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Vince Carter Q&A: A Stroll Down Sneaker Memory Lane

by Jarrel Harris

When you go down the list of electrifying players in NBA history, it may be impossible to find someone more entertaining than Vince Carter. While he will certainly go down as one of the greatest dunkers of all time, Carter had one of the most underappreciated sneaker lines in NBA history. With Michael Jordan out the game, Vince Carter inspired a new generation of hoopers to fly while wearing his kicks. Half-man, half-amazing was a marketing machine.

After brief stints with PUMA and And1, Carter made his mark as the face of Nike Shox technology—which offered the first energy return system, a pioneer of its kind, which eventually lead to kicks like the Nike React and Adidas boost. It was a concept that was 20 years in the making but needed Carter’s bounce to make it finally reach new heights. The stars aligned when Carter debuted the Nike Shox BB4’s during the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

How about this for a marketer's dream: Take the reigning slam dunk contest champion, put him sneakers that are marketed for people to jump higher, then witness him dunk over a 7-footer during the Olympics with millions of people watching. You can’t think of a better execution for a sneaker placement.

We had the opportunity to chat with Vince about sneakers on behalf of Verizon, the official wireless partner of the NBA, which teamed up with Carter at the 2017 NBA draft at Barclays Center. 

Jarrel Harris: How did you get most of your sneakers growing up? Is there one sneaker that you remember that changed everything for you?

Vince Carter: Growing up believe it or not, I wasn’t really that big into sneakers. Of course I am older so the Converse, the Larry Bird’s and the Magic Johnson’s were huge wants because of the commercials you used to see all of the time and the battles. Also the Jordan’s back then. I wasn’t a big time sneaker guy as far as a sneaker collector,. My mom was like you have to pick one and make it work (laughs) so I remember I had the Magic Johnson’s Converse at one time and I all kind of schools but I am old school.

JH: What are some of your favorites of all time?

VC: Outside the Shox, the Grant Hill FILA’s were big and of course Jordan’s, the Converse about Bird and Magic. I remember had a pair of the (Converse Aero Jam) Larry Johnson’s prior to me playing I know I had a pair of Barkley’s but I would never tell him that (laughs) but I had a pair of his. I had a pair of Scottie Pippen’s as well, it is funny when I was doing ESPN The JUMP with him, he was showing his old ad with the shoes and I was like ‘Yo I had a pair of those things’. And of course I had champions as a kid because we didn’t have much.

JH: You had one of the most popular signature sneaker lines with Nike. Can you talk about that experience?

VC: I was very happy with all of them. I started with the Nike Shox BB4’s that’s where it started. It was a great opportunity for me to not only have your own signature shoe but for people to really want them—that was what I kind of worried about, selling the shoe of my life. We are talking about a shoe that I am on. We are not talking about a Jordan, a Bird or Magic. It was really a great feeling when they went to retail and started seeing people in them. I had a couple pairs in the league and when I wore them, players were coming up to me asking me “Hey man, can I wear your shoe throughout the season?” It was just a great feeling because that is where it all started.

JH: You were one of the faces of the shox technology for basketball players—what was the best part on working with that?

VC: I was just transitioning out of the PUMA situation and was presented when they were looking to start a new technology and something new and it kind of made sense with the shox and the boing and what not. And it was right on time and I was excited about it because it made sense to me. I just remember trying them. It is funny looking at shoes now, kids will look at them now and say they are so heavy, but I had the light thing at the time. It wasn’t the big bulky shoe, it wasn’t a big man shoe either but just getting the opportunity to sit in the production meetings and kind of give my input on the shoe and what I was looking for and where they were looking for and just collaborating. It was awesome just to say I was part of that in my life.

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JH: And you debuted the Nike Shox BB4 during the Olympics. So I have to ask was it the sneakers or was it you who dunked over Frederick Weiss?

VC: I am going to have to say it was 70/30. 70% me and 30% shoe (laughs).

JH: You had a lot of memorable moments like the 2000 Dunk Contest and the dunk in the Olympics. Do you know where you put the sneakers from some of your biggest moments?

VC: I have them somewhere safe. Because I hid them from myself. But I definitely have my Olympic shoes, the McDonald's All-American game, and I have my And 1 Tai-Chi’s from the 2000 Dunk Contest, the red and white ones. And not being the sneakerhead like some other guys, I think it would have been cool to keep my shoes I scored 10,000 points, 20,000 points and 25,000 points so on to keep, but I don’t have them.

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JH: You had some awesome commercials such as Dr. Dunk, the purple suit commercial, the Nike streetball commercial—which one was your favorite?

VC: I want to say it was the fourth one with the black and red shox. We did an ad within the airport, taking flight with the flight attendants that was probably my favorite ad.

JH: As someone who bounced around brands early in his career and with the NBA draft tonight—what is some sneaker business advice you can give to some of the prospects as they start to sign with brands?

VC: Well, now I think it is tough to do so because [prospects] are looking forward to what they are interested in as far as what they like. Everyone likes the Jordan’s and I am sure everyone is going to take the opportunity or go to Nike, but I think it is all about the opportunity that makes sense for you. I mean these guys will sign with a company, let’s just use Nike for example or Jordan because they like the shoe and they will just sign a branding deal when they can sign with maybe someone else for a little bit more money. So it is about the opportunity and what makes sense to them and go from there. For me at the time, PUMA was the best opportunity. Yes, I love Nike and Jordan and I would have loved to sign with them or Adidas or any of those guys, but at the time, they weren’t really looking to sign anybody or sign someone with a lot of money. At the time PUMA on the other hand was just coming back into basketball and that was a great opportunity but it was the lockout year so things were a little tough at the time. Once I established myself a couple years, Nike comes around and the opportunity presents itself, the shox come and the rest is history.