Shoe game: From big-money deals to Kobes, a look at how Jazz players choose their shoes

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell exchanges his shoes with Hailey Black, 11, ahead of an NBA game against New Orleans Pelicans at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. (Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News )

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell would like to make his case: It wasn’t the shoes.

On Nov. 4, Jordan Clarkson checked into a game wearing a new pair of D.O.N. Issue No. 3s. It was one of the more frustrating opening minutes for Clarkson of the season. His jump shot wasn’t falling (and, frankly, the shots weren’t close) and he missed bunnies in the lane. Something was clearly off.

He looked down at the D.O.N. Issues No. 3s — his teammate’s signature sneaker — and opted for a change. With a pair of Nikes now on his feet, he went 9 of 11 for 25 points in a flame-throwing second half.

“I told him, ‘Bro, you’re hurting sales!’ Mitchell said with a laugh.

Here’s where Mitchell could point out that he himself is averaging 30.8 points and shooting 54% from the field over the last six games — all Utah Jazz wins — wearing those same models of sneakers. Clearly, they aren’t all bad.

So what made Clarkson make the change that night in Atlanta? It’s simple really, the D.O.N.s were just too new.

“I was like, ‘Bro, that was nothing against your shoe.’ It was just a new pair of shoes, not broken in at all,” Clarkson said. “If he would have given me one that he’d worked out in or something, I probably would’ve felt better and probably had a better game.”

But that story prompted some questions: How much thought actually goes into a player’s selection of shoes? And what exactly do players care about when it comes to the sneakers they wear each game? Here’s what we found out.

Joe Ingles bent down to start untying his white faded Kobes and laughed at the question. If anyone on the team isn’t going to care about his style, it’s Ingles.

“I wear my Chucks, I wear some Crocs and these Kobes — that’s it,” Ingles said. “It’s quite boring.”

Boring, sure; but comfortable, yes. And to say Ingles doesn’t care about his shoes is inaccurate. He just doesn’t care about looks, per se.

Ingles has built up a big collection of Converse All-Stars and Kobes — something that has been beneficial after Kobe Bryant’s wife Vanessa announced the family’s estate would not renew the long-term shoe contract with Nike. The end of the partnerships has led to a shortage of the player-favorite shoe (there has been some talk since of negotiations restarting, so there’s a glimmer of hope).

Ingles said he’s only got a few more pairs of the current Kobes he’s wearing, but has other models stored away for future seasons. But even if he didn’t, he doesn’t think it’d be a big deal. He wears them because they’re comfortable. He assumes there are other comfortable shoes out there.

“It’s a pair of shoes. I’ve worn them because they’re comfortable, and I’ve been able to get a lot of them,” Ingles said. “If I can’t get them, I’ll just wear something else. I really don’t think much about shoes.”

The Kobe shortage, though, is a bigger deal to other Jazz players.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell carries boxes of shoes after practicing at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021.
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell carries boxes of shoes after practicing at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Hassan Whiteside stocked up on them last season when the news started coming out that they might be hard to find. He estimates he has about 40 pairs in different models.

Eric Paschall also made sure he collected a bunch before they went away, and he’s not done searching. He’s prowled resell market sites like StockX, GOAT, Ebay and Poshmark in search of shoes, and paid some high prices to grow his 80-pair collection. So high, in fact, he’s not willing to disclose the most he’s spent on a single pair of shoes.

Suffice it to say, it was more than the sticker price.

“I’ve always loved Kobes when I was younger, I always wanted Kobes, wore Kobes, so you get a little bit of money and you can buy the Kobes you want,” Paschall said. “So I just started collecting them.”

Now, when it comes to what pair the players wear for a certain game, a few things come into play. If Whiteside feels he’ll be matched up with a smaller big, he’ll opt for a lighter model so he can chase him around more easily. A lot of players will also consider the jersey, and oftentimes try to match. But, for a number of Jazz players, they wear whatever is placed in the locker by equipment manager Adam Klauke.

“Adam is the equipment manager of the year so he just chooses whatever shoes he wants me to wear — I just listen,” Rudy Gobert said. “It’s been nine years, so he knows me now. And he knows that I don’t really care as much.”

As Gobert answered from a courtside seat after a Jazz shootaround, Mitchell crashed the interview, steadily moving down the rows to get right behind Gobert. So when Gobert was asked who on the team cared the most, he pointed right at Mitchell, who also raised his hand high.

“Makes a lot of money, too,” Gobert said. “So I don’t blame him.”

To which Mitchell replied, “At a store near you!”

Mitchell is the only Jazz player with a signature shoe deal. He’s now on the third edition of his own shoe and there are seemingly endless colorways for him to choose from. Clarkson joked that Mitchell’s shoes “were taking up the whole locker room,” and it’s reached a point where the Jazz bring a dedicated sneaker travel bag just for Mitchell’s growing collection.

With so many options, how does Mitchell determine which ones to wear each night?

“It’s really just sporadic and spontaneous,” he said.

He compared it to leaving his house — there’s not a whole lot of thought to it, most nights. He just throws some on and heads to the court. If he likes how they feel and he makes some shots, he keeps them on. If he doesn’t, he’ll change them.

“I’m superstitious,” Mitchell said.

So, yes, he understood when Clarkson opted to take off his signature sneaker when he started a game poorly; he’s done the exact same thing himself.

“I appreciate he’s wearing them,” Mitchell said. “I appreciate all the guys who wear my stuff. The fact that he even put those on, I’m just appreciative of that. Helps promote my stuff. It’s all love for that.”

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