Decoding the sneaker scribbles of NBA stars


Throughout the history of the NBA, sneakers have been a way for players to showcase their own style and individuality on the court.

Some players get their own signature shoes, and others are supplied with player-exclusive editions. Still, many NBA players — even among the league’s elite — find the need to take matters into their own hands, literally. Take a close look at the sneakers flashing up and down the hardwood, and you’ll find handwritten messages that have a personal meaning to the player who wrote them on his shoe before stepping onto the court.

But what do all those names, phrases and hashtags mean? Here’s a guide to some of the most notable Sharpie-scribbled customizations you’ll find on NBA courts.

Bronny Bryce Zhuri
Mama James
Queen James
“Man In The Arena”

A late adopter of the scribble trend, LeBron James has made the most of his size 16 canvas this season, packing in more names, phrases and acronyms than anyone else in the league.

The more straightforward callouts highlight his three children, along with mother Gloria and wife Savannah, respectively dubbed “Mama James” and “Queen James” along the LeBron 15’s knit material and rounding out the #JamesGang.

The more subtle notes often spotted this year include #SFG, short for James’ “Strive for greatness” mantra. The #Fab5 and #4HM nods call back to his lineup at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School and the Four Horsemen of friends who were alongside him as he entered the league at 18. #RWTW is for the “Roll with the winners” slogan shared by his crew of close friends and business partners Maverick Carter, Rich Paul, Paul Rivera and others.

Lastly, there’s the “Man In The Arena” message, which refers to an iconic speech from former President Theodore Roosevelt that was delivered in 1910 — 100 years before James made his famed “Decision” to sign with the Miami Heat. After facing unprecedented scrutiny for the move, James turned to the speech for inspiration, drawing strength from Roosevelt’s words. “It is not the critic who counts,” begins The Man In The Arena, “the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”

“Until you walk in the face of battle or adversity, you don’t understand,” James has said.

The speech has been a source of inspiration behind the scenes for years as James came to terms with alternating Finals wins and losses during his career. Now, in James’ 15th season, the passage is still fueling him, earning top billing this season on the midsole of his sneakers.

“I Can Do All Things…”
Phil 4:13
Romans 8:28

Just before his very first college practice at Davidson more than a decade ago, Stephen Curry flipped open his phone and noticed a text message from his mother, Sonya.

She had sent along her favorite Bible verse, Romans 8:28, as a way to encourage her eldest child before he embarked on a college career riddled with doubters and uncertainty. She then challenged him to look for his own source of inspiration.

Curry famously landed on Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” — and he’s been writing a variation of each Bible verse on his sneakers just before taking the court, along with his given “WSC” initials, every game since.

“It’s a mantra that I live by and something that drives me every single day,” Curry said. “It’ll hopefully inspire people to find something that drives them, whether that’s a verse or some other motivating force that keeps you hungry and keeps you driven. That’s mine, and you can pick whatever yours is and let that drive you, too, as you continue with basketball or whatever field you’re in in your life.”

As Curry’s signature series reaches its fifth model, Under Armour is mindful of his pregame ritual, leaving a gap of space at the front of each shoe for him to write on. The version of Curry’s shoe sold in stores has the “I Can Do All Things…” message pre-printed on the midsole.

Why Not?

It’s one of the easier-to-miss notes along the sneakers of perhaps the league’s most flashy player: a simple “KB3” in small text etched by Russell Westbrook nightly onto his Jordans.

The initials hold deep meaning for the reigning MVP, honoring Khelcey Barrs III, Westbrook’s childhood best friend and high school teammate who passed away during a pickup game in 2004, at the age of 16. Those around the team at the time often say 6-foot-6 Barrs was the school’s best player.

The two shared a dream of one day playing together at UCLA. After Barrs collapsed on the court, it was later uncovered that he suffered from an enlarged heart.

Westbrook has kept his memory alive ever since, also wearing a personalized “RIP KB3” wristband throughout his career. Near the “KB3” on his shoes, you’ll often find a quick “Why Not?” notation, as well. The mantra has driven the seven-time All-Star — now it’s the name of his charity foundation looking to affect kids in both Oklahoma City and Los Angeles.

With his very first Jordan Brand signature shoe launching earlier this spring, it didn’t take long for his Why Not Zer0.1 model to feature a Barrs tribute. Styled in their Leuzinger High School’s navy, gold and red hues, the shoe incorporates “KB3” on the tongue in Westbrook’s handwriting.

Sharron Victoria Karen SJI
“Improvise Adapt Overcome”

Detroit Pistons wing Stanley Johnson has always been driven by those closest to him. Over the past two seasons, he began a pregame ritual of penning a tribute to his family along the right shoe’s midsole.

“That is all my blood — my sisters, mom and dad,” Johnson said.

His customized NIKEiD colorways of the brand’s Paul George and Kyrie Irving signature models have also featured “LOVE!” underlined opposite, along the left shoe’s heel.

“Love is the strongest emotion,” he said. “If I can play the game with how much I love them, you can make the impossible possible.”

Wave Papi
New year, Same wave

As the Washington Wizards wing continues his rise in the league after being selected in the middle of 2015’s first round, Kelly Oubre Jr. has also become one of the league’s leaders in style points on and off the court.

Oubre has a fledgling fashion line named Dope$oul and is known for bold pregame arrival outfits featuring everything from fur coats to all-over-print overalls and ample jewelry. He has been adding his own touch to his footwear, often wearing James Harden‘s debut “Vol. 1” Adidas signature shoe.

“James is my guy. He’s a guy I look up to in the league, I respect him a lot, and I enjoy going against him,” Oubre told Nice Kicks. “He’s in the Adidas family, and I wear his shoes because I like low tops. I customize the tips of all my shoes, and those are a great canvas to create on.”

Oubre has been outspoken in the league’s emerging mental health conversations of late, and his “mindfulness” and “positivity” messages reflect that. He also has celebrated his love for fashion and style, highlighting his self-dubbed “Wave Papi” nickname.

Kyrie Irving

Mi Amor, Te Amo

After missing the final five games of the 2015 NBA Finals with a knee injury, Kyrie Irving turned to one of his favorite players for some added inspiration. It was in Kobe Bryant’s documentary, “Muse,” where Irving discovered Bryant’s love for the movie “Whiplash.”

“I was like, ‘Man, I got to catch that movie.’ I had no idea what it was going into it,” Irving told Geno Auriemma on the Connecticut women’s basketball coach’s “Holding Court” podcast. “I ended up ordering it and watching it, and watched it over and over, and watched it probably about six times.”

The Oscar-winning film follows the story of teenage jazz drummer who, in tandem with his relentless teacher, pushes himself to the brink to hone his craft and outpace his potential. Once back on the court, Irving began writing “Whiplash” in cursive along the midsole of his signature Nikes, opposite a tribute to his young daughter, Azurie, and the Spanish translation of “My love, I love you.”

Irving credits the movie with shaping his own personal improvement and more structured approach behind the scenes.

“It’s just about the drive to be great,” he told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.

The next spring, he famously drained the go-ahead 3-pointer to help deliver Cleveland’s first NBA title, and is now hoping to duplicate that success as the leader of his new team in Boston.

“The perfection of the craft in anything that people are doing in life, it takes a s— ton of sacrifice and being away from things that normal people would want to do,” Irving said.

Source : ESPN