Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
(Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder)

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's Kicks for a Cause

Shai Makes Connections Through Sneakers

With students on his left, right and in front, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander sat at a long table covered in markers, pencils, paper and blank white Converse shoes. And with the same kind of focus he maintains standing in front of 18,000 fans at the free throw line, now with a marker in hand, he locked in on his design, and started drawing.

“I’m gonna do something OKC themed for sure,” he said.

For nearly three hours on Sunday afternoon, Gilgeous-Alexander hosted 16 students from “Poetry and Chill” in a sneaker customizing workshop at the Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center for the “Kicks for a Cause” event as part of the 15th season of Thunder Holiday Assist.   

“It was a great opportunity to give back to the community, connect with some kids, and connect with something I love to do and have a passion for,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “It makes it more genuine and authentic.”

(Photo credit: Jimmy Do | OKC Thunder)

Each student received a fresh pair of shoes provided by Converse in their size, and with the help of local artists Angel Little and JoJo McNeal, they sketched, designed and painted new sneakers to create their own one-of-a-kind shoe.

“I don’t think anybody’s ever done anything like this before,” McNeal said. “So for him to step up to the plate and be such a creative person and create such a creative event, it really speaks volumes to who he is as a person.”

Students – and SGA -- began by sketching out their ideas on a paper template, before eventually transitioning their design onto the shoes by hand. Gilgeous-Alexander went with “OKC” in a graffiti style font as the primary design of his shoes, but said the hardest part was getting the color scheme right. About midway through, Little asked the students who was going to have the best design and Gilgeous-Alexander’s hand shot up first.

“By a landslide,” he said with a smile.

When it came to input, Gilgeous-Alexander kept to his own design, letting the students find their own approach.  

“I kind of just let them do their own thing,” he said. “I think that’s what makes me me, just do your own thing, trust your heart, trust what you think is fire.”

(Photo credit: Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder)

The event was an intimate experience for the students, but also a welcomed opportunity from Gilgeous-Alexander to connect with interact with the community after the challenges from the pandemic.

“It’s been missing for sure, especially when you feel the support every night the city gives you when you go out and play,” he said. “It’s only right that we give back and connect with them and return the favor, because they’re so great to us.”

Poetry and Chill is a local non-profit organization that started in 2017 that offers literacy and social emotional learning workshops.

“I was shocked, I can say that,” said Lala Cooper, 13, of sitting next to Shai. “At first I was a little scared to talk to him then I asked him something and it was just like, ‘oh.’ It was just [normal].”

For Gilgeous-Alexander, the event was a perfect intersection of his passions in art, fashion, style and creativity. While some of the students took extra time and sought the advice of the artists in finding the right inspiration for their designs, Gilgeous-Alexander didn’t hesitate.  

“Not tough at all,” he said of getting started. “All that stuff is second nature, the arts and the creativity. Like I’m in elementary school.”