‘Spice up the season’: The story behind Jalen Williams’ mismatched shoes

‘Spice up the season’: The story behind Jalen Williams’ mismatched shoes

The Thunder star has become so well-known for uniquely combining his kicks that his most recent signature shoe was designed with one blue and one orange shoe.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Apr 3, 2024, 6:00am CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Apr 3, 2024, 6:00am CDT

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When Jalen Williams ran onto the Paycom Center court last Friday night, his shoes caused a double-take.

It wasn’t that they were bright pink with orange laces; loud colors and wild combinations are all the rage around the NBA these days.

It was that they matched.

Rare is the game the Thunder star wears shoes that match. Mismatch is J-Dub’s norm. One shoe neon pink, the other light pink. One purple, the other orange. Red and green. White and orange. Purple and pink. Orange and blue. On and on the combinations go.

It’s become such a regular part of Williams’ look that when adidas released his signature Harden 8 PE earlier this season, the shoes were different colors. One was blue, the other orange.

“I think people enjoy it,” Williams said of his shoe style.

He was sitting courtside at the Thunder practice facility after a recent practice wearing mismatched shoes, of course. 

“But most importantly, I like doing it,” he said. “That kind of trumps all.”

Williams, who missed Tuesday’s game at Philadelphia with an ankle sprain, hasn’t always worn mismatched shoes. Not growing up. Not when he was playing at Santa Clara. Not even during the early months of his rookie season in OKC.

It started during All-Star Weekend last year.

Williams knew there’d been a history of players wearing mismatched shoes during All-Star events. The trend goes as far back as 2004 when Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest wore kicks that didn’t match in the All-Star Game. Artest had one shoe that was black with red accents and one shoe that was white with black accents. McGrady went with a red shoe and a black shoe.

In 2011, JaVale McGee wore a navy shoe and a red shoe in the dunk contest.

Williams decided to do mismatched Harden 7s for the Rising Stars Challenge.

“I did a pink and a white, and it matched our blue jerseys,” he said of the pastel blue jerseys his team happened to wear. “You don’t know your jersey color (beforehand), so ironically, it went together really well.”

Feb 17, 2023; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Team Joakim guard Jalen Williams (8) drives around Team Jason forward Kenneth Lofton Jr (6) in the 2023 NBA All Star Rising Stars Game at Vivint Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

(Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports)

Williams got all sorts of positive feedback. He heard from adidas as well as fans on social media. He wasn’t planning on making mismatched shoes a regular part of game apparel, but he figured he’d give it a go.

So, how does it work?

It starts with adidas sending shoes to Williams. Lots and lots and lots of shoes.

“I wish I could describe to you how many shoes I have,” he said with a chuckle.

“I actually had to tell them to stop sending me stuff at one point.”

He estimates he has at least 200 pairs of shoes. All of them are sent to him as matching pairs, but he says adidas does send shoes in colors that he thinks might be fun mismatches.

“Our teams work closely with Jalen to make sure he always has access to our latest and greatest colorways,” adidas said via email through a spokesperson. “Both Jalen and our teams love to explore new and unique combinations that make a splash.”

Williams will come up with different combinations, but the mismatches are always two shoes of the same version or style. That way they feel the same on both feet.

“The shoe mechanics are the same,” Williams said. “It’s just that they’re different colors.”

Then, he will start breaking them in at practice.

“I’ll break them in over time, so I’ll do random ones that don’t match or anything,” he said. “So when I get to the game, I’ve already worn them like eight or nine times.”

But the combinations in practice don’t always carry over to games. 

For games, sometimes Williams mismatches his mismatches.

“I definitely move them around,” he said.

So, is there a detailed plan? A meticulous schedule? A long, throughout process for determining what shoes to pair together for what games?

Short answer: no.

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” Williams admitted. “Like Christmas, I did red and green. I feel like that was cool. It’s hard to match our orange (jersey), so I usually try and stay somewhat blue and orange. But after that, I just honestly wear whatever is there.”

Most of the time, the mismatches are splendid. He wore a bright pink shoe and a light pink shoe against the Mavericks last month close enough in tone that from the side, they looked like they could’ve been a matched set where the inside was one color and the outside was another. There was a pink-and-purple combo against Boston earlier this season that looked amazing, too.

But not all of the mismatches are great. 

“There was one J-Will hated,” Williams said of teammate Jaylin Williams. “He told me in the locker room. He’s like, ‘This is your worst one.’

“He was probably right.”

Williams remembers it being a green-and-orange pairing.

“It was something gross.”

But Williams has way more hits than misses. While getting encouragement from his shoe team at adidas has been great — “Jalen’s unique approach to his footwear is a fun opportunity for us to work together creatively, highlighting who he is as an athlete and who we are as a brand,” adidas said — the best positive reinforcement has come from fans.

Williams has seen some at games wearing their own mismatched shoes.

But in the end, Williams does the mismatches for himself. He would do it even if no one else liked it.

“I feel like just to spice up the season, you can get caught doing the same,” he said. “We play a lot of games, so you can get caught doing the same kind of thing. That’s like a good five minutes of brain activity when just going through our regular pregame stuff.”

 

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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