I know BAIT from their ill collaborations with companies, but I have to say that their retail space off of Melrose is one of the best in LA hands down. It really is a lifestyle store. You could literally walk in and find everything you need to get right. Clothes, kicks, electronics, shades, watches, dunnies, etc etc. I was surprised there wasn’t a bar in the back, which would’ve sent the place over the top as the ultimate shopping experience.
It was here that the good folks at New Balance set time for me to speak with Laker great and three-time NBA champion James Worthy during his P740 ‘Worthy Express’ release. Please note that this wasn’t just any shoe or another retro in a sea of rehashed models. Thirty years ago, Worthy, a player named to the NBA’s “50 Greatest Players” list, wore the 740 during the 1983-84 NBA season. This specific white-purple colorway was seen only on the hardwood of Los Angeles’ Great Western Forum and they were never released to the public, embodying the ‘player exclusive’ moniker long before that was really a thing.
Decades later, New Balance and Worthy partnered to release the Worthy Express using materials replicate the originals – full-grain leather upper done in a purple and white color way; EVA midsole and the snug, padded ankle collar. In doing so, they’re giving Laker fans, collectors and everyone in between a chance to own a pair and James was on-hand to mark the event, in Los Angeles no less.
The line was pretty damn long, but it pays to be down with TSS. Walked right in and met up with Big Game James to chop it up over former rivals and the first official release of his player exclusive shoes.
TSS: Seeing as New Balance was a Boston based-company, were you ever able to convince the owner at the time Jim Davis to cheer for the Lakers?
Worthy: Well, he never admitted it because it would have looked bad for him. Of course he cheered for me individually because he had a vested interest, but down the line his son Chris Davis told me that he did cheer the Lakers a few times in private.
TSS: The ‘Worthy Express’ was a great nickname for the shoe, but were there any others you liked during the design process of the shoe that stood out that ended up not making the cut?
Worthy: You know, not at that moment. This was before the name ‘Big Game James’ was invented so we couldn’t use that. But seeing as my game was fast-paced and I looked like a freight train when I ran down the court, that’s where the name came up. So I can’t even remember what the other alternatives were, but ‘Worthy Express’ dominated all of them from the start.
TSS: What was the craziest fan interaction you’ve had with your shoes?
Worthy: Well, the new release wasn’t even sold in stores, so it’s really cool now that people are able to search to find out about it and buy. But every now and then a fan will come up to me with some of the older shoes that I’ve actually worn in games and ask me to sign them so that was pretty nice.
TSS: Yeah, it took almost 30 years for New Balance to release the player exclusives.
Worthy: Yeah, ain’t it about time?
TSS: Definitely. Were you surprised about the sustained popularity of the ‘Worthy Express’ three decades later?
Worthy: I remember I’m in the airport a lot and somebody my age would tell their grandkids who I am and they’ll have no idea. But within minutes they’ll be on their smartphones and they’ll have read my whole biography and so because of stuff like that, the popularity of these shoes has sustained itself. There was a gap in time where no one had probably ever thought about it, but now that sneakers have become such a social media driven concept, it’s still a powerful product.
TSS: What’s the first thing you did with that $1 million check that New balance cut you?
Worthy: You mean after taxes? [Laughs] Phew, yeah after that it was about $400,000.
TSS: Wow. That’s rough.
Worthy: I wasn’t a big spender so I just bought something nice for my mom.
TSS: Segueing a little bit into your career as a Laker, who’s one rival you’ve had that you’d gift a pair of your shoes along with a picture of you and your championship rings to just to stick it to them one last time?
Worthy: Oh, Larry Bird for sure! Without question!
TSS: Really? I knew it would probably be someone on the Celtics but I probably thought it would be Cedric Maxwell.
Worthy: Nah, nah, I grew up kind of liking Cedric because he went to UNC-Charlotte. It woulda been Larry because we beat them two out of three times and he was quite the trash-talker.
TSS: While rocking your signature shoes, who was your favorite person to dunk on?
Worthy: If I could get a couple over on him, it was Dennis Rodman. He was a tough defender. And he talked a lot of trash. So any time you had a chance to dunk and have the ball bounce off his lips, that would be it. Either him or John Salley. That whole Pistons squad at the time really.
TSS: Did they keep talking after you dunked on them like that?
Worthy: Nope. Nothing you can say after that. I got you.
TSS: Alright last question for you. Who wore the goggles with more style, you or Kurt Rambis?
Worthy: Well, come on. Me. For sure. Kurt Rambis, his were more like prescription glasses and he had tape keeping them together and he looked kinda scary with them on. I always thought I looked more sleek and aerodynamic whereas Kurt looked like a serial killer.
TSS: [Laughs] He still kind of does with that hair.
Worthy: Yeah. He was weird.
TSS: You still talk to him?
Worthy: Oh yeah, often.
TSS: And is he still weird?
Worthy: Once weird, always weird. But Kurt’s a great guy.