recall?
The biggest thing I ever remember about Michael was at the ’97 All-Star when I was getting introduced, when he actually unsnapped my pants when I was getting introduced. This was at the All-Star game, and I always thought that was pretty funny. [laughs]

NDP: You first wore shoes like the Air Up and the Flight One, but when did Nike approach you and decide that you would be getting your very own signature shoe?
My second year in the league I had really come into my own, and I was doing some amazing things, definitely with the blessings of God, and I just took off! I had went from being just average, I would say during my rookie season, to being First Team All-NBA and helping to take our team to the Finals. After that, Nike was like, “You know what, it’s time to get your own shoe. You’ve become a big enough name, and you’ve really earned it, so it’s time for your own shoe.”

NDP: And at the time, what was it like seeing a box for the first time that read ‘Air Penny’ on the label?
Amazing! It was just amazing. You could never even dream of anything like that. Your dream is always just to make it to the NBA, and not really to have your own shoe or anything outside of that. But to have my own shoe, that was just another dream that I had fulfilled.

NDP: What’d you think the first time you saw the 1 Cent logo?
I thought it was sick! I thought it was crazy, and it was just this supped up 1 Cent sign, and the 1 was highlighted in blue, and it was just crazy. Right away I knew that they had done an amazing job with this logo, and it was just great.

NDP: You were pretty young when you got your first shoe. Did you ever get any jealousy from other players around that time?
No, in fact everyone always kept asking me for ’em! [laughs] Everybody loves this one [holds up Orlando Penny I] and always asked me, “Man how can I get those shoes!?” I’d just say, “I don’t know, call Nike.” [laughs] It was just such a great shoe, and it was also just very comfortable to wear. You know it’s funny, I just saw Corey Brewer wearing these [four] years ago when he won the championship at Florida, and I was like “Wow, that’s just great that people still wear this shoe.”

NDP: Do you have a favorite color yourself?
This one right here is my favorite color code. Even though it was made for the Orlando Magic colors then, there’s nothing too crazy about it, and it just looks great. I also really like the black, white and red that they did a bit later.

Interview With Penny Hardaway: His Legendary Signature Sneaker LineNDP: What did you first think about the Li’l Penny commercial idea? Was that something that you knew right away would be huge?
You know what, I thought it was going to be really funny, but I didn’t really know how big it was going to get. Comedy just sits well with a lot of people when you add that humor into your commercials. When I was doing the commercials, I was actually laughing, so I knew that at least people would think they were funny. But I never expected it to get that big.

NDP: What did you think about the more serious commercials, like Michael always had a real serious commercial for his shoes?
I really liked a lot of Michael’s commercials, but for me I just like having that humor. I loved “The LeBrons” that they just did, and people don’t want to see a serious commercial all the time; they want to laugh. But, Michael was a tough competitor, and that was just who he was. With mine, it was more of an alter-ego of me, as I was just more quiet, and then there was the alter-ego that was just more crazy.

Zac Dubasik: When you found out Li’l Penny would be voiced by Chris Rock, were you excited?
I was! Back then we had Martin Lawrence, Damon Wayans and a couple of other comedians that really wanted to do it, but they were asking for a pretty substantial amount of money, and right away Chris Rock just said, “Ok, I’ll do it!” At the time, he had no idea that it was going to be that big. He just looked at it and thought, “This is going to be pretty sweet working for Nike,” but it just happened to turn out to be so much more than that, and it was great to have him on board. He wasn’t as huge then, either, as he is now.

Steve Mullholand: Now, of course, he probably would command a pretty big paycheck.
Oh, yeah. [laughs]

NDP: Those other guys are probably wishing they would’ve just done it, too.
Oh, for sure.

NDP: Was there anything that you worked with Eric Avar on in terms of improving upon the Penny I for the next year with the Penny II?
No, I really liked that shoe. The II I also really liked because I had it in three great colors with the black and white, all-white and then white and blue. The II was my favorite one to wear because it was more comfortable to me, and it was just a tighter snug fit. The I was a little bit wider, and it was still a great shoe, but the II is a bit more narrow and becomes more snug around my arches and were probably my favorites.

Interview With Penny Hardaway: His Legendary Signature Sneaker LineNDP: The II also included Zoom Air for the first time. Was that something that you requested or were familiar with?
No, not really, it was something that they put in there, and when I just put them on, right away I knew that it just felt great. It was a great shoe, and they really did an unbelievable job with this shoe.

Zac: They just brought the II back out; what’d you think of that shoe returning?
They sold out here in Memphis immediately! When you don’t have something for a while, you really want to get them back, and I’ve been seeing everyone around here wearing them, and people at the gym playing ball in them, too. It’s just great seeing them again.

NDP: Was the black colorway with the white foam piece something that Nike created or a look that you liked?
It definitely reminded me of the I, and that’s why we kept it similar, but I loved the way it went up into the arch more. I just loved the color of it whenever we did all-black with a white piece wrapping around, and it always worked out really nice.

NDP: Was moving the logo from the heel to the tongue something that you wanted?
Yeah, I wanted that because that Jordan logo was always on the tongue, and I thought having the 1 Cent logo on the tongue would be really nice.

NDP: And then when the Foamposite hit …
Stupid! [laughs] These are stupid right here. [holds up the Foamposite One] When I first started wearing them, the league told me I had to put black [in the ridges] with a Sharpie because it wasn’t a road shoe under the rules. So all through the ridges they had put black markings, but this shoe was still just stupid. It was just ridiculous, just crazy.

NDP: Was the NBA close to fining you?
Yeah, they right away said, “If you don’t get more black on those shoes, then we’re going to have to fine you.” I just figured we should go ahead and get more black on the stripes of the shoe and not get fined. The funny thing was the stripes would peel off and wear off by the middle of every game anyways, but at least at the start of the game it looked like the shoe was more black and the league was happy. [laughs]

Interview With Penny Hardaway: His Legendary Signature Sneaker Line

NDP: Do you remember the first time Nike showed them to you?
Yeah! I was just like, “Oh my god! What is that?” I think I saw the white one first actually, but I just loved the clear bottom right away along with the black along the top. It was just a crazy shoe, and I had never seen anything like it in my life.

Zac: What was your reaction to the price?
They were close to $200, and that was just crazy. One hundred eighty dollars for a pair of shoes was quite a lot.

NDP: When you were growing up, could you imagine asking your mom for a $180 shoe?
No! There was no way I would’ve gotten them growing up, but hey, a ton of people got them, and they sold a ton. And even now, people always want to see these re-dropped as many times as possible. This [original] color in particular, everyone just loved, though. It was perfect. The logo on the heel, the little Swoosh here on the toe and the color was just crazy.

NDP: Was there anything different in the feel of the shoe because it was a Foamposite?
It was just a different feel overall because of the material that was on the entire shoe. It was a more snug fit, and it was also a bit more narrow. It didn’t even really matter at that time, though. No matter what, I was going to wear it because they were just so different and crazy.

NDP: Did you ever play against Michael at the time in those and stop to remind him, “Hey, my shoes cost more than yours now!” [laughs]
Nah, cause what he would say was, “Yeah, OK, but I have a building.” He had a building at Nike already, so I knew better than to say that. [laughs]

Interview With Penny Hardaway: His Legendary Signature Sneaker LineNDP: Did you ever talk with Shaq at all about his shoes, because he had some pretty crazy Reeboks at the time when you were on the Magic together?
I didn’t really think any shoe out there, no matter who it was, could match Nike. I wouldn’t really even care what everyone else was wearing ’cause I knew these were so sweet that it didn’t even matter.

NDP: With the Penny III, they went back to a mostly leather shoe, but how important was it to keep the Foam along the sides of the shoe?
Oh it was very important, because when they made these, it was different than anything I had ever had in terms of the style of it, but I also knew right away that it was a rugged shoe that I felt like I could do a lot in. They were comfortable as always, and I really enjoyed this shoe for sure.

NDP: All of your shoes had the internal bootie; was that something you always asked for?
Exactly. That was something I always liked to have as it fit better and gave you that nice snug fit. I also really liked [the elastic bands] because it was unique how the lacing was set up, but it worked for the fit of the shoe, too.

NDP: What do you remember about the Frozen Moment commercial for this shoe?
Oh that was the best. It was in slow motion at the park and Li’l Penny was blowing a bubble, and then setting off the rocket. Those were all just too funny.

Steve: How much fun was it doing those commercials? Was it a lot of work?
Oh no, it was actually really easy, and I always wanted to do them because I knew how much everyone loved them.

NDP: Would you just do them in one day?
Well, it depends, because sometimes we would just shoot all of the commercials in about a week. Sometimes I would just go to L.A. for the whole week, and we’d do all of the commercials at once. Those commercials were just great, and everyone loved them.

NDP: When you went onto the Penny IV, there was no longer any Foamposite, but did you still like how this shoe turned out?
I actually really loved this shoe a lot. Everything was done well, and I liked how you got in it and just were strapped in. The 1 Cent logo was on the middle of the tongue, a bit bigger, and that was the best, though. I loved that. They also had “Penny” written on the tongue for the first time. These were crazy, too, like all my other ones.

Interview With Penny Hardaway: His Legendary Signature Sneaker LineNDP: How involved would you get with Eric, and at what point would he show you the next shoe?
Well, they would come to me always with a base shoe already done, and then we’d work together to make changes based on what I liked and didn’t like. But really, there was never anything that I ever had to change because every one of them they truly did a great job. There might be some people’s shoes out there where you are just left kind of feeling, “Ugh, they just look OK I guess,” but with my shoes, I never felt that way about any of the shoes they ever made for me. I also really loved the suede on the shoes that wrapped over. And something else I always wanted to have was the little itty bitty Nike swooshes on the shoe instead of a bigger in-your-face Swoosh.

NDP: Were you pretty vocal about keeping the Penny logo always the same size as the Swoosh, if not bigger?
Well, that’s just what it was all about: Me. [laughs] So I always felt it had to show that it was me and it was my shoe. I would rather have that always. It’s kind of like a Tiger Woods golf shirt, how you’ll always see the TW logo as big as the Swoosh, so you know it’s his shirt. They did a great job with branding my shoe, though. I never had to complain and say, “Hey man, this needs another 1 Cent logo on it,” or anything like that, because they had already done a great job with each shoe.

Interview With Penny Hardaway: Original Sketch of Penny IV