Gary Payton II made headlines the other day. It wasn’t for his hoops prowess—the Son of Glove played 49 games with the D-League Rio Grande Valley Vipers this season, averaging a modest 14.1 points, 6.5 boards and 3.3 assists before signing a multi-year deal with the Milwaukee Bucks. In three games with the Bucks, he’s averaging 2.6/1.6/1.6. He didn’t get headlines for anything to do with his more famous dad either. What he did was this: He wore a pair of KAWS Air Jordan IVs on the court.
For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past few weeks, the KAWS Air Jordan IV is a tonal grey suede premium makeup of the Air Jordan IV with a glow-in-the-dark sole designed by the eponymous Brooklyn-based artist. KAWS’s infamous hands graphic was embroidered into the uppers, printed on the sole, and even graced the box and the dustbag, while his signature XX replaced the Jumpman on the heels. The shoes released on March 31st and disappeared in a hurry, straight into collections and onto the shelves of consignment shops.
There was once a time when “basketball player wears basketball shoes to play basketball” wasn’t news, unless it was a new signature model debuting on-court. It’s hard to say exactly when that time ended, although Gilbert Arenas’s legendary 2010-11 run when he left adidas and Kobe Bryant’s sneaker 2003 free agency no doubt played a part. Now a D-League call-up wears a pair of newly released Jordan retros and outlets from Highsnobiety to Footwear News declare it, well, news. The Milwaukee Bucks themselves drove the “story” with a pre-game tweet.
For his part, Payton un-DSed his pair of KAWS properly, playing a team-high 30 minutes (and posting a -21) in a 110-79 Bucks loss to the Thunder. The other guy wearing Jordans, Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, posted a pedestrian (for him) triple-double of 12-13-13 in 27 minutes. There was a LOT of garbage time. Had GP II not worn what he did, no one would have talked about the game at all.
There was once a time when 'basketball player wears basketball shoes to play basketball' wasn’t news
What’s weird is why we talk about his wearing the shoes at all, beyond sharing the initial tweet. Sure, the KAWS Jordans were hard to get, and, at $350, were more expensive than the norm (and over 5x that on the resale market). But not only is Gary Payton II an NBA player (he made $534,000 from the Rockets this season and will make $1.3 million next year), he’s the son of Gary Payton, who was not only a Hall of Fame point guard but an actual Jordan Brand athlete in the final years of his career. GP II probably had an easier time getting a pair of KAWS than you did—and spent a way lower percentage of his annual salary on them.
Make no mistake, this is nothing against GP II, who should wear whatever the hell sneakers he wants. And it is cool that someone wore the KAWS at all, let alone on an NBA court. But this isn’t Gilbert Arenas wearing Dolce & Gabbanas. After all, Air Jordan IVs were originally designed as a performance shoe, and this guy wore them for an entire season (and played pretty well in them). And Gary Payton II isn’t Gilbert Arenas.
To be fair, this is merely a subset of an entire new wing of “journalism”—”Celebrity X Is Spotted Wearing/Driving/Using Expensive Item Y,” one which the likes of TMZ has mastered and all of us are complicit in from time to time. Maybe it’s time we all took a step back. No matter what sneakers we happen to be wearing.