Kelly Oubre Jr. appreciates good fashion.
Add a positive message to it and he’s even more about it.
That’s why the Phoenix Suns wing gave a five-star review of the “I Have a Dream” themed Nike Kobe A.D. sneakers rookie Mikal Bridges wore in a game against Atlanta last week to celebrate Black History Month.
“These are big time,” Oubre said. “Got some great color schemes in there. Some actual colors that represent February, Black History Month. It obviously sucks that we only get one month out of the year, but just to be able to represent and put our artistry on our shoes is a blessing.”
Bridges, Oubre, Josh Jackson and Richaun Holmes have each worn themed sneakers in February.
“As a young black athlete, male, growing up in the suburbs, being one of only five or 10 black kids in the whole school,” Bridges said. “It’s different. Just seeing what (King) went through and what he did for everybody. Equality. That’s what we all want in this world now. That’s the biggest thing.”
These shoes will be available for purchase at the end of the month with the proceeds benefiting Elevate Phoenix, a local non-profit that works with youth in partnership with the Carlisle Companies.
“It’s great they gave us customized shoes for Black History Month,” said Holmes, who wore two-tone purple Nike sneakers with “Black History Month” scripted on them before Friday’s game against the Warriors. “Very close to my heart growing up.”
Jackson sported Under Armour HOVR Havoc Low inspired by Garrett Morgan, who patented the first three-position traffic signal in 1923, last week against Houston.
He recalls Morgan being his first Black History Month project back when he was in the first grade.
“They had like all kinds of historians to choose from and he just so happened to be the guy that I got,” Jackson said. “I had to do a shoebox project of him in a lab.”
Years later, Jackson was wearing sneakers with a traffic signal painted on them to honor Morgan.
“It was everything I thought it was going to be,” Jackson said. “I had a chance to get a sneak peek at it a few times before it was actually done to see if it was headed in the right direction and see if I like it. I’m loving the way it came out.”
Oubre wore Nike Kobe A.D. Exodus with a New Orleans theme in the same game to represent where he grew up, in the Magnolia projects in the Crescent City.
“Check mine out later,” Oubre proudly said before a game against the Rockets.
Holmes sported Nike sneakers with a straightforward Black History Month theme during warmups before Friday’s game against defending NBA champion Golden State.
“Knowing the sacrifices that were made back then for us to be able to do what we do now,” Holmes said. “It’s something I never take for granted.”
The Suns commissioned designers to create the custom sneakers, but the players had a say in the theme.
“I sat on Skype with the guy a few times,” Jackson said. “Told him what I wanted. The colors.”
Billy Hobbs, owner of True Blue Customs, is “the guy” who designed the sneakers Bridges and Jackson wore. Working out of his home in Lexington, Ken., Hobbs has designed sneakers for professional athletes like former Kentucky player Willie Cauley-Stein, who plays for the Sacramento Kings.
“He does his research,” Cauley-Stein said. “So if you gave him an idea, he’s going to research it a little bit before he paints it. His ability to capture your imagination on those shoes is elite. My man quit his job to do that so that’s how you know it’s real. It’s not a hobby anymore. It’s a craft so anything that he does, it’s going to be legit.”
Hobbs was working in the service department at Lexington’s Pepsi bottling plant a few years ago before he left that job to go full tilt in his customized shoe business. Jackson noted Hobbs’ research skills, and his addition of a quote to the show from Morgan: “If you want to do something, then be the best.”
“That was cool,” Jackson said. “I liked how it came out.”
Bridges couldn’t have been happier with how the MLK ones turned out.
“They were way better than I thought they were going to be,” Bridges said. “I was like, damn. I was really excited when I saw them. These are hot.”
Bridges said he’s always been inspired by the iconic “I Have A Dream” speech King delivered at the Lincoln Memorial for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
“Growing up and always hearing that and having that in my mind,” Bridges said. “The design is really cool, but it’s really about MLK.”
The design includes a picture of the civil-rights icon and part of a quote from King: “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
According to Literary Devices, the message was part of King’s speech at a college rally.
“I knew I wanted MLK and his quote up there,” Bridges said.
Jim Sherwood of Canvas Project Shop put in work on the NOLA-themed sneakers worn by Oubre.
Rookies Deandre Ayton and De’Anthony Melton are scheduled to wear their custom Black History Month sneakers later this month. Canvas Project Shop customized Ayton’s, and Malcolm Garret, a custom sneaker artist from New Jersey, has been designated to work up Melton’s shoes.
Melton looked to have names of those who impacted his life on his shoes like King, Muhammad Ali and Rosa Parks.
“So I put those people like that on my shoes because in high school, I took the bus a lot,” Melton said. “Without Rosa Parks, I would’ve been sitting in the back. I think that’s very special.”
Melton has missed eight consecutive games with a right ankle sprain, but he hopes to return for Wednesday’s game at Los Angeles against the Clippers.
Garret designed his shoes as well as the ones Holmes sported before Friday’s game.
“He kind of freestyled, and it was pretty dope,” Holmes said.