I Waited 25 Years to Meet Andre Agassi and Talk Sneakers

A story about growing up Armenian and being a sneaker nerd and meeting your hero.

Andre Agassi wearing the Nike Air Tech Challenge 2 in 1990. Via Getty

It’s 11:45 a.m. on a Saturday morning in a Life Time near Penn Station and I’m having trouble breathing. It’s not because I just finished a workout, hit laps in the pool, and crushed it on the rower. It’s because I’m about to interview Andre Agassi, the tennis legend who’s an eight-time Grand Slam champion and the recipient of one of Nike’s greatest signature sneaker lines. But those aren’t the only reasons I’m sweating—I’ve waited almost 25 years for this moment and my anxiety is at an all-time high. 

I was adopted as a kid, and when I was a teenager, I got a chance to look at some of the papers from my adoption that had information about my biological parents. All they really said about my father was that he was of Armenian descent. Growing up in New Hampshire, there was virtually no Armenian community. And this was a world that hadn’t heard of the Kardashian family yet. So as a kid trying to make some sort of connection to a heritage that I couldn’t understand, I looked up to Agassi. Not only was he the coolest tennis star of his generation, he was everywhere. It was impossible to grow up in the ‘90s and not see his Canon Rebel commercials on TV or his flashy sneakers on the playground.

The first time I had the chance to purchase one of Agassi’s Nike sneakers was the 2007 retro of the Air Tech Challenge 3 in the tennis ball colorway. Except Agassi wasn’t signed to Nike at the time, so that retro didn’t have his tennis ball logo on the heel and the color of the shoe was way off. 

I thought I was finally going to get my chance to talk to him in 2015, when Nike had him play against Pete Sampras in the streets of New York City. But I showed up for the conversation, waited on a couch for an hour, and never had the publicist pull me in for the talk. 

Nine years later, I told the story of missing the interview on an episode of the Complex Sneakers Show. Agassi had announced in February that his Air Tech Challenge 2 in the “Hot Lava” colorway from 1990 was coming back this year. And we were throwing a shot in the dark in the hopes of being able to talk to him at last.

A month or so went by, and nothing. Then out of the blue, we received an email saying that Agassi would be in town for a pickleball talk and expo at the Life Time Fitness location and I could possibly get some time to talk to him.

It was more than a coincidence. It was not only my birthday week, but I also received the email with the opportunity on April 24, the date of remembrance of the Armenian Genocide.

So fast forward—there I was in Penn Station waiting to talk to Agassi. Two other media outlets were slotted ahead of me and he had to make his way to the pickleball court soon for an audience that was waiting for him to play. I didn’t think I was even going to get to talk to him again. And I felt like I had so much to say, in such a short frame of time.

They asked if I could talk to Agassi on the go as he was getting ready. It wasn’t ideal, but I had to make do with what I was given. 

I only had a handful of minutes to talk to him, and about half of it was me telling him the background of why this meant so much to me. He seemed thrilled to learn my story, joking that I sounded “complex” before I let it all out.

I needed to get sneaker information, as that’s what I know everyone wants to read about.

The biggest topic at hand was the re-release of the Air Tech Challenge 2, a sneaker that seems to come back every five years or so at this point. 

“I mean, I love it. I mean, it's like bringing back a piece of history and a piece of my life,” said Agassi. “I've enjoyed that whole journey with Nike and being such an intimate part of designing it, giving input, and then watching it come to life and how people reacted then. And then seeing it come back.”

Understandably, Agassi, who’s now 54 years old, looks much different than he did at the height of his playing days in the ‘90s. Long gone is the shoulder-length hair and beard, in favor of a bald head and clean shave. He jokes, though, that if his sneakers can come back en vogue, so might his fashion sense.

“I literally thought to myself pretty recently, geez, if I live long enough, maybe even the mullet's going to come back,” he said. “And sure enough, I was in Australia and the mullet's coming back. I don't don't know if I should feel proud or guilty, but in any case, the shoes, a hundred percent proud.”

One of Agassi’s most known looks that hasn’t come back yet are the denim Nike shorts he played in. Fans have been begging for a re-release of them. There was even some hope that they’d be included with this retro of the Air Tech Challenge 2. But Agassi says it’s not happening.

“I have no particular plan to bring them back,” he said. “But we have incorporated some of the denim on some of the shoes, retro shoes, which is really kind of cool.”

That’s in reference to a denim pair of Air Tech Challenge Hybrids from 2014.

One of the differentiators on this retro of the Air Tech Challenge 2 (the shoe last released in 2019) is that it has a slightly pre-yellowed midsole, much like remastered Air Jordan 3s that came out last year. It’s a love it or hate it detail for sneaker collectors, but it’s all good in Agassi’s book.

“It's cool. It's the attention to detail,” Agassi said. “I love it.”

When Agassi posted the photos to his Instagram of the 2024 Air Tech Challenge 2 retro, one of them was him wearing the sneakers next to his wife, fellow tennis legend Steffi Graf. I jokingly asked Agassi if he ran the product photos by his wife to get approval before he posts them.

“I do consult her on most things,” he said back. “It makes my life go smoother.”

Last year, I had the chance to talk to current Russian-Armenian tennis star Karen Khachanov and had the opportunity to ask him if he looked up to Agassi, to which he replied, “of course.”

“He achieved crazy results as a tennis player, and as a person, I really admire him as well. I had a chance to meet him I think once. I don't know if he remembers me actually, but I hope, yes,” Khachanov said. “But of course I look up to him. I read his book and I was following him. He had different weapons, different capacities, and was a different type of player. But at the same time, because he had also Armenian roots, of course, he was one of my favorites.”

Agassi’s competitive tennis days might be in the sunset, but he’s serious about pickleball. Watching him play on the court with people more than 20 years his junior proved that he still has it in him. Hitting dink shots, moving laterally, and returning serves. His enthusiasm for the sport is obvious. Nike has also stepped into the pickle ball space, making a Zoom Challenge Pickle Ball sneaker. Agassi said he hasn’t seen them yet, but he’s heard about Nike’s pickleball footwear.

“I think it's a smart space to get into in the sense that this sport's going to grow, and I think pickle will have its own expressions and its own evolution,” he said. “I look forward to seeing that journey on behalf of a sport that we kind of watched just from ground zero. So it's kind of cool to watch what it turns into.”

All these years later, I finally got to check something huge off my bucket list. It wasn’t the 20-minute sit down interview I hoped for, but it was something. They say don’t meet your heroes because they’ll only let you down. Luckily that didn’t happen with Agassi.

As I write this, I’m reminded of the Armenian poet William Saroyan who put the Armenian experience so eloquently.

“Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it,” Saroyan wrote. “Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing, and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a new Armenia.”

In the brief time I had with Agassi, it felt like we did just that.