TORONTO — An hour before tipoff in Toronto, Houston Rockets forward P.J. Tucker sat at his locker chatting with reporters, but he was also preoccupied with the sneakers by his feet. He picked up one of those pairs, the Air Jordan 2 Retro "Eminem," of which only 313 pairs were made in 2008, and tossed a shoe across the locker room to teammate Chris Paul. Paul, an avid sneakerhead himself and a member of Jordan Brand, took a close look at the shoe, gave his nod of approval and then tossed it back across the room to Tucker.
Perhaps Tucker was trying to impress his teammate. Recently, as first told to Joe La Puma on Complex's Sneaker Shopping, Tucker showed Paul a rare pair of Air Jordan 11 Retro "Jeter" on his phone. A week later, Paul walked into the Rockets locker room wearing the sneakers, which went for $50,000 on the resell market. "He didn't say anything," Tucker told B/R. "He just called my name, looked at his feet, and I was like, 'This dude is just ridiculous, man.'"
Tucker signed with the Rockets as a free agent this offseason after being recruited by Paul, his childhood friend. The two have lockers next to each other in the Rockets locker room, which means on any given night, the locker room turns into a sneaker museum before the game:
"In anything we do, Chris wants to win," Tucker said. "He's just going to be the best at it. It's not like he's trying to do it, it's just something that's in him." This might explain why Paul would show up with a pair of $50,000 sneakers just to prove a point.
But it's been a friendly back-and-forth all season. Earlier this year, Tucker, an avid collector of player-exclusive sneakers, showed up in a pair of Air Jordan 5 Chris Paul PEs from his New Orleans Hornets days. "That kind of messed him up," Tucker said. "But when it comes to Jordan Brand, he's got everything. My collection is just more eclectic."
Tucker has turned heads with his game-day sneakers for years, with his combination of PEs, OG sneakers and hype shoes. He's played in a pair of Quentin Richardson Air Jordan 9 "Clippers" PEs, the Nike Air Yeezy 2 "Red October" and the KAWS x Air Jordan 4.
This season, Tucker has played in the Off-White x Air Jordan 1, the Nike Hyperdunk "Aston Martin" and a pair of Richard Hamilton Air Jordan 2 PEs. On a Friday against the Raptors, he put the Eminem 2s away and played in the Kobe 6 "Barcelona."
Tucker is humble when he says that Paul has the better collection between the two. After all, this is the same guy who wore a Jordan PE that even Michael Jordan himself, who was sitting courtside as his Charlotte Hornets hosted the Phoenix Suns, had no idea existed.
When he spent five seasons in Europe before returning to the NBA in 2012, Tucker said he would keep a rotation of about 20 to 30 pairs of sneakers each season. Now that he's back in the NBA, Tucker has a travel bag that stores 18 pairs of sneakers just for himself on the road.
Having options is important. After all, this is a man who believes there's not a pair of sneakers he can't get. "Sometimes they don't make my size," Tucker said. "But otherwise, nothing is unattainable." The one pair of sneakers Tucker is trying to get right now is the Air Jordan 2 "Legends of the Summer," which, at one time, he owned.
Gerald Green joined the Rockets in late December and has a locker near Tucker and Paul. "I'm right next to those guys," Green told B/R, "and it's always a mess." In particular, Green marvels at all the different colorways of Air Max sneakers Tucker brings to games. "He's got them all," Green said. "He has shoes that came out in 2002 and they're brand new. Like how do you even get a brand-new shoe from 2002? It's crazy."
"It's always something new every day," Rockets guard Eric Gordon told B/R. "Every game. Every day. I bet he wears a different pair every single day."
Norman Powell of the Toronto Raptors was teammates with Tucker last season. Recently, he shook his head in amazement after having an up-close look at Tucker's sneaker collection. "His feet were crazy," Powell told B/R. "I don't think he wore the same pair of shoes twice, unless they were sandals."
Around the league, players are in awe of Tucker's sneakers. Bebe Nogueira was next to Tucker in Toronto's locker room last season and admires his former teammate's collection of Ferraris and shoes. "One day I hope to be like him and on his level," Nogueira told B/R. "But I'm not there yet."
On the court, opposing players have made sure to check what is on Tucker's feet when they check into games. "Every game, somebody is asking me where I got my shoes," Tucker said.
One of Tucker's favorite memories came during the 2012-13 season, when as a member of the Phoenix Suns, he played against Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs. Tucker doesn't remember exactly what he wore that game—although research suggests it was the Air Foamposite One "Phoenix Suns," even though Tucker thinks it was the Air Foamposite One "Galaxy,"—but he remembers Leonard's reaction clearly.
"Kawhi was like, 'Dawg, where'd you even get those?'" Tucker said. "He kept asking me, 'Like seriously, where'd you get those?' Kawhi doesn't ever talk, so it was funny to hear him say something."
So, how would Tucker describe his sneaker habit? Does he see himself as most dedicated sneakerhead in the NBA?
"I don't know if I'm the most dedicated," Tucker said. "I just do it. It's so natural. It's just a part of my life. It's something I do every day, whether it's emailing someone, direct-messaging people, looking at shoes or looking at other people's collections. I don't even think about it."
What about simply being crowned the best sneakerhead in the league?
"I don't care," Tucker said. "Everyone says I'm the best sneaker guy now. It's funny to me. I don't do it for that. I could care less. I just love shoes, man."
If he won't say it, his teammates are happy to say it for him.
"He ain't got to talk," Green said. "He's got some of the best shoes I've ever seen. He has shoes I didn't even know existed. To me, that makes him the sneaker king."