Adidas. Jordan Brand. Nike. Reebok. And Under Armour. No matter the sport. No matter the player. Shoe corporations are endorsing nearly every professional athlete around the globe.
Next to winning multiple MVPs and championships, having a signature shoe is one of the highest recognition an athlete can receive, but only a select few have experienced the honor. For consumers, lacing up a pair of their favorite player’s signature sneaker is a sensation like no other.
Its a market dominated by figures who have played in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, but Houston has become an influential city where athletes can grow their brand as well. While several pro-athletes are responsible for the city’s commercial appeal, the prominent figures who have represented the Houston Rockets over the past 25 years have made the most significant impact.
Their shoes may not be as famous as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, but the Rockets have had a handful of players whose brand emerged near the top for sneakerheads. Based on the likeness and overall cultural impact, here is a look back at the five most notable signature shoes in Rockets history.
5. Hakeem Olajuwon (Spalding)
Rocket signature shoe: The Dream, 1995
No matter the topic, it’s an anomaly to generate a list of the most celebrated players in franchise history and place Hakeem Olajuwon at the bottom of the totem pole. By far, the most decorated player who will appear on this list, Olajuwon was unsuccessful at his attempt to change the shoe industry — unlike his performance on the hardwood floor.
During the height of his career in 1995, Olajuwon partnered with Spalding to create his first signature shoe, “The Dream.” Known for sporting off-brand sneakers like Etonic and LA Gear for the majority of his career, the intent behind Olajuwon’s multi-year partnership was to create an affordable basketball sneaker that will appeal to the underprivileged youth in urban communities.
The Dream emulated the iconic high-top black-and-white leather appearance of the 1990s, similar to Shaq’s signature Reebok shoe worn during the ‘95 NBA Finals. Originally priced at $34.99, Olajuwon’s shoe failed to compete with his contemporaries. Instead of packing the shelves inside popular retail chains in Footlocker and Finish Line, The Dream sold in discounted stores Payless and Wal-Mart.
Despite the commercial flop, it is worth noting that Olajuwon is the only player in franchise history who has had the privilege of winning a title while donning his own signature shoe.
4. Steve Francis (Reebok)
Rocket signature shoe: Reebok Wink DMX, 2001
In the early 2000s, Reebok nearly took over as the NBA’s top shoe brand. The reason? The company’s acceptance of the hip-hop culture entering the new millennium lured in three of the league’s most explosive point guards: Allen Iverson, Baron Davis and Steve Francis. Although Iverson was the company’s brightest star, Francis’ mainstream popularity gave Reebok an additional boost.
Released in 2001, the shoe did not receive much attraction among his peers around the league, but the Reebok Wink DMX developed a substantial following as one of the best streetball sneakers of the early 2000s. While matching the Rockets’ pinstripe jerseys, its futuristic appeal catapulted Francis to the rim on the nightly basis inside the Compaq Center in Houston.
3. Charles Barkley (Nike)
Rocket signature shoe: Nike Air CB II, 1997
By the time Charles Barkley arrived in Houston during the summer of ‘96, the future Hall Of Famer was one of Nike’s most prominent faces. He earned his first signature shoe as a member of the Phoenix Suns after capturing league MVP honors and a trip to the NBA Finals in 1993.
Although his most legendary sneaker remains the Nike Air Max II CB thanks to his “I am not a role model” campaign, Barkley’s Nike Air CB4 II could arguably be considered the second-best shoe under his signature brand.
Released in 1997, the model of the shoe featured a full air bubble cushion located inside the mid-sole to help create extra support for athletes — which became the exemplary for Nike Air Maxes in years to come. With the nickname Sir Charles etched on the heel, the Nike Air CB4 II was the last installment of Barkley’s signature shoe line in his illustrious career.
2. James Harden (Adidas)
Rocket signature shoe: Harden Vol 1, 2016
Along with Damian Lillard, James Harden has become the face of Adidas’ basketball since the latter half of the 2010s. Similar to his on-court legacy, Harden’s brand is still in the process of being scripted and can end with his name placed atop of this list.
He earned his first signature sneaker in 2016, and has since released four shoes under his trademark brand — more than any other player in franchise history. Although the third installment is hard to dispute, the Harden Vol. 1 remains his best shoe to date.
The sneaker featured the modern-day lower-cut fashion around the ankle and a full-length cushioning installed inside the sole. The Harden Vol. 1 also marked the debut of his signature logo etched in the center circle of the tongue. In 2017, NiceKicks.com voted the Harden Vol. 1 as one of the 10 best basketball shoes of the year.
Any of Harden’s four installments could place No. 1, but it is difficult to go against a shoe that represents two 50-point triple-double performances in the same year.
1. Tracy McGrady (Adidas)
Rocket signature shoe: T-Mac 4, 2004
When Kobe Bryant left Adidas in 2002, Tracy McGrady stepped in as the company’s next biggest star. His first signature shoe debuted on the heels of receiving Most Improved Player of the honors in 2002, and by the time he arrived in Houston, McGrady’s brand stood near the top of the basketball world.
The seven-time All-Star released three signature shoes during his tenure with the Rockets, but his most popular edition came with the release of the T-Mac 4 in 2004.
Unlike most basketball sneakers, what made the T-Mac 4 unique was the technology used in the shoe. Instead of using laces, the shoe depended on a technical feature installed at the back of the heel used to tighten the shoe. For consumers who prefer a traditional look, Adidas released the 4.5 model as an alternate.
As one of the 50-best signature shoes according to Kicksologists.com, the T-Mac 4 is forever memorialized as the shoes McGrady donned on the night he erupted for 13 points in 35 seconds in a win over the Spurs.
On December 9, 2004, McGrady brought to life Adidas’ campaign slogan, Impossible is Nothing.