KANSAS CITY -- Cal guard Patrick Christopher is a Shoe All-American who might be the college game's foremost expert on Nikes. His collection of mostly Jordans and Air Force 1s has been featured on YouTube and in print.
Here on the practice day prior to the opening round of the NCAA tournament -- the same day SI's All-America team was revealed -- I enlisted Christopher's expertise in breaking down some of the first-, second- and third-teamers' kicks. He had already been out on the floor at the Sprint Center looking at Memphis' new Nikes, so this was not a chore. ("I check out everyone's shoes," he says.)
I passed him my Macbook in the Cal locker room, and using images I had open in Photoshop, and others he dug up on his go-to site, SneakerNews.com, Christopher gave us this rundown:
On Terrence Williams, from Louisville's throwback game against Marquette on March 1: "Stepping out the Nike world is a little tough for me, but this is definitely a great look. I'm feeling it. I love the fact that he took the retro vibe all the way to the shoes. Did everybody do that?" (No, I said.) Then that's big-time. I was actually at the LeBron Camp with him this summer, and I tip my hat to him on this one."
On Ty Lawson, from the ACC tournament:: "He's got the LeBron James Soldier IIs on. That's a good shoe. He was at the LeBron camp with me too, and they gave us those in all black. It's a sturdy shoe, and I recommend it. Ty's boot, though ... is pretty plain. It would have been better in Carolina blue. But you've gotta take what you can get."
On Blake Griffin: "He's just wearing a team shoe right there. I'm not a big team shoe guy. Blake's game does all the talking, though, so his sneaker game doesn't need to do too much right now. But I could see Blake in some LeBrons, because they have some of the same colors. I don't think the ones he has on there are red -- that's crimson -- so I could see him in some exclusive LeBrons."
On James Harden, from the Pac-10 tournament: (Christopher was so good at this, he was able to ID Harden by just seeing a thumbnail of his shoes.) "That's the Taxi right there, the LeBron Taxi. It kiiiind of matches James' uniform a little bit, with that yellow. But James actually wore some Christ The King LeBrons at home against UCLA, and it matched his jersey real well, so I tip my hat to that. James is my buddy (from Compton, Calif.), and he's doing a good job with his shoes."
On Memphis' custom tourney Nikes (in honor of Tyreke Evans): "Those are custom Hyperdunks. I like the Tiger print. I was out on the floor a little bit ago checking them out, and they definitely looked better in person. That's a nice addition for the team. And the Refuse to Lose thing on the toe -- that's very exclusive."
On DeJuan Blair, from the Thabeet Flip Game: "Like I said, I'm big on Nike shoes, but I'm not going to take away from the exclusive stuff that Adidas schools get. And these are a nice team exclusive for Pitt, with the gold. It's always good when you can have an exclusive shoe that nobody else can get."
On Marquette (which didn't have an All-American, but was worth covering): "Cons, with Nike socks. (He's somewhat bemused.) Hey, more power to them. I'm not going to knock them. D-Wade wears those shoes, and he's an MVP candidate who's not afraid to step out of the boundaries of the sneaker world and mix it up. So more power to Marquette. It's good marketing."
On Duke's tourney shoes: (I hadn't seen this one, but Christopher pulled it up using the Sprint Center's wireless network.) They've got some limited-edition Kobe [Bryant] IVs. White and black, for home and away. These things are beautiful. When you can get a signature shoe, from a player like Kobe Bryant, for a college, and have it all tie in with Kobe and Coach K and the Olympics? That's a great look. I'm definitely feeling those.
When Christopher was doing the breakdown, he was rocking a pair of Nike Huaraches (seen at left) -- and a Cal trainer came by to encourage him to switch into his basketball shoes, because practice was starting in 15 minutes. Cal, which has a Jordan Brand apparel deal, got hooked up with its own set of custom kicks for the NCAA tournament. "These are the new Jordan 2009s," Christopher said, passing one of them (shown at center and right) over to me. "Cal is lasered into the tongue, the colorway is exclusive and will never be sold in stores." Christopher wasn't putting them on yet, though; he had a pair of yellow, retro Air Jordan Is set aside for practice.