This piece was originally published in Dime 70. You can check it out in its entirety by picking up the issue on newsstands nationwide…
Everyone claims they’re a sneakerhead, yet only a few really take it to the next level. Joe Johnson might have thousands of shoes, but he also has a sneaker vault equipped with a James Bond-styled fingerprint system. That makes his collection just a little bit different.
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Joe Johnson beckons us to follow him into the shadows.
“Shh,” he motions with his finger, whispering. “You gotta be quiet so you don’t wake the sneakers up.”
Lights come on. Jaws drop.
All professional basketball players buy cars. A few will start up record labels with childhood friends or buy into restaurants. Some purchase houses with luxurious outdoor swimming pools, movie theaters and even bowling lanes. Joe Johnson built a sneaker vault, and then secured it with a fingerprint system so restricted that even Ocean’s Eleven couldn’t break in to get the goods.
The six-time All-Star, who averaged 18.8 points for the 40-26 Atlanta Hawks this past season, never shies away from showing off the fruits of his labor. In Dime #37, we featured his suped-up super truck. Since then, he’s added an interesting paint job to it, as well as acquiring an all-white Matte Aston Martin with a red interior.
But it’s that sneaker closet that stands out today. Big enough to shoot baskets in, large enough to hold over 1,000 pairs of Jordans, actually calling this part of his Atlanta home a “closest” doesn’t do it justice. A closet wouldn’t have a bed. A closet wouldn’t have a ceiling lined with mirrors or a wall with a basketball hoop. And a closet definitely wouldn’t be this exclusive.
Joe puts it simply: “You can’t get in the vault man unless you’re Joe Johnson.”
A 6-7 swingman with career averages of 17.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists, Johnson has been a part of the Jordan Brand for six years. With all of his custom player exclusives flowing in on a regular basis, it didn’t take that long to run out of room. Even now, Johnson admits it won’t be long until he has to expand his vault again.
During a break from this hectic 66-game season, Johnson brought us to his Atlanta crib to show off his unique car collection and the impressive sneaker vault. Why’d he need something so grand? We’ll let him explain.
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Dime: Describe the room to me.
Joe Johnson: It’s a nice size. It’s big enough for me and probably about six or seven of my friends. We all go in there and we shoot on the goal that I got hanging up in there. We might bet for pushups or you gotta go jump in the pool when it’s ice cold outside. It’s pretty big. I take naps in there too. I got a bed that was in there. I took it out but I’m gonna put it back in.
Dime: So you actually do stuff in there? It’s not just a sneaker closet?
JJ: Nah. Well I mean that’s the main theme of it, my sneaker closet. But I just try to do some cool stuff, put a bed, a TV in there, things of that nature. I just like the feel of it.
Dime: How did you get the idea for this?
JJ: Man, it was just a vision I had. I’ve never seen it before. It was empty space down there and we stockpiled a lot of stuff in there so I was like, ‘Man, I wanna clean it out and turn it into a shoe closet,’ because my shoes were just built up all over the house. I didn’t know where to put them. I just came up with that idea and just kinda ran with it.
Dime: I see you have your sneakers all out of their boxes. Do you have to do anything to keep them in nice condition?
JJ: I just keep the little tissue cushion stuff in the shoe but other than that the room has a great temperature. It’s not too hot, not too cold. I guess that has something to do with the condition of the shoes. But nah, I don’t have to do nothing. I just sit them over there. I get shoes and put them in place.
Dime: Is there a set temperature?
JJ: It depends. If I go in there and take a nap, I might have it a little cooler than normal. I like it to be a little cool. It just depends on the weather outside I guess.
Dime: Are the sneakers organized in any way?
JJ: Not really. I just kinda put them in. I didn’t really want to organize them to the point where you’re going the 1s, 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s. I just thought the different color would be a lot better.
Dime: Are the ceilings mirrors?
JJ: Yeah the ceilings are mirrors. They make it look bigger than it really is.
Dime: How long did it take for you to put this whole thing together?
JJ: Probably a few months. I think it was probably about four months to get everything done.
Dime: Do you keep all your sneakers here?
JJ: Yeah just about. I’ve got my closet in my room that has a gang of sneakers. I’ve got sneakers all through the house, but that main room right there holds the majority of them.
Dime: I heard there’s a fingerprint system?
JJ: Yeah. For me man, it’s kinda like this sacred, 007-type. You see all the movies to where you have to use your fingerprint to get through the door. I wanted that so I just implemented it in my house and put it on my shoe closet.
Dime: Are you the only one that can get in there or can some of your friends?
JJ: Nah, I’m the only one.
Dime: What size sneaker do you wear?
JJ: I wear a 16.
Dime: I know you have a Scarface poster in there. Is that one of your favorites movies?
JJ: You know what, actually somebody gave me that. That was a Christmas present because I didn’t have a Scarface in my house. They said, “Man, you gotta have a Scarface.” So that’s basically the story behind that.
Dime: What are you favorite movies?
JJ: Above The Rim. Harlem Nights. Love and Basketball.
Dime: Describe to me your style. Are you always wearing casual Jordan stuff or suits?
JJ: Oh it depends man. I think it’s more just how I’m feeling to be quite honest. I wear Jordan apparel probably just about everywhere I go.
Dime: Can you wear Nikes as well or is it all Jordan?
JJ: Nah, I stay out of Nikes, man. I only rock Js.
Dime: With your kicks, are you always lacing them all the way up or are you wearing them loose or tying them a certain way?
JJ: Like I said, it just depends on the feel man. Sometimes I might just leave the laces loose. It just depends.
Dime: What’s it like now being able to get Jordans anytime you want in any colors?
JJ: It’s for real man, honestly, because growing up I never managed to get Jordans pretty much whenever I wanted, you know what I mean? They were always pricey, so I never really had that many pairs to be quite honest. But to be a part of the Jordan Brand, it’s definitely an honor and a blessing because there’s a lot of guys who would love to be in that position.
Dime: Do you think you have the best sneaker collection in the NBA?
JJ: I don’t know. I’m sure other guys have plenty. I wouldn’t say I have the best. I just got some that I really enjoy for myself.
Dime: What are the oldest pairs you still have from college or high school?
JJ: Man I don’t have none from back then. I’ve been with the brand for six years now. Starting with the first pair of shoes that they made for me, I have them. But other than that, nothing.
Dime: What was the first pair they made you?
JJ: The Jordan 5s. They made them in our team colors. I was in Atlanta.
Dime: Growing up, were you always looking to get Jordans if you could?
JJ: Definitely. Any chance that I could get some, I was trying to get them. I had to pick and choose wisely.
Dime: What’s your favorite pair?
JJ: My favorite pair that I have right now, to be honest, the Jordans 5s were my favorite pair so I was pretty geeked up when I first got with the brand. They told me that a lot of the guys had been wearing the 5s that year. The Jordan 5s with the 23 on the side and the little mesh-looking thing that could reflect, those were probably the best ones to me.
Dime: Do you think those are the best performance-wise too?
JJ: Yeah, I enjoy them. When I wore those shoes, that was my first time making an all-star game. I would say it probably was the shoes (laughs).
Dime: Nowadays, do you get all of your shoes from Jordan or do you actually got out and buy some stuff from the stores once in a while?
JJ: Every once in a while if I see something I like out in the store, I’ll get it. But the majority of my stuff comes from me to the brand. They send them to me.
Dime: How many sneakers do you think you have?
JJ: Aw, man. I couldn’t even begin to start. I got over 1,000 pairs of Jordans.
Dime: Are you wearing certain pairs off the court and on it? Does Jordan tell you to wear specific ones at different times?
JJ: I like wearing a lot of the trunners, especially when training in the offseason or whenever I’m running. I think the brand has definitely been great in making shoes that are accessible to what you’re doing, whether it’s working out on the court in tennis shoes or running on a track in running shoes or just shoes with style, casual wear, they have boots. The brand definitely went to new heights.
Dime: Do you wear a new pair every game or do you give them some more time to grow on you?
JJ: I probably wear a different pair every two to three games. After a while I probably give them away or just kinda run them down a little bit. So I just jump into a new pair. Why not? They’re free.
Dime: What’s your car collection like?
JJ: It’s something small man. I’m not really over the top. I have a white Aston Martin, a red Ferrari and my big supertruck. But other than that, it’s not nothing major. It’s just a few cars that I really enjoy and can really take pride in.
Dime: When did you get that big truck?
JJ: Man, I’ve had that big truck for about five or six years now. Dime did a story on it a while ago. It was red though.
Dime: It’s not red anymore?
Dime: What color is it now?
JJ: It’s a chameleon. It flip-flops. It’s a greenish orange, blue-ish. It changes the color depending on how the sun hits it.
Dime: How did you get that idea?
JJ: Growing up in the South, you always see chameleon cars. They call it flip-flop. You always see flip-flop cars come by. I always wanted to have one. I just said whenever I had a chance, I was gonna get that paint job put on something. I put it on my truck.
Dime: Anything crazy in the interior?
JJ: Nah, nothing crazy in the interior. It’s just black and leather. That’s pretty much it.
Dime: That Aston Martin, how often do you take that out?
JJ: Almost every day or so. It’s just a great car to have, and it’s pretty cool.
Dime: Is that the go-to car right now for a lot of NBA guys?
JJ: Well a lot of guys, I know for me it was great. I test drove it before I got it and basically just fell in love with it. It’s all white.
Dime: What abut the inside?
JJ: The inside is all red. I just wanted something different. I had seen so much but I had never really seen the matte white with the red interior. I just kinda went with it from there.
Dime: Do you normally get your haircut right in your place?
JJ: I get my haircut at the crib just to kinda save myself the hassle. I go to a barbershop every now and then just when I want to go out and mingle, go see the guys at the shop. But other than that, I’m just at the crib.
Dime: Do you usually have the same guy cutting your hair?
JJ: Yeah, I usually have the same guy cut my hair. He’s been doing it for quite some time.
Dime: How many of those sneakers are customized for you?
JJ: It’s quite a few. I probably got over 100 pairs that’s personalized with my name and my initials on them.
Dime: I see you have a Razorbacks jersey up in there. Why did you want that in there?
JJ: Well I’m gonna forever be a Razorback. I’m from Little Rock, Arkansas so I’m gonna rep that all day long. If there’s one jersey that I could put up in my shoe closet, that would be the one. I could’ve put up multiple jerseys but I just chose to put up that one Razorback jersey because it brings back so many memories from when I was in college. A lot of my friends, a lot of the guys that I played with on that team, we’re still great friends to this day, hang out and workout together in the summer. Just the coaching staff, you’re talking about Nolan Richardson, one of the best coaches ever, Mike Anderson, who’s the head coach at the university now… those guys meant a lot to me. They turned my whole world around. They brought me into something great. When I left there man, I was a different person.
Dime: Do you think you’re ever gonna have to expand the room?
JJ: I’m kinda starting to have that problem, honestly. I got like some of my favorite shoes, I may have five or six pair of them in there, like those patent leather Jordans that just came out and everybody was going crazy over them. I got like six or seven pair in there, so I might just have to take a few of them down and just leave one up, and then just re-stock the other ones. The ones that I have multiples of in there, I’ll just take a pair or two of them down and put something else in there.
Dime: When you get multiple pairs of stuff, are you only wearing one pair and keeping the rest on ice?
JJ: Yeah. I just keep ’em on ice, man. I try not to wear them but it gets tempting sometimes.