A History of Point Guards With Nike Signature Sneakers

  • Nike Air Zoom T-Bug Flight
    Tim Hardaway

    Many have likely forgotten how good Tim Hardaway was — but believe me, mid-90s Knicks fans have not. In terms of modern-day MSG silencers, one could make a case that the Heat version of Hardaway ranked behind only Jordan, Reggie Miller, and perhaps Paul Pierce. At the height of his and the Heat’s success, he ended up receiving his own signature sneaker from Nike, the Air Zoom T-Bug Flight.

    But…what about the Air Bakin’? Though that striped, semi-controversial shoe is the one most people remember Hardaway wearing, it was not his signature sneaker. Nor was the Air Raid, though Hardaway was used in advertisements for it. Likewise the Air Flight Maestro. The T-Bug — notable for its visible monkey-paw support system — has the distinction of being Hardaway’s lone signature model, though it was most likely overshadowed on its Eastbay page by the Pippen 2.

    That said, Hardaway can always claim a Nike sneaker with his moniker attached, which isn’t something a lot of his point guard peers could boast. Perhaps Nike can cook up some blue-and-orange T-Bug PEs for his son, the wayward Knick?

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  • Kyrie Irving

    Nike

    Kyrie Irving

    Given that he’s about a month into being a signature athlete, Kyrie has a ways to go to carve out his Nike legacy. But he got off to an incredible start, scoring 37 points at Madison Square Garden the day after Nike introduced the Kyrie 1.

    “He released his shoe and wore them for the first time and then put up those gaudy numbers in the Garden,” LeBron James said after Kyrie iced the Cavs’ win with a clutch layup. “That’s what we do at Nike. You know, spectacular.”

    Unlike the ’90s, Nike no longer fosters all that many signature athletes, with Irving being the first new one in six years. That’s why it was such a big deal that they tabbed Kyrie at this point in time: It couldn’t hurt that he now plays on a team with James, but it’s clear by their investment they have very high hopes for Irving. It’s difficult to say whether he’ll live up to them, but if his first game is any indication, he has a pretty good shot.

    “I think that kids really respond to having a connection with someone where (previously) they had no idea about it,” Irving said at the Kyrie 1 launch. “I have a story to tell with all my colorways that are coming out, and I really can’t wait to share them with everybody.”

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  • Nike Zoom MVP
    Steve Nash

    Nash had just one signature sneaker to his name, the Zoom MVP. But it’s his unofficial sig sneakers that make his footwear legacy impressive.

    Ostensibly, if you play a guard-based game, it has always benefited you to check what Nash was wearing and get a pair. The Nike Air Jet Flight was a performance monster — by our count, Nash wore it for three years — and yet somehow has never retroed. The Zoom Drive, though it never sold at retail in the United States, popping up only at outlets, was similarly great.

    This isn’t to say Nash didn’t occasionally wear some mainstream sneakers; he was known to wear the occasional Air Jordan. But for the most part, he rocked to the beat of his own drummer, which sounds pretty much on the money for one of the NBA’s most unique superstars.

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  • Nike Zoom Flight 95
    Jason Kidd

    Before he eventually claimed a spot on Team Jordan, Jason Kidd wore a substantial amount of 1990s Nike Basketball heat. Like Hardaway, however, much of it was not branded for him.

    Much as he was on the court, Kidd was always a step ahead with his footwear. The radical Air Zoom Flight, not technically a Kidd signature sneaker, was the first to have point-guard-friendly Zoom cushioning. This led to his first sig shoe, the Zoom Flight 5, an excellent performer. (My only qualm: The shiny coloring of the pod on the side of the sneaker scratched off easily.)

    The Zoom Kidd 2 featured interchangeable skins to blanket the upper named MORFs, which didn’t catch on. But the all-over prints were a precursor to the Galaxy Foams, one of the most hyped sneakers of all time.

    If you sift through a slew of amazing Jordan PEs, Kidd’s true sneaker legacy will be that he was consistently ahead of his time. And whether it had his logo on it or not, if you saw Kidd wearing something — like Turbines, 2K3s or Zoom BBs — you could be certain it was suitable for a point god.

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  • Gary Payton

    It seems weird in retrospect that Gary Payton was once a Nike signature athlete — he played in Seattle at the time, and he was known as much for his trash talk and petulant sneer as his outstanding two-way game. But his counterculture vibe resonated during a halcyon era for Nike basketball, leading to some classic ads. How great was the Fun Police? Or when he kind of sparred with a prime Evander Holyfield?

    The Zoom Flight 98 — the zip-up classic better known as The Glove — is the only Payton sneaker that gets traction at retail at this point. But it was far from the only great shoe he was involved with. We’re still waiting for a retro of the Zoom GP 2, arguably his finest on-court signature sneaker, and not too shabby on the streets either.

    And who knows? Given the heat Gary Payton’s kid has been rocking on the college courts, maybe at some point, we’ll get a true Son of Glove.

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  • Chris Paul, Jordan CP3.VIII

    Jordan Brand

    Chris Paul

    For someone on his eighth Air Jordan signature sneaker, it feels like CP3 has long been on the verge of a classic. At the very least, he’s heading in the right direction with the clean CP3.VIII, and all of his sneakers perform well on court. Meanwhile, among active signature athletes, only heavyweights LeBron and Kobe have more signature sneakers to their names.

    We chronicled Paul’s love for sneakers a little while back, but suffice it to say, he won’t rest until he’s as much a presence in the sneaker game as he is on All-NBA ballots.

    “A lot of times, people think designing a shoe is very easy,” Paul said at the launch of the CP3.VIII. “But when you get the opportunity to sit down with a shoe designer, you realize how hard it is, because everyone has their favorite shoes. … But if you come out with your own shoe, you can’t just make it look like the Jordan 3s. You can’t just make it look like the Jordan 11s.

    “So it’s a really tough process to make it your own and to make a dream.”

    As for Jordan point guards, there’s also Russell Westbrook, though he spends the majority of his time rocking MJ’s latest signature sneakers.

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  • Nike Air Max Penny II
    Penny Hardaway

    Not only is Anfernee Hardaway the point guard with the greatest sneaker pedigree, his signature line can stake a claim to being the second-best ever behind MJ himself. (That, of course, depends on what you think of the Reebok Iverson line or Nike’s LeBrons.)

    As a player and a signature athlete, Penny captured the imagination of the masses in a way few have. He was just the total package: Smooth yet explosive, a 6-7 position-bender, teamed with early ’90s darling Shaquille O’Neal. Hardaway showed flashes of being one of the greatest players of his generation, if only his knees could have held up. But the highs he was able to muster – specifically his virtuoso performance in the 1997 Playoffs against the Heat – signified the rarest of air was at one point within his reach.

    His sneakers, likewise, represented classic after classic. The Foamposite One, of course, took on an importance all its own. But every one of his sneakers was awesome: The Penny 1 was of course amazing, but we prefer the Penny 2, which looks like it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. (Eric Avar actually did the honors.) For the record, Penny himself prefers the 1, but has said the 2 plays better for him on court. We value his opinion.

    For anyone perpetually stuck in the ’90s – guilty as charged – the most gratifying thing is that Penny remains relevant, and that it appears he will continue to be. After a bit of a gap, his sneaker line resumed with new models to go along with his popular retros, exposing a whole new generation to a player whose time at the top was way too short.

    “I think it’s incredible, I really do,” Penny told me a couple years ago. “I never imagined this back when I was playing in the NBA, that my shoe would be going on this long. I did picture myself having a line of about 15 different pairs of Pennys, because I thought my career would go on that long and it’d be a different shoe every year.

    “But still, to have the line still going on, it’s a great feeling.”

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  • Bonus: Jason Williams

    White Chocolate was the one that got away. Meshing streetball with the NBA, Williams was immensely popular at the turn of the century, but we never actually got a signature sneaker for him. (The Air Flight Disruptor was supposedly designed for him, but to our knowledge, he never wore them.)

    That said, there are a couple of silver linings. Though they were never technically his signature sneaker, you can’t see a pair of Hyperflights without thinking of Williams in his purple joints. Plus, so long as we can look up “Freestyle” and the ad with Randy Moss, White Chocolate will live on forever in the YouTube Hall of Fame.

    And if you ever find yourself playing ball in Orlando? You might just find yourself the recipient of one of those sweet passes.

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  • Nike Air Zoom T-Bug Flight
  • Kyrie Irving
  • Nike Zoom MVP
  • Nike Zoom Flight 95
  • Gary Payton
  • Chris Paul, Jordan CP3.VIII
  • Nike Air Max Penny II
  • Jason Williams

You know the feeling the first time you listened to Kendrick Lamar, or when you watched DiCaprio in Basketball Diaries? That was what it was like for those few hundred fortunate souls who made their way to Kean University the winter of 2009-10 to watch Kyrie Irving light up Harwood Arena a couple of times a week.

On a loaded St. Patrick Elizabeth team that also featured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and current Kentucky center Dakari Johnson, Irving stood out as a shoo-in future superstar. Kyrie simply did it all: He could score, he could pass, he could charm the local media — not to mention Coach K. Most impressive was his preternatural handle; though it was common to see him dribble the ball through his defender’s legs to himself on a fast break, it never lost its novelty.

The accolades have piled up since then. Irving was the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, won Rookie of the Year, and made his first All-Star team at age 20. (He also became the youngest player to score 40 in Madison Square Garden — move over, Michael Jordan.) Irving won All-Star MVP honors the following season, and then LeBron James decided to come back to Cleveland. If the sky wasn’t the limit before, it certainly is now.

All along, Kyrie has been a Nike guy — at Duke, of course, and before that at St. Pat’s, which was sponsored by the Jordan Brand. He signed with Nike about two weeks after being drafted, and with LeBron raising the profile of the whole Cavs franchise, he was blessed with his first signature sneaker last month. (He celebrated by eviscerating the Knicks at the Garden the next night.)

Irving would seem to have a great shot at cementing himself as one of the greatest point guards of his era. But his personal brand is similarly on the rise. That got us thinking: Nike has had a rich history of signature point guards in its employ. With the Nike Kyrie 1 “Deceptive Red” set to release at Champs Sports this weekend — and with Russell Westbrook beginning to tear up the NBA under the Jordan Brand umbrella — how does its namesake stack up?

Here is A History of Point Guards With Nike Signature Sneakers.

Follow Bryan on Twitter at @SportsAngle

image via Nike