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PJ Tucker is an NBA veteran in the midst of his 15th season. He’s carved out a reputation on the floor as a lockdown defender and a reliable three-point shooter for the Houston Rockets in recent years. But for many casual fans, Tucker’s reputation as the NBA’s sneaker king precedes his effective play during the games.
Whether he is debuting Jerry Lorenzo’s Air Fear of God sneaker with Nike, breaking out unreleased LeBrons that collectors consider grails, or lacing up his latest Kobe PEs, Tucker’s footwear is a nightly point of conversation. The dialogue has carried into the pregame tunnel too, with Tucker becoming a regular on accounts like LeagueFits, placing him among the Association’s best-dressed players. His style has opened a new set of doors for him away from the game. He operates a clothing boutique, The Better Generation, in Houston. He sits front row during Fashion Week presentations. And for his latest project, Tucker has collaborated with Temples and Bridges to craft his own line of sunglasses, one of his favorite accessories.
For over a year, Tucker worked alongside Temples and Bridges founder Tito Riveros to bring the collection of handmade eyewear to life. The debut collection, set to release today via templesandbridges.com, will consist of three colorways of the “June.” Each hue will be limited to a few hundred pairs and retail at $350. Styles include a translucent red frame with smoky lenses, blue tortoise frame with blue-tinted lenses, and a gray camo option with black lenses.
“I’m always thinking about changing things on something I like to make it something I love. Glasses are the No. 1 thing I do that with. I buy some that I really like, but it’s something I would change about it. And so when I designed these, I made those changes,” Tucker tells Complex. “I did all the things that I wanted to do and Tito from Temples and Bridges, he understood everything that I wanted to do.”
Ahead of Tucker’s Temples and Bridges collab releasing to the world, we caught up with the Rockets vet to talk fashion, basketball, and of course, sneakers. Check out the full interview below.
You have this sunglasses collaboration with Temples and Bridges. How did that project come about for you?
Honestly, it was just a natural progression for me, my brand, my style, and things I wanted to do. Glasses are at the top of the list. I wear a lot of glasses. I’ve always felt like glasses are a great accessory to build off, just in everyday life, and it’s something that just came together as a natural progression.
I’ve recently realized the importance of a versatile collection of sunglasses. Have you always been a sunglasses guy?
I’ve always been an accessory guy, period. But I always, always wear sunglasses. Not even just sunglasses, even fashionable glasses have always been something I’ve done. I think, especially depending on different outfits, you got to have some versatility in your sunglass game. During the day and nighttime, depending on where you’re going. If you’re going to a party, if you’re going to a dinner party, you know what I mean? Whatever you’re doing, I feel a different vibe if I’m wearing a suit than if I’m wearing a hoodie or something. There’s so many different ways you can flex some glasses, so that definitely took part in why [I did this project].
I saw when you initially teased this project, you called it one of your favorite projects that you worked on last year. What was your idea for what you wanted to create? The colors, the style that you chose, and everything like that?
Honestly, it was something that I had already envisioned. I already figured it out how I wanted to do it, and what I wanted to do. I always talk about when I buy stuff, there’s all these things you like about some stuff you buy, but it’s always something that you’re like, ‘Dang, I woulda did this. I woulda did that.’ In the back of my mind, I’m always thinking about other things I would change on something I like to make it something I love. Glasses is the No. 1 thing I do that with. I buy some that I really like, but it’s something I would change about it. And so when I designed these, I did those changes.
I did all the things that I wanted to do and Tito from Temples and Bridges, he understood everything that I wanted to do. You know, some of the things, the natural things that he was like, ‘This is how you do it,’ and I’m like, ‘No, no, no, let’s do it like this.’ Like when they came out, he was like, ‘Yo, you’re right. I like that.’ I’m hoping that people will see the same.
As your reputation in the NBA grows as one of the most stylish players in the league right now, has it been cool to work on some of these style-related projects away from the court? I know you’ve done the sunglasses, you have Better Generation and stuff, too. Has that been cool for you to explore?
It has been, it’s opened a lot of different doors and I’ve been able to do a lot of different things. I got a bunch more stuff this year that I’m keeping under wraps that I’m doing as well. So I’m super excited about it. I’ve been working on it so much lately and it’s giving me that avenue to be able to really express myself and show PJ outside of basketball.
I know one of the things that you just did was those Rockets New Era fitteds with Better Generation. I saw that you wanted to make [The Better Generation] more of a traditional retail space. Can we expect to see that materialize more as the world starts to open up again? Because obviously COVID has kind of made things a little weird with that.
Yeah. Without a doubt. We’re a storefront. Just with COVID, everything’s been pushed back a little bit, but we are definitely a storefront. It is on the way. And we have a bunch of collaborations and stuff we’ve been working on that we pushed back as well that will be dropping that I think people will absolutely love. It’s been fun working through that stuff and getting it all together. It’s been tough with COVID, but we’ve been patient and waiting it out so that we can do everything we want and we can release things that we want as well. You’ll always want to do the online releases. They’re cool, but being able to—especially being a new store—being able to show love to all the people, and get people what they want in person, and show how much you care, that’s a big part of it as well.
What are your thoughts at the moment on where the NBA’s at with fashion and the tunnel and everything? Obviously, people look at your shoes every night, and you’re on LeagueFits for the tunnel outfits and stuff. Do you like how much attention that part of the game is getting right now?
I think it’s something that’s always been there. I just think people are taking more notice to it now. Guys have always got dressed for games. Guys have always done their thing. It’s just now with social media and everything, it’s getting all the attention. But that’s something that’s always been there, especially since I’ve been playing. The older guys that I had on my team, they got dressed for games. That’s something I’ve always done, getting dressed for work. You look good, you play good. It’s one of the things you just always take pride in. It’s something that will continue to grow I think. So many guys are jumping onboard and really starting to do that as well, building a sort of personality in their style, in how they’re feeling that day.
When you look around the league, do you see anybody as friendly competition or is there anyone whose fits you notice a little more than others? Do you pay attention to that at all during the season?
It’s all friends. There’s no competition at all. I think just for me, getting dressed is like how I’m feeling that day, nothing more, nothing less. It’s all about my feeling. It’s my personal reaction to that day. Some days I’m not feeling as much and I’ll probably dress accordingly. Other days, I feel like doing something else and it’ll show as well. So it’s something depending on where you’re at. If I’m in LA I may dress in a way ‘cause I’m in LA. That’s the vibe I’m on. Or if I’m in Detroit, then I may dress another way because that’s the vibe, you know what I’m saying? I don’t think it’s a competition with anybody. I think everybody’s styles are different.
I know you work with Kesha Mcleod pretty closely. What is that dynamic between you guys like and how helpful is she as far as getting ready for the games and stuff like that?
Honestly, I’ll always call her, like, my creative director. I send her pictures of stuff I’m putting together and things and she’ll put the thumbs-down if she hates this, or she hates that. I really don’t do the stylist thing where they send outfits and you put it on and wear it. That’s not my thing. I’ll hit up Kesha when I’m looking for stuff. She finds things, hits designers up, hits brands up that I like, and I’m looking to get stuff from. She’s perfect as a median for me. It’s just one of those relationships. She’s like my homegirl, my sister. Looking for stuff, trying to do stuff, the insider stuff, that’s who she is.
I have to ask you about sneakers. You recently pulled out the crazy “MVP” Kobe Big Nike, the friends and family pair, on IG. I heard you’re working on another Kobe project in 2021.
Yeah I am. We so far from it, I’m just trying to hold it down a little bit. There’s all the PEs and stuff that are coming, but I got some other stuff that I’m doing with the Kobe stuff as well. So, I’m excited about getting that underway.
You did the Kobe 5 last year. So this will be your second official release. What is it like getting to stamp your name on a shoe of such a legend of the game and adding your touch to the legacy of Kobe?
I don’t know if I can think of anything bigger for me than being able to have my own pair of my favorite pair of shoes. It’s incredible. I think for me, it’s even better than having my own shoe. Being able to put my version on, second to Michael Jordan, probably the most iconic shoe in the world…[Kobe] means a lot to me. So, I couldn’t think of a bigger honor to be able to have.
Nike Basketball also just completed the LeBron Vote Back contest that they were holding on SNKRS. I’m a big LeBron fan personally, and I didn’t really like the results of that contest. What did you think about it? Were you following along?
Yeah, I was. That was bad. I didn’t like the result either. That [LeBron 10] was not the best one. I liked those, but there was others. But that’s how those things go, you never can foresee how those are going to end.
Personally, I wanted those purple suede Zoom Generations to come out.
Yes. Now that I could dig, for sure. Those are crazy.
I’m sure it was different for you because you’ve worn the Stewies. You’ve worn the Animal 2s…
[Laughs.] Yeah, I had more than half of those for sure.
Are there any drops in 2021 that you have marked off, or are there any old pairs that you want to make sure to get off your checklist in 2021?
It’s super crazy stuff. There’s nothing like, normal. Trying to think of something. [Laughs.]
I’m still trying to find that Spike Lee Jordan 3. [Laughs.] It’s stuff like that, stuff that’s super, almost impossible to find. It’s trying to get that sample of that one pair, that one shoe, that size, you know what I’m saying? People don’t even know how many pairs there are of those out there. I’ve only seen a few come to surface, but I’m still looking for that one that nobody’s heard of that’s out there.
Are you talking about the gold ones he wore to the Oscars?
Yeah, the gold ones.
That’s a good one. That’s one of those ones.
Yeah, you know what I’m saying? It’s one of those ones. Like, people have no idea. It’s like, ‘Oh, they made a sample that nobody knows about.’ So I’m looking for that.
I know you told Complex a few years ago that you were spending like $200,000 on sneakers a year. Is it still that crazy? Have you slowed down? What is the budget looking like?
Is that what I said? I don’t remember what I said. I don’t know. I told them I didn’t want to say a number and they begged me to say something and I just threw a number out there. [Laughs.]
So it’s safe to say it’s a crazy number.
It’s a crazy number.
‘Cause even your teammates, DeMarcus Cousins posted that video online. It was the locker room in Houston. That had to have been over 100 pairs. Is there a point for you where you’re like, ‘Man, what do I do?’ Are there teammates trying to buy them off you? That has to be crazy.
It never stops man. It literally never stops. [Laughs.]
You got to hold an auction or something in the locker room.
One day, one day I will.
I saw you also posted your UNC 6s that crumbled. Does that happen a lot at this point?
Yeah that happens with stuff that I didn’t store properly, or stuff I bought from somebody that they didn’t store properly. Some of those things I’ve had for years because I was in college or even before. So some of those pairs are literally mine I’ve had from the beginning. So they’re just old, man. It just happens.
You’ve been wearing a lot of Kobes on the court this year. Is there a favorite pair that you’ve pulled out for the season so far?
Yeah, I always do those just ’cause they’re my PEs. They’re the most constant pair. The “Kyle’s Wedding” is probably my favorite. I love those. Those are dope.
I need to toss a hypothetical at you real quick too, because a lot of people are talking about this shoe. Can we expect PJ Tucker to pull out the CDG Foams on court?
Somebody from Nike just hit me like, ‘Yo, can you hoop in these?’ I could, but I don’t know if I’m going to. I want to see the material, how they did the foam, I want to see. It may happen. I’ll say that. Let’s just say that.
I think it’s crazy that they changed the upper.
I know, that’s why I want to see. I want to see how they made them. I haven’t got my hands on a pair just yet. So we’ll see.
Now that you’ve gotten to sit with it a bit, I’m just curious if you have any thoughts on the Harden trade and how that all went down. I know you guys were pretty close when he was on the team.
It’s just one of those things. It’s a business, man, it’s a business. Our team [the Houston Rockets] has made a lot of changes and [Harden] felt like in his prime that he wanted a chance to win it, which we all do. I want the same thing. If the opportunity is there to be able to change that right now… I mean, at the end of the day—Kyrie, KD, and then James, it’s hard to go against that. I think it’s a good opportunity for him.
On the flip side, the Rockets, you guys picked up Oladipo. In the offseason you signed Christian Wood. He’s been a great asset for you guys so far. You just got Kevin Porter Jr. from Cleveland. The roster’s looking young right now. So to that point, have you felt like you’ve had to take on more responsibility as a veteran leader in the locker room right now?
Well, being a vet leader you always got responsibilities. That never stops. No matter what’s going on, those responsibilities never change. So it’s something I have to do anyways. Just having a lot of new guys here, being here the longest and knowing how we do things over here, that’s always a job in itself. That’s something that happens naturally.
What do you feel like the Rockets and you can accomplish this season? What’s your outlook on the rest of the year like right now?
You never know, man, day to day. It’s the NBA. That’s how it goes. You never know what’s going to happen. One day somebody’s here and next day they’re not. You know with our team ever-changing, literally it’s a completely different team from when the season started. You never know what’s going to happen, so just take it day in, day out, do your job, and do the best you can.
I know obviously the season that’s currently happening is your main focus as a player, but I’m just curious if you’ve gotten to sit and think about the past few seasons and what that core in Houston was able to accomplish over the past couple of years?
Honestly, I haven’t even thought about it. I’m not even going to lie. Being in the season, so much going on, being in my contract year and having to deal with my own personal issues as well—you don’t really have time to really dissect and think about stuff like that. That’s stuff you do after you retire, or after you actually leave somewhere. It’s tough to do that during the season while you’re in the midst of it. So that’s something that’s just ongoing, you know, just keep pushing and deal with the situation right at the moment.