Research Document Vol. 4:
(We Miss) THE NBA

Sneaker Game with Rich Paul. Interview - Karriza Sanchez. Photography - Paulo Rafael. Rich Paul, founder of Klutch Sports and NBA agent to stars like LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Ben Simmons, has been around sports his entire life. “I grew up playing basketball, football, baseball—everything,” he says. But as someone who was into fashion, what he wore both on and off the court mattered. “I’ve loved sneakers for as long as I could remember,” he says. “I’ve had every Jordan, every Barkley, every Penny…” Once, he even wore a pair of Air Max 95s during a football game. But more on that later. Over the years, Paul has amassed a massive sneaker collection— something to the tune of 1,500 pairs. So it only seemed right we talked to him about his impressive collection. While at his home in Los Angeles, the agent extraordinaire and sneakerhead shared stories behind his favorite sneakers, how he managed to get shoes months before they dropped, and the extreme measures he took to get certain pairs.
Rich Paul
You grew up playing basketball. What did you wear on the court? I grew up playing all sports. One time, I played my homecoming football game in black Air Max 95s. It was crazy! I had forgotten my cleats. It was a bad idea, by the way. I didn’t play much, but I looked great. If we had social media back then I would’ve gotten a lot of likes [laughs]. The Air Max 95 was historical. I used to get those shoes and a bunch of other sneakers two months before everybody else. How? There was this store in Cleveland called VIP. When the shoe rep would come around to each city, they would have to have the shoe with them. At this point, I was in high school and wearing sample size. VIP would wrap the shoe in this plastic and they’d have one pair that maybe came out two months later. To get it early, they’d charge you more. If the shoe was going to cost $170, I would just pay $250 to get them early. How did you find that connect? I would go to the store to buy something else and I’d say, “Damn, what are those?” They would be like, “Those are the new Barkleys but they don’t come out until two months from now.” But I’d be like, “Well I want them right now. Name your price.” I wanted to be the guy to go back to my block and have them early. I remember I bought the Barkey TKs in white from VIP, but the white ones didn’t come out for another two months. Only the black was out. That’s how you got your status in the hood. I became known for getting sneakers early. What was the best sneaker you got from VIP? The best sneaker I got was was this black and white Penny Hardaway shoe that looked like shamu. I had them so early that people were like, “What the hell are those?” I wore them to the club and people were going crazy. Everyone had Jordans at the time and I wanted to be different. I remember when the patent Jordans 11s in red and black came out, I started hooping in mine just to be like, I don’t care. I would get two pairs—one to hoop in and one to keep. Air Max 95 (Center) The Air Max 95 came out around Fourth of July. I had them early, of course. When they came out, the shoe was just such a diff silhouette and no one had ever seen it. The air bubble was crazy. And the lime green color? Crazy. I remember going to Freaknik in Cleveland - Master P came - and wearing Air Max 95s. People hadn’t caught onto it yet; people didn’t really catch on until later in the summer. I paid $250 for my pair when they first came out. We wore them with swimming trunks. They were super comfortable. It’s one of the best shoes of all time.
Rich Paul
Air Jordan 11 Concord
What was the first pair of sneakers you bought with your own money? On June 19, 1989 we were on our way to move from Cleveland to St. Louis and the Jordan 5s came out. We could not hit the road until I had these shoes. I held everything up—the U-Haul, everything. I searched everywhere for them. Then finally, my uncle to me to this store and they were there. It was white with the red and had the net and reflective tongue. I had to have it. How did your family react? It was crazy. Instead of beating me up, my brother would take my shoes and throw them across the room. That hurt me more than a punch to the face. I’ll never forget it. I had this all green Nike Cortez with a yellow swoosh and my brother threw them across the room and hit the wall. Boom! You would’ve thought he threw a baby. I was going crazy. But I couldn’t beat him up because he was so much bigger than me. I was so small. I was hurt for like six hours. Was anyone else in your family a sneakerhead? Not as much as me. I went through drastic measures to get shoes. Like what? What was the most drastic thing you’ve done to get a pair of sneakers? Well, catching the bus from your... Air Jordan 11 Concord (Left) The Concord was my high school colors, so we had to have them. You had to get two pairs of those.
...neighborhood to downtown meant you had to go through 15 different neighborhoods. And the bus wasn’t a safe ride. How old were you at the time? I must’ve been 10 or 11 years old. But then I got smart. I would pay an older guy on the corner to take me to the mall and wait on me. It was Uber before Uber. I would pay them based on distance. For a 15-minute ride to the mall, I would pay $10. If I went downtown, I’d give them $20. I was overpaying, by the way, but I needed to go right then and there. I was paying for a service [laughs]. How many pairs of sneakers do you currently own? Ah shit. Maybe 1,500. One time my mom had a garage sale and sold my $400 sneakers for $20! [laughs] I was going crazy, but I couldn’t be upset because it was my mother. She sold Air Force 1s, Bapes... And I didn’t even know this was happening. I was riding around the neighborhood and said to some guy, “Yo where did you get those shoes at?” He was like, “Your mom is having a garage sale.” I was like, “What?” My mom had a garage sale and was selling shoes, frying fish, and selling spaghetti dinners at the same time [laughs]. I couldn’t believe it. I had some exclusive shit too, like the Brooklyn Air Force 1s. It was blue with a black swoosh and the tongue had the L train on it, I think. I managed to save a couple pairs, but I was hot for a couple days. Adidas Superstar: I wore this sneaker, in this exact colorway, when I first met LeBron. I was wearing a Warren Moon Oilers jersey, which was powder blue with the number 1 in white and red outline. I was never a matchy-matchy type of a guy. I just liked subtle hits, so I wore this shoe. The three stripes was suede though.
I read you were wearing Air Force 1s when you met LeBron. Is that true? Totally false. I was in adidas. But in my neighborhood, you only wore Air Force 1s once because once they got a crease you had to buy a new pair. I would buy Air Force 1s 10 at a time—especially the all white ones because they got dirty. But I was a master at cleaning shoes. When I was young, I would charge people for that. Really? Absolutely. There’s a formula. I would use a toothbrush, Windex, and a bar of soap called Zest. I’d let the bar of soap sit in the water and spray Windex in there. That was mainly for the sole of the shoe. You couldn’t wash the shoe with the strings on them. For the leather part, I would just take a really hotel towel. My shoes would always look new. I would sell my shoes all the time ‘cause I kept them clean. I was Flight Club before Flight Club [laughs]. But the Air Force 1s were crazy. One time, I was on Jay-Z’s tour bus with him and Pharrell. I remember Jay pulled his tour bus over to wait on me and LeBron. Pharrell had on a pair of Air Force 1 “West Indies” in green and I had them in yellow. He looked at me like, “How the hell did you get those shoes?” We were in Camden, NJ. LeBron shut the city down. The whole project—grandmothers, kids, everyone was out of their houses. It was pandemonium. Air Force 1 Low: “Four Horsemen” We’re bringing this back. But originally, this shoe was not LRMR. It had our initials on the back. We sat down with this guy from Nike and designed them. We got the opportunity to pick two colorways. Mav and Bron picked their high school colors. I did a crazy color, like sky blue and pink with white. The only other person to have a pair was Jay-Z and his had “SC” on the back. We made them in Cleveland. We made Jay’s, too.
When was the first time you went to the Nike campus and what was that like? The first time I went to campus was probably ‘03. Crazy. It was heaven on Earth. I was like, “Damn. They got every shoe here.” And I’m sample size, so I was lining stuff up. Thing is, they actually sent them. I had so many samples. Campus is crazy because it’s a world of shoes, knowledge, and innovation. We went through that crazy ‘cause we were young. Ask Bron and Mav. We were wild. I think we’re the reason they got so much security on campus now [laughs]. And they put up doors. It was like a free for all. I learned even more when I started working with Nike. What was that like? There’s not a school I can go to and get that same education. I learned everything from the apparel side to sales, marketing, and rollout plans. I basically got my masters from the University of Nike. Is there a special sneaker you wear to big meetings? That’s a great question. Yes, I do. Being an agent, I would wear suits all the time. But I didn’t feel like me. So I started wearing Air Maxs. I would wear a suit and Air Max 90s. That was my thing because I wanted to be myself. Russell Simmons was the only one who did it; he wore whatever he wanted to wear. Everyone else felt like they have to dress a certain way. But yeah, I wear Air Max 90s to big meetings, recruiting meetings. Has there ever been a sneaker you wanted but haven’t been able to find? Yes, these camo Air Max 90s. I’m hoping somebody reads this and sells me a pair. I’m a size 8.5. Make sure you put that in there [laughs].

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