Going to Nick DePaula’s house to talk sneakers, basketball and to see in hand some crazy rare pairs he has in his collection, was another surreal thing we did on our trip to Portland. But what we really didn’t expect was that not only his father is Brazilian but also he lived in Brazil.
From the moment Nick saw Kevin Garnett on the cover of the first issue of Slam Kicks magazine, he decided he wanted to write about sneakers. Throughout his career, he has worked in some of the main media/magazines of the segment, such as Solecollector and Nice Kicks. Today he works for Espn, Boardroom and is one of the top news sources when it comes to basketball shoes and athletes’ contracts.
And even though he’s literally seen thousands of sneakers, participated in exclusive collaborations and has had access to some of the craziest samples and kicks out there, Nick chose to talk about his favorite basketball sneaker, designed by Eric Avar and famously worn by Jason Kidd– the Nike Zoom Flight 95.
“I’m Nick, I grew up in Sacramento, California. The pro team we had was the Sacramento Kings, so that was, of course, my favorite team. Mitch Richmond and Jason Williams were my favorite players, and the shoes they wore were my favorites as a kid – Mitch wore the Nike Air Thrill Flight, and Jason Williams wore the Nike Hyperflights. Right away, I just gravitated to those early on.
I always had a love for basketball growing up. I was tall as a kid, and I just loved to play. The game had so much imagination in it. We played every night at the park, at the house, wherever. Growing up, we had a $40 budget in elementary and middle school, and $50 in high school. So, I never had all the best shoes like the Air Pennys and Jordans, but I was always resourceful trying to find deals on stuff, on what I still thought were cool shoes. I was finding deals on stuff that Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen and Kevin Garnett were wearing. I was always hyped and still thought I had great stuff, and it was a way for me to have a part in sneaker culture at a young age.”
What did you study in college and how did you get into writing?
nick When you are young, you want to be a basketball player and play in the NBA. So that was my first goal. But I’m telling you, when the first issue of SLAM’s KICKS magazine came out, that’s when I realized, like “Wow, I could maybe write about shoes.” And that became my goal from that point on. I was in middle school when the first KICKS came out, and on the cover, Kevin Garnett was wearing a rubber band on his left wrist.
Ever since I saw that cover – really, every day – I’ve worn one, just as a tie back to that first moment that really sparked all of this for me. When SLAM did a KG tribute issue after he made the Hall of Fame, they even had me write about the rubber band, which was one of the coolest moments ever for me.
I became the Sports Editor of my high school’s paper and I went to the University of Oregon for the Journalism: Magazine program. My goal was to write for SLAM KICKS magazine, but Sole Collector launched when I was in my freshman year of college, so I bugged those guys probably too much, until they finally let me write an article. (laughs) It was in issue 10 back in 2006. Then, gradually, I started doing more and more stories with them and eventually became the Editor-In-Chief. All of a sudden, I was working on collaborations and interviewing designers.
The three designers featured in that very first issue of SLAM KICKS that I saw back then were Tinker Hatfield, who did all the Jordans; Aaron Cooper, who did Gary Payton and Scottie Pippen’s shoes; and Eric Avar, who did Jason Kidd, Dennis Rodman, Jason Williams and Penny Hardaway’s. So, when I got to interview all three of those guys for Sole Collector magazine, it was the best, ‘cause those were all of my favorite shoes growing up.
“When you are young, you want to be a basketball player and play in the NBA. So that was my first goal. But I’m telling you, when the first issue of SLAM’s KICKS magazine came out, that’s when I realized, like ‘Wow, I could maybe write about shoes.’ And that became my goal from that point on.”
You've interviewed some really cool and interesting people through the years. Do you have any favorite moments or interviews?
nick For sure! 2008 was the fifth anniversary of Sole Collector and it was also our 25th issue. Both big milestones for a magazine – as you guys know, sometimes it’s hard to keep going, keep up the interest level, and make sure people even want to read what you’re doing. So, we felt like that was a really cool achievement. It was early, and we had a small team, but we kinda all knew it was cool to be hitting the five-year mark.
Penny Hardaway was on the cover of Issue 25 and we got to go to his house in Memphis for the interview. He was one of my favorite players growing up and I was always drawn to the playmakers and the point guards that had some sauce with their game. Penny, Jason Kidd and Jason Williams – those were my guys.
During the interview, Penny was the coolest, nicest dude. He had a full basketball court at his house with the 1 Cent logo on the key, and he had this crazy sneaker collection! Some guys that played, like Scottie Pippen, who I love, might not actually collect their own shoes as their career is going. He’s just like: “Oh, that’s the stuff I wore when I played. I’m wearing Forces and Jordan 1s now.”
Penny had an amazing custom shoe closet of all his stuff and it was so cool to see how much he still cared about it and also appreciated the love people still had for his shoes. I was around 23 at the time, and I always joke that I could have stopped doing what I was doing right there and it would have all been fine, because I thought nothing could top that.
I remember asking him, “What’s the Foamposite colorway you want Nike to do that they haven’t done yet?” And he didn’t even hesitate! He said, “Copper, like a penny.” Even before we even put the magazine out, I emailed the folks at Nike and said “Yo, Penny wants some copper Foams.” They were like “Cool, we’ll do it.” So, they did the copper Foams based on what he said in our interview. It was really cool to see how that all happened and those came out great.
You know, sometimes players are into sneakers because they have a deal that pays them a lot of money, and they’re excited to tell you how great the shoe is. Sometimes people are really into the design. And then there are other people that really like to collect them too. Penny was all of those things at once and just had a great pride for his signature series, so it was awesome to see.
“You know, sometimes players are into sneakers because they have a deal that pays them a lot of money, and they’re excited to tell you how great the shoe is. Sometimes people are really into the design. And then there are other people that really like to collect them too. Penny was all of those things at once and just had a great pride for his signature series, so it was awesome to see.”
We know producing any kind of content around sneakers is really hard and it takes a lot of work, since it's such a small niche. How did you make a career out of sneakers, and how was working for the magazine in those early years?
nick The early thing we figured out was that basically, Sole Collector was the online message board, like an internet forum, that had a print magazine. But our biggest thing was doing events, doing different gatherings, taking all of these people that were all over the place – we had readers that lived in Boise, Idaho, in Texas, and so on, and they all wanted to come to one event to meet people like them and talk about shoes.
That was the key I would say, trying to build a community around it. A message board was kind of the first form of social media, and we were trying to figure out how to bring all of the people from that platform into real life, and build that connectivity. That’s what really created the community around people wanting to celebrate the magazine.
Another fun thing we did was, when we were in cities for interviews like New York, Boston, L.A., Portland, we would tell people on the message board, “Hey, come to this location, at four o’clock, and we’ll photograph and put you in the magazine.” We were doing profiles from all over the country. It was fun too because since the magazine was sold all around the world, we wanted to show what people were wearing in certain cities. Houston is going to look different from Boston or Chicago, or even Paris.
Then, we realized that rather than just us giving our opinions on the newest shoes, let’s try to give them insider information that they can’t get anywhere else. That’s why I moved to Portland right after college. We would try to get exclusive samples that you wouldn’t be able to see anywhere else and talk to designers, to find out more about the design of a shoe and really bring new information and new images to the reader. Hopefully every time. It was always about trying to have the best access to stuff and if you read our magazine, you would learn something that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Some issues are better than others, but hopefully, that was the experience for people.
“Then, we realized that rather than just us giving our opinions on the newest shoes, let’s try to give them insider information that they can’t get anywhere else. That’s why I moved to Portland right after college. We would try to get exclusive samples that you wouldn’t be able to see anywhere else and talk to designers, to find out more about the design of a shoe and really bring new information and new images to the reader. Hopefully every time.”
And for how long did you stay at Sole Collector?
nick I was at Sole Collector for almost eight years and then we sold it to Complex in 2013. Steve Mullholand and Alex Wang originally started it in 2003, so it was an amazing ten years. At the time and even now, I felt like it really was the best run ever. Not long after that, I started at Nice Kicks, which is here in the US as well and had a great group of folks at the time with Matt, George, Ian and Gabe that I always really respected and had a lot of love for.
Now, I’ve been at ESPN for the last five years and working with the Boardroom team too. It’s cool because sneakers early on were this really passionate community on a message board and this niche fanbase that were readers of the magazine. I’m the smallest ant on the ESPN totem pole, but it’s obviously a huge legacy platform, so getting to write about sneakers, from the smallest stage of posting on a message board to the highest of an iconic sports network, has been amazing.
And what is it about basketball shoes and sneakers in general that gets you excited?
nick I always say that most of the signature shoes that drive the industry, are basketball shoes. You can actually wear the same shoes that the players are wearing in games, which is not the case for most other sports. I mean, I’m not gonna be wearing football cleats out to dinner, but rock out if that’s your thing. (laughs) I’ve also always been drawn to design. When I was 10, I used to draw shoes and mail them to Nike. I was so bad at drawing early on, but that’s why I always had a really high appreciation for the designers, knowing how hard it is, and just knowing the process that it takes to design and create an entire shoe.
The other thing that I’ve always really been excited about and love are stories about unique stuff, like when D’Wayne Edwards, the founder of Pensole Academy, designed an equestrian boot for the first time the sport was in the Olympics. In a lot of ways, whether it’s a World Cup Magista football cleat or an equestrian boot for the Olympics, these are beautiful designs for the biggest moments of sports, but they’re also trying to help the athlete perform in their biggest moment too. So storytelling-wise, I tried to always find hopefully fun stories that I personally find interesting, and then others will find interesting too.
You are a big Nike guy and you have a special connection with the brand. How did that happen?
nick It’s kind of funny, but when I was reading that first KICKS Magazine, it talked about Eric Avar, Aaron Cooper, Tinker Hatfield, and they mentioned how they worked at Nike in Beaverton, Oregon. I didn’t know any of those names before that, and that was when I first found out that Nike was in Oregon too. I started looking into it, and I saw that Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, and Tinker, went to the University of Oregon. So, I thought, “Well, maybe I should go to the University of Oregon. That seems like the thing.” The summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school, I convinced my parents to go on a road trip so I could visit the University, but really, I wanted to go up to the Nike campus too. At that point, I didn’t know if I wanted to work at Nike, for SLAM or KICKS Magazine, but I knew I wanted to work in the sneaker industry, somehow.
All I wanted to do was see the Nike Headquarters. Back then it was way, way different. It was a normal Saturday and we literally just parked in the parking lot and walked on. The whole campus was wide open, nobody was there, and we had the whole campus to ourselves. We got to see the Tiger Woods statue, Ronaldo’s statue, and The Michael Jordan building. It was insane! I couldn’t actually go into any buildings or see any samples because it was all closed, but just seeing the actual campus was so inspiring for a 16-year-old kid. It was a really cool trip.
“I started looking into it, and I saw that Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, and Tinker, went to the University of Oregon. So, I thought, ‘Well, maybe I should go to the University of Oregon. That seems like the thing.’ The summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school, I convinced my parents to go on a road trip so I could visit the University, but really, I wanted to go up to the Nike campus too.”
You have a fun story of how you started to get in touch with industry people, and people from Nike. Did that start early on?
nick It started during my senior year in high school. I found out about this Nike website where you could apply online and become a product tester, so I applied and became one. At first, they would send you an $80 shoe to test you a bit, and make sure you’d actually play in them and provide feedback. You’d play with them for eight to ten weeks. They would give you a three-page report to fill out, and you’d grade things on a one through five scale to rate the comfort, fit, cushioning, grip and support.
You just had to check the boxes, one through five. But I would send back my report with another five pages typed out, saying stuff like, “This could be the marketing campaign.” Or, “You could upgrade the material on this panel, or how about Zoom Air in the forefoot?” It was so, so unnecessary. (laughs) But, like, I was 17 and dealing with folks at Nike!! I mailed all of it back, and they were like, “We appreciate the effort, we’re not going to use any of that, but we’ll send you another pair.” (laughs)
The guy who I was in contact with to wear test Nike shoes was Matt Gregg. I remember telling him I was actually gonna go to the University of Oregon, which is a two-hour drive to Portland, and if he ever had time, it’d be great to get lunch. I went up there and he gave me a tour of the whole campus, the labs, and all the testing stuff. It was super cool and he was just so generous.
I tested for Nike for two or three years – I tested the Kobe 1, the Kobe 2, the 2K5s and a bunch of other shoes. They were sending stuff eight to ten months before it was released, to have somebody put it through a tough run to make sure nothing would fall apart. It was perfect, since I was playing ball every single day at school. Unfortunately, now with iPhones and social media, they don’t do that anymore, cause stuff would just get leaked immediately if someone was hoopin’ in the next Kobe or KD shoe in a random Tuesday night game at the rec center.
That was how I first got in touch with people at Nike, through Matt, and after our tour, I asked him, was there somebody else from the basketball team that he could introduce me to. I also knew that Matt’s email was just “email@example.com.” I was just seeing people’s names on their desks on campus, and then I got home to Eugene, and was adding “@nike.com,” and was emailing them. [laughs]
The thing is, it was never about asking for a job or “Can you get me this pair of shoes?” It was about developing a relationship, cause I really was curious about how this whole industry worked and knew I wanted to be a part of it down the road. I always thought that I’m the kid that’s on the NikeTalk forum every day, and driving up and camping out for shoes in Seattle, so I could probably tell them something about what it’s like to be a 20-year-old that’s really into shoes.
I started testing for And1 as well, which was based here in Portland at the time. It was hilarious because they would send stuff that they knew wasn’t good, concept sample stuff, and they would say, “Tell us if this thing really does suck, because we’ve gotten some feedback that it does. We just want to make sure.” It was cool too because it showed that brands are super open to criticism, and they want you to tell them how they can get better because, at the end of the day, it’s only going to help them create a better version for the next round. The Kobe 1, the Kobe 2, and the Kobe 3 are all really good shoes, but the Kobe 4 doesn’t happen unless they have those three and figure out how they could make improvements along the way. It all leads to them getting better each year.
During your time at Sole Collector, you did a lot of unique collaborations with Nike. Do you have a favorite one?
nick Probably the two that stick out to me are the Zoom Flight Club – which is a combination of Gary Payton’s shoe, the Nike Zoom Flight ‘The Glove,’ the Nike Hyperflight, and the Nike Air Flight 89. I wore those last two shoes in high school, so I always loved them. The first person I ever wrote about in the magazine was a guy named Justin Taylor, who became one of my close friends and who designed shoes and did player logos for Jordan Brand. The design director of And1 read the article, called him up, and hired him on the spot. It’s so cool because it was my first article. He was incredibly talented and for sure would’ve gotten hired somewhere eventually, but he got that first job because he was featured in the magazine.
As a “thank you,” he designed a logo for me. The guy who worked at Nike at the time, put my logo on the heel of the shoe – which is kind of crazy since that didn’t happen much often, or ever. Usually, the players get their logos on their PEs, but it was pretty cool. So that was probably one of my favorites. I always thought that shoe was just a cool futuristic design, and on top of it all, that was the first time they used unmolded Foamposite. It’s just a sheet of raw Foamposite that hasn’t been heat-molded, so the shoes have a crazy texture and a unique material to them. I’ve got them on display by my desk next to some of Jason Williams’ Hyperflights, which was always one of my favorite shoes as well.
And then, the Nike Air Penny 2 – the gray and neon ones – that we got to do as a fifth-anniversary. It’s funny because the Air Max 95 was our founder Steve’s favorite shoe and that’s how he picked the colors of the original Sole Collector website. I always laugh because he did wear an Air Max 95 the first time he went to the Adidas office, which is kind of a funny story for us. But that was the idea with these, to give it kind of that Air Max 95 feel and look.
Not sure if you know, but they had actually never used neon on Penny’s stuff before that. I guess you could the Voltage Foams, but that was on the Foam Pro. It was really only Orlando Magic colors and a few other colorways at that point. It’s one of my favorites for sure and I still wear this pair all the time. They only made 14 pairs, which was crazy – Penny got a pair, we got four or five pairs, and Gentry, Marc Dolce, and Marcus Smith, who all worked for Nike at the time, they all got a pair too.
You've been into shoes since you were a kid, and today your job is based around sneakers. Did your relationship with sneakers change now that you are around them everyday?
Man, that’s a great question. Back then, any money I had from working at NikeTown in college or whatever job I had, I was trying to buy some shoes. For me, it was about buying all this stuff that I couldn’t get as a kid. There were some Flights and Flightposites, Dennis Rodman’s shoes, the Shake NDestrukt, Pennys, and Hyperflights. I got 20-something pairs of Flight 95s. It was all about being excited and rockin’ what I missed out on in a sense.
And it’s really cool how that evolved through the years. I’m never just into the hype or what’s the most expensive shoes. To me, it’s always about what shoe has a personal connection to you, or that you think has a cool story, or there’s a player that you connect with, or a design you think is fresh and you appreciate. And that, to me, has been the coolest thing as I’ve gotten older.
All the people I’ve met, like my guy Victor who lives in Beijing and published Sole Collector China and Dime Magazine, over there, he’s somebody I tap in with all the time. I never would have met him if it wasn’t for sneakers. There are so many people in the industry that I’ve met, most of my best friends are people I’ve met who work with either different brands or different magazines. So, I think that’s the piece that probably makes it fun and keeps it going for a lot of people. Like yes, you want to still play basketball and have cool shoes, but hopefully, the people that you meet along the way make it fun too.
“All the people I’ve met, like my guy Victor who lives in Beijing and published Sole Collector China and Dime Magazine over there, he’s somebody I tap in with all the time. I never would have met him if it wasn’t for sneakers. There are so many people in the industry that I’ve met, most of my best friends are people I’ve met who work with either different brands or different magazines. So, I think that’s the piece that probably makes it fun and keeps it going for a lot of people.”
And why out of all the projects and collaboration that you have done, and sneakers you own, you specifically chose this Nike Air Zoom Flight 95 for your Kickstory?
nick I always joke that I got my first debit card in college because I found out you needed one to connect to an eBay account. The first pair of shoes I bought was the Zoom Flight 95 in the ‘All-Star Game’ colorway that Jason Kidd wore in San Antonio in 1996.
To me, the Zoom Flight 95 is the best shoe design of all time. I love Tinker Hatfield, he obviously did incredible designs with Air Jordans, Trainers and Air Maxes and everything. But to me, Eric Avar has some of the best designs out there and what he did with the Zoom Flight 95, the way it’s so futuristic looking – even three decades later – it’s just one of my favorite shoes.
I remember the day I saw them for the first time – I was on a field trip in the sixth grade and my teacher would always build in an extra hour at the mall for us to get lunch. So of course, I would go to Foot Locker to see what the new shoes were. When I saw these on the wall, they looked like nothing else at the time. They almost looked like they were in motion, like a fast and futuristic shoe. To this day, they’re 27 years old and I still think they look futuristic. And Jason Kidd was one of my favorite players and he was wearing the white and navy ones when he was on the Dallas Mavericks.
I like that shoes can represent chapters for different people – I remember this shoe from when it originally came out, somebody else might remember it from 2008, and then there might be a kid now that has never seen it before and thinks the retro that just came out is great. I don’t love the new Supreme version, but maybe they’ll think that’s cool, or maybe they’ll see the original color, the black and carbon fiber, and they’ll think, “Wow, what a cool shoe,” too.
You see shoes like the Nike Air More Uptempo, that’s had a lot of different eras where people take to it, and it’s exciting for me that the Zoom Flight 95 is coming back now. It seems like Nike is gonna give it a lot of love, and maybe it’ll stay a cult classic or maybe people really do like it and it takes off again. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve seen probably thousands of shoes – and every time I see the Zoom Flight, I’m like “Damn, that’s such a cool shoe.”
When I was in the 5th grade, I had the Nike Thrill Flight, which was the cheaper version. The Zoom Flight has three spheres on the side and the Thrill Flight has two – so when I was younger, I tried carving another sphere into the side, but it didn’t turn out so good, so I just gave up halfway. (laughs)
“To me, the Zoom Flight 95 is the best shoe design of all time. I love Tinker Hatfield, he obviously did incredible designs with Air Jordans, Trainers and Air Maxes and everything. But to me, Eric Avar has some of the best designs out there and what he did with the Zoom Flight 95, the way it’s so futuristic looking – even three decades later – it’s just one of my favorite shoes. “
What are your top 3 all-time basketball shoes to play in?
nick That’s a great question. The first one I would say, it’s not a great-looking shoe and aesthetically it’s not a groundbreaking design, but the Nike Zoom Hyperdunk 2011 ‘Elite’, in the black and gold, is the best shoe I’ve ever played in. They were $200 retail and they had the Kevlar Flywire, heel and forefoot Zoom, carbon fiber everything, and Pro Combat padded tongue. It was crazy! Every single piece of the shoe was upgraded from the Hyperdunk of that year. They were incredible. That shoe was so good.
And then the Nike Air Garnett III is one of my favorite designs and one of the best shoes I’ve ever played in. Aaron Cooper did those. I had a pair of those in high school, the black and blue ones with the fading mesh. The grip, transition and support was incredible. Our colors were white and maroon, and I wore the black and blue fades. It looked terrible with the jerseys, but I didn’t care. That’s number two.
At number three, I’d probably say it’s a tie between the Nike Zoom Generation and the Nike Lebron II, the original versions. I was going on eBay and buying a new pair every three or four months for like $40, so I had six or seven pairs of the Generations for two and a half years. That’s all I played in, the black and white color. I loved that shoe. They were crazy good. They were just super fast and super supportive. I even have a brand new original pair downstairs from 2003.
It was funny, when Nike was meeting with LeBron to convince him to sign with the company, Aaron Cooper, who ended up designing his shoe, said, “If you sign with us, I’ll design the most comfortable shoe you’ve ever worn in your life.” I remember Coop telling me the story, “So we make the shoe, I finally take it to LeBron and he’s playing in them for the first time. He looks down and tells me, ‘This is the most comfortable shoe I’ve ever worn.” And I thought so too. I mean, that’s a lot to tell somebody, especially LeBron James, but if you’re gonna give the guy $90 million, you might as well deliver. I love that shoe, so that’s probably my top three then.
And do you have any other fun stories about your connection with sneakers?
nick Growing up, one of my favorites was the Adidas Top Ten 2010, which was a shoe Kobe wore during his rookie year. It’s still funny, but all I wanted for my 13th birthday was the Adidas KB8s. Instead, my grandpa got me a mini TV, and you could tell I was pissed off when I opened the box. I was so mad. I wasn’t talking about it the rest of the day. And it was such a good gift too. I had that TV all through middle school, high school, all the way to my freshman year of college. It was a great practical gift. I was usually beating up shoes within like six months back then, so the TV was probably the right gift. (laughs) But I really, really wanted those Kobes.
We were surprised when you said your father was from Brazil and that you have lived there for a little bit. Do you have any basketball memories from Brazil?
nick I always liked playing in Brazil because they had the handball goal post on the same court as the basketball court. So, when I was younger, I would always try to dunk a basketball over the top of the post. I mean, I was so tall as a kid, so I was pretty good when I lived in Rio. I probably should have just become a full Brazilian citizen and played down there. I might have had a shot to make it, but I wasn’t fast like Barbosa or anybody. I was pretty good playing in Rio, but then I came back here, and I was still not that great. (laughs) Luckily, the writing thing worked out instead.