In the '30s, a jazzman from New York crooned Your Feet's Too Big:
"Up in Harlem at a table for two, there were four of us--me, your
big feet and you. From your ankles up, I'll say you sure look
sweet. From there down, there's just too much feet."
In the '90s, Jazzmen from Utah, Magicians from Orlando and
Warriors from Golden State swoon in an Atlanta shoe store for
big feet people. They come to Friedman's on Mitchell Street to
gape at the burgundy lizard loafers in 14E and goggle at the
tobacco-colored ostrich sandals in 17D. "I spend a lot of money
here, but it's worth it," says Terry Davis, a Maverick from
Dallas. "After all, I do make a living with my feet."
Today thousands of oversized Mauris, Karl Kanis and Paolo de
Marcos crowd tongue-to-heel in ceiling-high stacks in the huge
store. Davis eases his size 16M's into a pair of black
Martiganis with gold studs on the vamps. "How do they feel?"
asks Bruce Teilhaber, the store's president.
"They feel sweet."
"How do they fit?"
"They fit cool. But for 900 bucks, this had better be the whole
Teilhaber is a sort of latter-day Gene Shoe. The Phoenix Suns'
Charles Barkley (size 16M) calls him Uncle Bruce. The Magic's
Shaquille O'Neal--he of the 22D's--has been shod at Friedman's
since college. "Nine out of 10 pros buy dress shoes from me,"
Teilhaber says. "They call when they get to town, and I send a
van to their hotel."
The Houston Rockets' Hakeem Olajuwon phoned Teilhaber at home
one Sunday. "Bruce," Dream said breathlessly, "I need shoes."
"You don't need shoes," corrected Teilhaber. "I send them to you
by the case."
"You're right," said Olajuwon. "I want shoes." So Teilhaber
picked up Olajuwon (size 17M) at his hotel, opened the shop and
sold him 32 pairs.
Sports figures tend to buy shoes in bulk. Vancouver Grizzly
center Benoit Benjamin (size 17M) purchased two dozen on his
first visit. This summer boxing impresario Don King footed a
$65,000 bill for 110 pairs. And what's the big-ticket item for
big NBA feet? "A pair of $1,200 Davanzati boots," says
Teilhaber. "Alligator with mink inside."
It was a Boston Celtic rookie who convinced Teilhaber to enter
the specialty shoe trade. "In 1963, John Havlicek came in
looking for something in 14B," he recalls. "I didn't have
anything in his size, and it bothered me." Teilhaber persuaded
Ambassador Shoes to make men's footwear in sizes 13 through 15.
"The stuff sold so fast I couldn't keep it on the shelves," he
says. "It turns out big people always know other big people."
And they tell big people in other sports about Friedman's. While
still pitching for the New York Mets, Dwight Gooden tried on 54
pairs of 11D's. He put four aside. "Are those the ones you
want?" asked Teilhaber.
"No," said Gooden. "Those are the ones I don't."
COLOR PHOTO: GREG FOSTER On a recent foray, the Mavs' Jamal Mashburn scored only six--pairs, that is. [Jamal Mashburn trying on shoes]