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That's Shoe Business

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WHEN WARRIORS GUARD Klay Thompson strode into the visiting locker room at Staples Center for shootaround on Dec. 7, he found in his locker a pair of size 15 Anta KT2 Whitehawks, white with a royal blue heel and yellow accents. Eric Housen, who handles the team's equipment, made sure he packed them for the trip to Los Angeles because Thompson wore those shoes while splashing 60 points in three quarters against the Pacers two nights earlier. He clearly felt comfortable in the Whitehawks, but Thompson is not superstitious about his kicks. "They should be on ice," he joked, if not behind glass.

The Golden State sniper had already turned his attention to the KT2 Make It Rain, another colorway of his signature shoe, featuring a lightning graphic and a splatter pattern along the sole that evokes precipitation. Anta, the Chinese sportswear company that sponsors Thompson, decided to release the design in part to celebrate his tempest against Indiana. The Make It Rains were nowhere to be found at Staples, so Thompson retrieved them from his home in L.A., in time for the showdown with the Clippers.

"It's got to be the shoes," Mars Blackmon told Michael Jordan, a line that rings true 27 years later. There are myriad ways to measure the Warriors' star power—statistics and salaries, TV ratings and jersey sales—but it's instructive to start with their feet, or more accurately, the trunks at their feet. A typical NBA player, on a typical five-game road trip, will pack three or four pairs of shoes. Housen packs an entire trunk for guard Steph Curry, with 16 pairs of the Under Armour Curry 3s, and another trunk for forward Kevin Durant, with 16 pairs of the Nike KD 9s. Regular players do not have signature shoes, much less shoe calendars, but Curry and Durant do. Before this season Nike reps furnished the Warriors with a list of each model and colorway they envision Durant wearing in all 82 games. On Dec. 22 at Brooklyn, for example, he's scheduled to be in gold 9s with a blue swoosh. Under Armour does much the same for Curry.

Durant deviates from the schedule occasionally, based on comfort more than result. "I need my shoes broken in first," he says. Curry is the opposite. He actually warms up in low-tops before switching to his familiar mids, often wearing them right out of the box. Neither Durant nor Curry actually needs 16 sets of shoes, and they'd never ask their equipment guy to haul around separate trunks for them. But Housen, 41, is prudent. He knows, when some Hollywood director sitting courtside asks for a souvenir, the players will reflexively grab a couple of pearls from the black vinyl chest.

Housen started working for the Warriors in 1986, when he was 12, winning a coin flip against a friend to become a ball boy. At 25 he was the head equipment manager, and he remembers the days when he could fit all the Warriors' sneakers into a duffel bag, including Chris Mullin's customized Nike Air Flights. When the shoe industry exploded in the early 2000s, and players became human billboards, Housen didn't feel the reverberations because the team lacked headliners. Now they have four, and it's news when forward Draymond Green gets the words SIDELINE RACISM emblazoned on his personal-edition size 15 Nike Zoom Clear Outs. Nike has one rep for the Warriors and another for Durant. Under Armour has two Curry reps. Anta has several officials who check in on Thompson. Andris Biedrins, meanwhile, could have rocked penny loafers at tip-off, and nobody would have cared.

Housen swears he does not put much thought into his own gear—a black Warriors long-sleeved T-shirt and sweatpants—but his feet happen to be encased in royal blue Under Armour. "I just love Steph," he says. When Golden State recruited Durant, Curry famously told him that their corporate affiliations made no difference. But a couple of Warriors staffers admit they wrestle with their individual shoe choices, not wanting to alienate either star. "Do you go Nike," one asks, "or Under Armour?"

Easy. Anta.

A typical NBA player, on a typical road trip, will pack three or four pairs of shoes. Housen packs an entire trunk for Steph Curry and another for Kevin Durant.

Do you go Nike or Under Armour?

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