How Mike Bibby Became the NBA's King of Exclusive Air Jordans

The longtime Jordan Brand athlete opens up about his storied sneaker collection.

Mike Bibby playing in Air Jordans
NBA veteran Mike Bibby has one of the best Air Jordan collections in the world. Via Getty
Mike Bibby playing in Air Jordans

Mike Bibby is finally ready to show the world his sneaker collection. Or at least part of it. The retired 14-year NBA veteran, who was one of the earliest members of Team Jordan, has been hoarding shoes since he joined the league in 1998. Bibby was part of the first generation of NBA stars that were tasked with carrying on Michael Jordan’s legacy by wearing his product on court. And now he’s giving the public a limited chance to view a portion of what he’s amassed over the years.

From April 5-8 at the Gila River Resorts & Casinos in Phoenix, a portion of Bibby’s collection will be on display. He’ll also be there at the casino to talk to fans about his sneakers.

Two basketball players in action during a game, one defending as the other dribbles the ball

“No one has a video of my closet, closet,” says Bibby. “But I'll let a few people go in there and see it and stuff like that, but I think—I guess—this is going to be a new thing and bringing some shoes to the casino to show them off so people get to see stuff in person.”

Bibby’s sneaker history runs the gamut. He’s gone from wearing the Nike Air Foamposite Ones at Arizona (before Penny Hardaway did) to being on Team Jordan, and having a whole boatload of player exclusive sneakers. Those PEs became part of sneaker folklore in an infamous encounter with Fat Joe that may or may not have involved some choking out.

A lot of people have seen Bibby’s shoes on court over the years or seen samples of his PEs pop up, but there’s not much out there from the man himself. We finally got a chance to talk to him about it all. And let me say, it was well worth the wait.

To start off with March Madness stuff, at Arizona you were known for wearing the Foamposite. People were surprised that you wore it before it was Penny Hardaway’s shoe. Do you remember that happening and what went down with that?
Yeah, I remember the story. Back then, it was a matching thing. We were red, white, and navy, so if you wore a shoe in your game, it was either red and white or navy and white.

Eric Lautenbach came to the tournament before the tournament started. He was with Nike for a long time and he just said, "Hey, I got a pair of shoes for all you guys." And he made it known, "It isn't your guys' team color, so some of you guys might not want to wear them and they're not out yet." And once he said, "They're not out yet," that was a go for me. I said, "I don't care what color they are, they could be green all I care. If they're not out yet, I'm wearing them." And I just made the fact I'm going to wear them.

Mike Bibby Wearing Nike Air Foamposite One

I wasn't even really thinking about that because I wasn't into shoes. I love shoes, but I could never really get them. In college at U of A, we had to trade a shoe in to get a shoe to play in. It was different then. Once he said that, I was like, "I'm all in. Give me the shoe. I'll wear them every game. I don't care what they look like, I don't care what they feel like, I'm wearing them." And he got a pair for everybody, but only very few of us wore them.

Have you ever spoken to Penny about it?
No, I haven't. I mean I know from back then, I heard he was very mad that he didn't get a chance to wear them first. 

I feel like it's been told over the years, and I don't know how true it is, that you decided to get paid in sneakers instead of money. Is that true?
It wasn't my decision, but that's what happened. My last seven years, it was no payment as far as checks coming in to wear the shoe. It was, "Hey, you could stay with the brand." I wasn't going to stay with the brand.

I mean I said I was going to stay with the brand, but there was no payment. David Falk, super agent back then, same agent as Michael Jordan, was like, "Well, if he can't get paid, we want to put this in the spot because can he get allotment of stuff for the year instead of getting paid?" And they said, "Yeah." So we went that route. It was like, I wouldn't say unlimited gear and shoes, but it was a good amount.

A lot of your PE sneakers are some of the most legendary of all time. How did you get those made? Did you have a lot of input in what you wanted on it or did the brand just surprise you with it?
At first, the PEs, how they were done, how I got to lows, I remember, I was talking to Mark Raveling. And because I wore low tops—the 14s were mid-lows. The Jumpman Pro, when the first shoes I really started out in Vancouver with, some of them were lows.

Mike Bibby in Air Jordan 13s

And one year they'll give you a book, like a portfolio of the shoes. And they'll give you like, "Hey, this is what you're going to be wearing during the year. These are the colors." There'll be four or five different color schemes. You got to pick which color you wanted. You could change the color if you wanted. They'll draw it up that way.

And I remember they had the 5s and the 9s on a portfolio for me. And I just said, "Hey, could you guys make those lows?" And he was like, "Yeah, I'm pretty sure we can. We can make them lows." They just ended up making them lows for me and anything that they could make and the retros, the PEs, I'd be like, "Hey, man, they come in the lows?" That's when they made me the 13s, 9s, 5s, 2s. You went down all their line, they just made lows for me.

Is there anything back from those days that you never got to play in that you still hold onto that's really special to you?
No, I mean everything that we got, we wore. I mean they gave us these shoes. You want to show off your stuff. Fat Joe took a pair. I was supposed to make the All-Star team. Jordan made two All-Star shoes for me. And one of them the year was where the shoes they made, they got everybody the same shoe at that time.

And one year, shout out to Mike Torres, took real good care of me over there at the Brand Jordan. He made me a 9 Low silver patent leather that I think it's the only one made. And Fat Joe came to my house and ended up taking it. I mean, he's got that story too. He put it in the store. I don't think he's wore them, but he ended up with those pair.

I used to have a talk show called Full Size Run. We had a Fat Joe on it, and he told one of the stories about going to your house to get the shoes. And he said that he tried to take a pair of sneakers from you and you weren't happy about it. And you choked him out in the sneaker room.
No, I mean he's putting a lot on it. But he had about 10 guys over here with him.  And I was just showing him some stuff. And I remember looking back and he had five or six one-of-ones, all the shoes that I have that I only had one pair left.

And so I just looked back and I told him like, "Joe, you can't take all of them. Pick one and then you can take one." In the back of my mind, I was hoping that please don't take the 9 Lows, please don't take the 9 Lows. And he ended up taking those. That was a shoe that I don't think, I haven't seen that anywhere. But other than that, I didn't choke him. I definitely didn't choke him.

He said you put him in a headlock or something like that over the shoes.
No, I mean I just had my hand on his throat like, "Yo, come on, you can't take all of them." It wasn't to the point where I choked him.

When you see some of your PEs floating around for sale on eBay, does it surprise you?
That's not from me. I think there's a lot of shoes that are leftover from just not using them and they're kept at the place. Them floating around is not from me giving them out. The only way I gave them out is if it's a close family member or I'll sign in for somebody or for an organization and put it out that way.

Were other players trying to get your shoes off of you during your playing days knowing that you had the exclusive stuff?
Me and Derek Anderson changed shoes because he was a size 13. I was a 12 and a half. We changed shoes a couple times. But I got a couple pair of Ray Allen's shoes, Gary Payton's shoes. And that was from a long time ago. I was in the office and they used to have a little room of just player-edition shoes.

Mike Bibby playing in Air Jordan 13 Lows for Sacramento Kings

And I was there with Mike Torres and I just said, "Hey, let me go in here and grab some stuff." And he's like, "Go ahead." I ended up, I got Jason Kidd shoes, I got Gary Payton shoes, Ray Allen's shoes, Derek Anderson. I went in there and grabbed a whole bunch of stuff and sent it to myself from there. I got a lot of those guys that had been on the Jordan Brand back in the day.

What's your relationship like with Michael Jordan himself? Are you guys close?
When we see him, we're talking. I get in certain spots, I don't like to bother people. But when we cross paths, he'd grab you and throw you around a little bit. But I mean, it's just good to see him. I seen him here and there, but I don't at events and stuff like that. But he didn't come on this past Jordan trip.

Have you been to any of his birthday parties? I know that those are legendary.
No, I haven't. But I mean I wouldn't mind going, but I have never been, no. If this gets it out, tell him I'm looking for an invite.

You got a lot of the PE shoes, but you never ended up getting a signature shoe back in the day. Was there any talks of that or was that something that you wanted back then?
No, there wasn't any talks of it. It would've probably been good to have it, but I was fine in the Jordans. I mean it's just you're in Jordans. I was fine with that. I don't think there was ever talk of me getting my own shoe. We had our guys that were Future Hall of Famers with Carmelo, Chris Paul. You go all the way down the line, there was guys that had their shoes.

In that era when you were getting the PE sneakers and being signed to Jordan brand, what people would call sneaker culture nowadays, it wasn't really as big as it was now. Did it ever surprise you that it became this thing where kids all obsess and collect and buy and sell shoes?
I mean, I think it wasn't as bad as it was back then. But right now, it's a different level right now. It is good to see, but there was probably every game that I ever played in, there was always somebody like, "Hey, what size do your wear?” I wear a size 12, 12 and a half, 13, 13 and a half. I could wear a 14, but I just can't go out there and play with them. Bradley Beal blessed me with a lot of his game shoes. He's a 13 and a half. That's about a whole size bigger than mine and I still wear them. I mean, shout out to Bradley Beal too for looking out for the OG.

Mike Bibby wearing Sacramento Kings Air Jordan 5 Low

Have you broken out any of your older shoes and had them fall apart over the years recently?
Some of them do, but that's just comes with time. I've had them for over 20-something years. They're in good condition. So it isn't like you see these other shoes on people and they just crushed up and just break apart. They're still in condition. You've got to be tender in them. You can't really go out and play in the old shoes.

When I give them away, I give shoes away to other people, the kids and stuff like that. And I'll just be like, "Hey, be tender with the shoes. They're 25 years old. Just be careful in them." Some of the shoes I played in and I'll go wear to the gym sometimes, the heel will come off sometimes, but that just comes with time.

Do your kids pester you at all to get hooked up on certain Jordans?
Oh, yes, they kill me with that. There's a few times, Sam Druffel hooked me up one Christmas for some shoes for my kids and stuff. But my son is a half size bigger than mine, but he still could wear 12 and a half. I mean he's in my closet every day. He looks like, "Dad, you don't wear these. Let me have them. Let me have some Michael." "No, I'm going to wear them." He's like, "No, you're not." But he's on my case all the time about the shoes.

What's the collection situation like at your house? Are the shoes just everywhere? Do you just have one room where they're all at?
I have two rooms now. When I built my house, they were supposed to make a closet big enough for 5,000 pairs of shoes. And my closet wasn't built big enough, so I had to turn a garage into a closet. But yeah, there is a lot of shoes. There is a lot of shoes everywhere hanging around and all that stuff too. I don't mind it. It's a good problem to have and I don't mind that problem at all.

You never feel like it takes over your life a little bit?
I mean, I am fine with that. Like I said, that's a problem that I wouldn't mind. I think it's a problem a lot of people wouldn't mind either. You could never have too many shoes.

What's a favorite sneaker of yours to wear these days not playing basketball? Just a Jordan that you're going to throw on if you're going out on a Friday night or something like that.
I like the Cap and Gown. I like the all-black blacks. I like it all blacked out, the Black Cats, Black Cat 4, Cap and Gown 11s. I mean, as long as they're like that. The Travis Scott 1 Lows with all black and white, you never go wrong with all black, with it all blacked out. 

You have your collection on display now. Do you ever have any intentions of just selling at all one day and cashing in?
No. I mean, it's something that you could never get back. I'm happy with these shoes. They're collectors’ items and like you said, there'll always be value in them. And I just, growing up, I never was able to get shoes like that. Now that I have them, I definitely don't want to give them up.

Are you surprised that your sneaker legacy has lasted this long, did you ever expect that to happen?
Yeah, I mean, but I mean it is good to have just that people, I mean, it's just the colors. I'm the same way when different colors come out. They always bring out the OG pairs, but I get real excited when they're an OG pair. The retros are in different colors that haven't been out yet. My shoes, a lot of my shoes haven't came out yet, even in the color, even in regular sale points. But I think it's just that the fact that it is purple and black is a good color and just you don't see it a lot. And so that's why I think people really go crazy for them.

I think they did a couple pairs that were some of your PE colorways, but they released them to the public, but not with your name on it. Were you excited about that?
I didn't like that they didn't have my name on it, but what can you do? It's just that just seeing some of the statements that were read like, "Hey, those are Mike Bibby's PEs." It made me feel good that I could at least say some of the fans and acknowledge it and knew that that was my shoe and my shoe color.

You see a lot of the other Jordan Brand legacy athletes, and they'll post the shipments they get to their house and they get 30 pairs of shoes at one of every SKU.

Do you still get those sort of shipments in the mail?
Yeah, they still give me shipments. It's not the same as when I was playing, but it's a good amount. They take care of me over there, so I'm still blessed to be taken care of. The Jordan Brand's great. These guys still take care of their athletes. I've been retired for 11, 12, 13 years, and they're still taking care of me. I mean, it's a great company. It's a great brand to be a part of.

Mike Bibby in black Air Jordan 5 Lows

Is there anything you have to ask for? Say if a Travis Scott Jordan comes out, you have to put in the ask for that, or it just shows up as well?
I mean, if it doesn't show up, I'll put the ask in for it. They usually come through with it. I just got the new one that just came out with the brown and the strap over. I don't know the names of all these shoes. I just know it just came out, so I just got those. And I was waiting for the golf Travis Scotts. I didn't get those. I asked for them, didn't get them. They didn't have any more. But I mean, yeah, if something comes out and I see it's out and I didn't get it, I'll ask. They're usually pretty good with getting it to you.

Does it surprise you nowadays that someone like Travis Scott's getting a signature Jordan shoe that it's gone from you guys getting your basketball PEs to entertainers getting their own Air Jordans now?
No, I mean, because with social media, they have a lot of people that look up to them. They have a lot of people, they sell the shoes. With DJ Khaled and Travis Scott, these guys sell shoes, and that's what the thing is. We got to try to sell shoes. Everybody loves Travis Scott's PEs. And so everybody fights for them and do anything for them. They're expensive and their resale is crazy. I mean, it's good that they're bringing that. It's just bringing more people to the brand.

Does Khaled ever ask you for sneakers? I know you said Fat Joe has in the past.
No, I've never talked to Khaled. Joe sent me a pair of the DJ Khaled “We the Best,” the blue threes. And so, that's why I was okay with giving Joe my 9 lows, but it still hurts my heart that I gave them away. But he's a good guy to have them.