There has never been — and will never be — anyone in the NBA quite like Rasheed Wallace, who abruptly retired in late April at the age of 38. 'Sheed came up with Washington when the franchise was still called the Bullets and was a leader on the notorious Trail Blazer teams of the late '90s and early '00s before earning redemption (and a ring) with the 2004 Detroit Pistons. He finished out his career with the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks, never quite making it back to the promised land, but always contributing. Not many seven-footers had his touch — or his temper.
But aside from his incredibly fundamentally sound game (and the technical fouls which he earned by the dozen), Rasheed will be remembered for being the last NBA player to regularly wear Nike Air Force 1s. Always the hightops, usually with the strap hanging off the back. The other night, Rasheed made an appearance at NYC's 21 Mercer to introduce a store-exclusive 'Sheed version of the Lunar Force 1. After a typically candid interview with MC-for-the-night Eddie Huang ('Sheed on the Lunars: "This is a good shoe as well, it’s light as I don’t know what...") , we managed to get in some questions about the originals. Check it out.
I want to take it all the way back. Do you remember the first time you even saw a pair of Air Force 1s?
It was summertime and my oldest brother had a pair, white on whites, that he bought off the avenue, back home in Philly, Germantown Avenue. That was where we went get all the fresh kicks at. First time, that was like uhh..’83.
The Moses era!
Yeaaahh… "Fo', fo', fo'!"
So did you end up getting a pair off your brother, or was it the case when you saw him have a pair and was like....
Nah, I actually lucked up and got my pair around like ’84, ’85, on the avenue. Like I said, they were a little cheaper so…. one of those days my mom was like “look you can go and get one of the ones you want” and of course I pick the Airs tryna be like my brother. And BOOM… I was in the game.
So you were in junior high at that time probably?
Let me see [pauses] Yep! Somewhere around there. Early junior high.
I’m old fashioned. If the refrigerator ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
'Cause you mixed it up a little bit later, right? I know you wore Maxes at Carolina…
Well…yeah that wasn’t by choice. We wore Maxes, Jordans, uhmm, Delta’s, wore a few kicks at Carolina. But once I came to the league, I had to get that Air. Because growing up, that was a lot of the sneakers I wore too. Uhm…I always wore natural high tops. I don’t know if you remember… the David Robinsons that pumped up? I used to play in ‘em 'cause they had ankle protection. That was always my biggest thing.
You tried a few different things in the League, too. Did Nike try and get you like “Yo man, this is the new stuff, try this out”
Yeah [laughing], they did. But me, I’m old fashioned. If the refrigerator ain’t broke, don’t fix it. To me it was all some shoes, it was nothing wrong with it. Uh….so why fix it? They came with the Air Force 2, where the strap was on the shoe and I was like “nah, nah, nah, I can’t rock ‘em. Then they tried coming with some other ones and I was like “nah, I can’t rock them”. I always kept it with the number 1s from the beginning.
Did you play with the strap on for awhile? Or did you always have the strap hanging off the back?
Any type of material with the strap like that [points to his, which have a nylon strap], I always played with that [hanging off]. But sometimes depending on the material of the shoe. It might have been a leather strap and of course, they were too hard to hang off the back.
How many pairs do you think you have now?
Uh..I don’t know man. I gave a lot of my shoes away. It was just so many. Now? Pssshhh…personally that I own, as far as Airs? I say I prolly got about 50 pairs of Airs. I had to give a lot away, or else they would have filled my house up. So…I was just giving them away left and right. Like "yo, what size you wear?”
Naw. Not really. Actually, the only pair of sneaks I kept for myself were the ones that I wore when I was in Detroit when we won the championship. That was the only pair that I kept as far as ones with meaning. But of course, I got old pairs of shoes that I played in and they are in the closet that was like “yeah, I wore these," but it was nothing to it. Them blue and white ones though… championship all over.
Special place in the house, huh?
Yeah yeah. For sure.
The Torch pair was sick. I remember the Boston ones you talked about.
Oh yeah, those were sick too. I remember nobody was expecting that. I crushed ‘em with that. Yeah them joints was vicious with the green man on the side.
Do you remember when they first showed you that design? The shoe with your logo on it.
When I was in Portland. I came up with my natural logo and ya know, just dealing with Nike I was like can y'all put my logo on the shoes and, you know. At that time I think other guys had logos or specific names on the shoe. So they was like yeah — let’s rock and roll. It was already an existing shoe, I guess I just added another chapter on to it.
You did, you did. You kinda made it your own shoe. Being a Carolina guy, did Mike ever talk to you when he saw the logo? Because obviously Mike has his own logo.
Nah, nah. I mean… Mike logo, he’s flying. This one, I’m just turning out, non-jumping. But naw, I always liked it because it was a good silhouette. Once you see that logo, the first thing you think of is myself. So that’s what I wanted for people to do. So whenever you see the tee shirt or sneaker Nike has printed up, first thing you think of when you see the logo [is me].
It was already an existing shoe, I guess I just added another chapter on to it.
Another thing, people always said "Sheed can’t be playing in regular Air Force 1s." They thought you had Zoom Air in yours or they were custom for you.
With these here, it was just the regular insoles, because you know, I'm not playing. But in my game ones, you are able to see and take the insoles out and put in orthotics and know that they are molded to my foot.
Right! So, do you think you’re really retired?
[Laughing] Yeah, yeah I am.
So this is officially it?
Yeah, it is. Yeah, it’s a wrap. A wise man knows when to go ‘head and back off so you gotta pick and choose your fights. I know how to pick and choose.
Was this a thing where you were definitely going to come back this season, or was it like “oh man, New York."
Naw, it wasn’t definite. I mean I was talking to Woody around this time last year. They were like, “just come on up and see what’s what." I’m not doing anything else. So…