With the Utah Jazz bringing back their more-beloved-over-time "purple mountain" uniforms from the 1990s, second-year power forward Royce O'Neale knew right away he wanted to create a special pair of shoes for the occasion.
As custom shoes have continued to be spotted more and more frequently in recent seasons, Las Vegas-based artist Andrew Lewis has become a go-to resource for nearly 30 players, penning precise portraits and clean, hand-painted artwork atop kicks around the league. He counts another 40 retired players as clients as well.
"This pair was made shortly after the Jazz revealed their Hardwood Classics uniforms to the team," Lewis said. "Royce hit me up and wanted to have something to match the jerseys."
Initially, the two had planned to execute the snow-capped mountain graphics and purple colorway on the Kyrie 2 Low model before Lewis opted for the more open canvas upper of Giannis Antetokounmpo's debut Freak 1 signature model instead.
"The silhouette and lines of the shoe seemed to flow perfectly with the mountains on the front of the jerseys, so that's how adding the mountains to the lateral side came about," he said. "The snowflakes on the tongue were one of the first details I noticed on the HWC uniforms."
Additional subtle details like the green and brown accents along the eyelets tied back to the armhole piping colors of the jersey, while the midsole fades right into the mountain graphics. Almost instantly, O'Neale's sneakers were the most well received customs worn this season.
"I knew it was going to turn a few heads, just because it's the Freak 1 and there's not really many artists working with it yet, but I definitely wasn't expecting it to be all over every sneaker blog page out there," Lewis said with a laugh. "It was a nice surprise to see how well this pair was received by everyone."
Earlier in the week, Dallas Mavericks point guard Luka Doncic also caught people by surprise, as the sneaker free agent wore a non-Nike shoe for the first time this season. Breaking out an unmistakable neon-lime pair of the Under Armour Curry 7s caused a real-time stir, and caught the attention of Stephen Curry himself.
"I like his taste!" Curry tweeted.
On the same day Under Armour officially unveiled the shoes, Doncic teamed up on the "Sour Patch Kids" collaboration design with teammate Seth Curry, who was wearing the peach-inspired pair.
Doncic went on to have a career-high 42 points, along with a triple-double effort, in a home win against the San Antonio Spurs. The only other 20-year-old to tally a 40-point triple double is LeBron James.
As for a shoe deal, Doncic's representatives are in discussions with multiple brands. No deal appears imminent, according to industry sources.
"For me, it's so important because, as you know, I love shoes," Doncic told The Dallas Morning News at Mavs media day. "I have so many shoes. It's very important, this deal."
Doncic has primarily worn the Nike Kobe 4 Protro and Kyrie Irving's signature models throughout the season, even though his prior Nike endorsement deal expired Oct. 1. Doncic had originally signed a two-year deal with Nike before playing his final season with Real Madrid, which carried into his Rookie of the Year debut season in the NBA.
Doncic was spotted in the Air Jordan 34 for a pregame warm-up earlier in the week, before switching back to the Kobe 4 just before tipoff. Doncic also recently practiced in the Puma Clyde Hardwood model, according to ESPN's Tim MacMahon.
As the potential MVP candidate continues to weigh his brand offers, he's already outlined a few key factors. "First of all, if the shoe is good for my feet, to have a long career," Doncic said. "But, yeah, the look, too."
Although Doncic's prior Nike deal technically expired Oct. 1, Nike retains its "match clause rights" on all potential competing offer sheets for the next 180 days, according to industry sources. Doncic would in essence have to play out the remainder of the regular season without a shoe deal in order to sign outright with a new brand partner after April.
A future Hall of Famer who is no stranger to landmark shoe deals, Portland Trail Blazers power forward Carmelo Anthony made his much-awaited return to the NBA floor last week and laced up a simple black and white colorway of the Air Jordan 34.
One of only a handful of players in league history to have a signature series reach a 13th model during his active career, Anthony is expected to be spotted in revamped retro editions of the earliest models from his "Melo" signature series, along with the brand's current statement game shoe.
Last but not least, Houston Rockets power forward PJ Tucker continued his onslaught of rare and limited-edition sneakers, breaking out a decade-old exclusive Zoom Kobe III originally made only for the basketball team at New York's since-closed Rice High School. The green and yellow Kobes were last seen in 2008 on the feet of the Raiders' star point guard, future NBA All-Star Kemba Walker.
Taking a page from Rockets teammate Thabo Sefolosha's love for the Nike Air Max 90, Tucker also rocked the retro runner on court. Of course, it had to be one of the most coveted colorways of the model, a Virgil Abloh-designed Off-White edition in black and white.
"He loved it!" Tucker said of Sefolosha's approval.
Check out all of the best sneakers from around the league this week, and be sure to vote on your favorite pair in our poll below. For real-time updates on sneaker culture and NBA kicks, follow @SneakerCenter on Instagram.
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