In late April, a few weeks before the NBA playoffs kicked off, P.J. Tucker arrived at a very humdrum game against the Charlotte Hornets wearing a very special pair of sneakers. The shoes were a pair of “PRFC” Jordan 5s: orange with teal laces, they were a very rare edition made specifically for the soccer team Carmelo Anthony owns in Puerto Rico. As far as Melo knew, there were very few pairs in existence. “[Anthony] looked me in my face and said ‘I’ve got one pair. No, you can’t have them,’” Tucker said in a conversation with Anthony and his then-teammate CJ McCollum earlier this year. “I said ‘Melo, I’ma find them shoes.’” Tucker took their existence as a challenge—and, somehow, wound up with his own. When Tucker finally fulfilled his promise, Anthony had only two words: “Bro how…”
“Bro, how?” is the question that sums up Tucker’s run as the NBA’s undisputed sneaker king. The PRFCs are just part of a long list of rare sneakers that Tucker has worn that incite the same reaction: Bro, how? Tucker once wore Yeezy Red Octobers during play. Bro, how? Nike Mags, the Back to the Future shoes: bro, how? Even Michael Jordan once asked Tucker in the middle of a game during which he was wearing a rare pair of Jordan 5s made for Shawn Marion: Bro, how? A simple question—and one with a lot of answers.
“The sneaker thing,” as Tucker’s stylist Kesha McLeod calls it, is so complicated that it’s written into her contract that, while she helps the fashion-obsessed Tucker with his outfits, she doesn’t have to deal with sourcing shoes. “I do not do sneakers anymore,” she says. “I’m not kidding you. I have all the contacts and I can find [the sneakers] and I can call Virgil [Abloh], I can call whoever, but I do not. And it’s only because those Red Octobers tainted me and I realized that this isn’t a world that I want to play in.”
Those Red Octobers were a good lesson that even for the NBA’s most recognizable players, the sneaker trade can be harsh. Once, another high-profile NBA superstar sent McLeod on a wild goose chase to track down a few pairs of Kanye’s new shoes for him. Her connect at Barneys said he had a few pairs. ”I’m like, ‘Oh this will be easy,’” she says. “It was not that easy.” The shoes at Barneys were gone by the time she got there. She was told to try now-shuttered retailer Atrium, and then the Nike Store and it went on like this until it was the end of the day and she was still sneakerless. She vowed from that point on to avoid the trouble of dealing with rare sneakers.
And so, when Tucker asked her in 2018 to help track down a pair of the new Serena Williams x Virgil Abloh Nikes, she passed—and then walked by an Off-White store in downtown New York City that was hosting a surprise drop of the sneakers. She bought them without issue; he wore them in the tunnel a few months later. This is the first tenet of P.J. Tucker’s sneaker collecting strategy: sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. You know that old phrase about how luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity? Tucker is the relentlessly prepared sneaker collector.
Because when it’s not just sheer luck, it’s hard work. Even though he is the NBA’s posterboy for rare shoes, Tucker has explained that he still doesn’t get sent all the hottest new releases. He was not seeded the Nike x Ben & Jerry’s “Chunky Dunky,” for example—one of 2020’s biggest releases. “That was a release I didn’t get,” he said, still a little shocked. Persistence, though, won out. He checked resale sites like eBay daily for the Chunky Dunkys until he found a pair in his size. (Tucker apparently uses his real name as his handle when buying shoes through eBay, a fact that leads to funny interactions with fanboy resellers.)
Most of Tucker’s sneaker finds require more sleuthing, though. “Don’t think this is as basic as, ‘Just let me go on StockX and buy this,’” McLeod says. But while McLeod says she’s been around to see how Tucker gets his shoes, she won’t give away his secrets.
Luckily, someone else will. One sneaker reseller who has helped find sneakers for Tucker in the past (and who asked to remain anonymous) outlined the way these more advanced transactions happen. Take the Jordan 5 PRFCs, for example. If Tucker had come to him looking for these shoes, this dealer explained, he’d immediately reach for his Rolodex. In the case of the PRFCs, he would reach out to “essentially anyone that would have access to [Anthony’s] personal camp,” he says. He’d work from the assumption that the shoes were issued to those in Anthony’s inner circle, as well as the players and managers on the Puerto Rico team. (The fact that these shoes likely leaked from Anthony’s inner circle is why Melo told Tucker, “It’s not about you having them, it’s about where you get them from [that’s a problem].”)
If those around Anthony weren’t able to help, the sneaker sourcer might try a contact at Nike, too. “There might be a couple samples at Nike leftover and those somehow end up coming out of Beaverton,” he says. “Honestly, when they say there are only two pairs of these in the world, there are never only two pairs in the world. You’d be surprised at how many, I would say, ‘unauthorized’ pairs there are of certain shoes.” He adds: “I will tell you that Tucker has, let’s call them, shoes that were quote-unquote ‘lost in the fire.’” In other words: shoes that disappeared and were thought to be missing and then—poof—reemerge like they’ve been raised from the dead at an NBA arena tunnel. “These are shoes that you won’t find a Sneaker News article about,” he says.
But the biggest key to maintaining an insane sneaker collection is knowing when and how to use it. McLeod says Tucker won’t go looking last-minute for a specific shoe to wear for a specific game. He collects his shoes organically, and then brings them out when the time is right. In fact, all his outfits start with his sneakers. “He actually makes my job easier because he’s like, ‘This is what I have figured out,’ and I have a month or two months to plan an outfit for something that’s unreleased or something no one even knew he had access to,” she explains. “He is very secretive about what sneakers he has and what he’s going to wear. What I do know is when I need a special occasion sneaker, I know that he will not let me down.”