Santi Aldama realized he had violated one of the NBA’s most notable unwritten rules.
“Oh (expletive), I forgot,” the Grizzlies forward explained.
Aldama was wearing a pair of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s signature sneakers in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Wearing Antetokounmpo’s sneakers are OK for 80 of the 82 Grizzlies games per season, but twice a year, Aldama is expected to switch shoes when the star of the Bucks is the opposition.
Aldama also shared another reminder from last season during shootaround when Dillon Brooks mentioned to him that he shouldn’t wear the sneaker of an upcoming opponent later that day.
“He went crazy,” Aldama said. “I was like, ‘Aye bro, I wasn’t planning on wearing them, don’t worry about that.’ “
Blame it on being a rookie. He wouldn’t let it happen during his second season.
Well, Aldama slipped up again earlier this season. This time it was his girlfriend who reminded him of his mistake against Brooklyn when he wore star Nets guard Kyrie Irving’s shoes.
“It’s a stigma throughout the league,” Brooks said.
The rule for LeBron James, other NBA stars
Not wearing an opposing opponent’s sneaker is not a sign of disrespect. Most players say it is more mental than anything. NBA players use the smallest things to get an advantage, and this unwritten rule goes back to the last generation of players.
When LeBron James played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, his teammates weren’t allowed to wear Golden State star Stephen Curry’s Under Armour sneakers.
Hall of Famer Paul Pierce notably didn’t like for his teammates in Boston or Washington to wear James’ shoes. One of the main reasons why was because of how James would react if he saw it.
“If I see a guy wearing my shoes, if he’s not like a real good brother of mine – because you know I’ve got some guys that are Team LeBron and that’s what we do – but if you’re just a guy and you go to Foot Locker or somewhere and you just get a pair of LeBrons and you want to wear them on a Tuesday night against me? I’m gonna bust your (expletive),” James said in a 2015 interview with GQ.
Tyreke Evans and Mario Chalmers passed the knowledge down to Brooks in Memphis. When Tyus Jones played for the Minnesota Timberwolves, he learned from Kevin Garnett and Tayshaun Prince.
Brooks, Jones and Kyle Anderson are among the players who have made current Grizzlies players aware of why most NBA players follow this rule.
Jones wears Kyrie 7s in most NBA games. When Memphis played the Nets last month, he chose to wear Kobe Bryant’s shoes.
“You don’t play against anybody with their shoes on, because they already got the upper hand,” Jones said. “That’s kind of got to be our mentality. We playing against somebody, we’re not wearing their shoes. It’s no disrespect, it’s nothing like that. It’s a mentality thing for sure.”
That feeling has rubbed off through most of the locker room, especially when the Grizzlies play the Nets. Jaren Jackson Jr. wears Kevin Durant’s sneakers in most games, but he didn’t do so against the Nets last season. Ja Morant often wears KDs and Kyries, but he opted for Kobe 11s against Brooklyn.
Is it more about comfort than the name?
Even though most players in the Grizzlies locker room follow the unwritten rule, that’s not the case for everyone.
Xavier Tillman Sr. is a big fan of the comfortability of Antetokounmpo’s Nike Zoom Freak series. He has heard players talk about not wearing opponent’s sneakers, but for him, there was a problem.
“I’m like, ‘Shoot, I don’t got no other shoes,’ ” Tillman said.
Tillman mentioned how he wouldn’t feel comfortable switching into shoes he didn’t regularly wear, and that’s the case for Brandon Clarke, too.
“When I play Durant, I wear his shoes proudly,” Clarke said.
The Grizzlies players aren’t forcing teammates to follow this rule, but it’s something that most of the NBA considers. From the Nike brand to Jordan, Adidas, Under Armour, Puma, Li-Ning, Anta, New Balance and 361 degrees, 22 current NBA players have signature shoes.
“If the shoes are comfortable, wear them,” Brooks said. “It’s just one of those things in the NBA.”
Among active players, Grizzlies players often wear the Nike shoes of Durant, Irving, Antetokounmpo and Paul George. Ziaire Williams, an Adidas athlete, mostly wears Donovan Mitchell’s D.O.N. sneakers.
It may have took some time, but when Aldama played the Nets on Sunday, he wore Antetokounmpo’s Nike Zoom Freaks. More importantly when Aldama is scheduled to play against Milwaukee, he’ll switch to Kyries. He knows the deal now.
“It makes sense not to wear their shoes, because it’s a mental thing,” Aldama said.