Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Nike's Air Max team gave Thabo Sefolosha two custom Air Max 90s

by Aaron Falk

Thabo Sefolosha gets questions about his shoes.

A lot of them.

Even from the guys who make them.

“I had on a pair of Air Max 90s at a family barbecue and we were just shooting around,” said Depaul Williams, who handles product data for Nike’s Air Max footwear team. “I don’t see how he does it.”

At this point, Sefolosha doesn’t know any other way.

The Utah Jazz forward is the only player in the NBA to wear the iconic sneaker during games. It is an unusual choice, but one that fits him perfectly.

“It feels great to me,” he said. “After an injury I started wearing them one summer, coming back and it felt great. The grip, everything. So I said let me give it a try on the court.”

Now Sefolosha will be sporting a new version of his original look during games: his very own.

The Air Max team (Williams was joined by Air Max product line manager Reggie Hunter, materials designer Andy O’Mara, and footwear developer Daren Cejna) met with the Jazz forward on Friday afternoon at the team’s hotel in Portland, where they gave him a sneak peek at some of the new designs they plan to unveil in the lead up to the shoe’s 30th anniversary in 2020. And they also gave Sefolosha two one-of-kind Air Max 90s, designed exclusively for him.

“We really wanted to focus on your NBA journey and your heritage,” Williams told Sefolosha as he opened the box and looked at his new sneakers for the first time.

The first pair was a tribute to Sefolosha’s heritage, the colors of the flag of South Africa, where his father was born. The shoe has Sefolosha’s name and its meaning, “the one who brings joy”. It features the Swiss flag on one tongue and his jersey number. On the tips of the sneakers are the name of his wife and child.

The second pair was designed to go with the Jazz’s red rock-inspired City Edition jersey.

“We started working on concepts and we decided they were too good to just do one,” Hunter said.

Sefolosha has been wearing the iconic Air Max 90s full time since 2015, when he began working his way back from a broken leg. The Jazz forward used to prefer the Nike Huarache, but when the company stopped making them he was forced to look for an alternative. He went back and forth until he discovered the Air Max 1.

“The high tops,” he said. “Those were the ones I started wearing. Those felt good.”

But those, too, were discontinued.

“So I went to the Air Max 90,” he said. “It was the easiest to find the different colorways and everything. That’s how I got to these.”

Now Sefolosha is known for his unusual choice

“It’s one way to express yourself in a different way than just basketball,” Sefolosha said.

His personalized sneakers will be no exception.

“I can see these with the City jerseys. It’s gonna be fire,” he said. “These with the color and everything, it’s going to be a splash. They’re going to stand out.”

Nike has only give two people their own Air Maxes: the recording artist Eminem and now Sefolosha.

“They truly embody what the shoes are about, that authenticity,” Hunter said. “We’re stoked to give it to him.”

Sefolosha planned to wear his South African-themed Nikes for Friday night’s game in Portland and could wear his other pair Saturday night when the Jazz host the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Seeing his reaction just makes it worth it,” Williams said. “That’s exactly why we make shoes, to tell stories and see the kind of reaction we just got.”

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