The last year has been a complete whirlwind for P.J. Tucker. It was early last March when he was traded from the Houston Rockets, a team with its sights set on a high draft pick instead of a playoff spot, to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks, as we all remember, went on to win the 2021 NBA title, and Tucker was a key contributor in their playoff run.
Fresh off a championship, Tucker hit free agency as a coveted veteran and ended up signing a 2-year, $14 million deal with another Eastern Conference title contender: the Miami Heat. Tucker went from a team that was rebuilding, to winning a championship, to competing for another title — all in a short span.
Tucker is also making waves after landing a deal with Lids to become the face of the company’s ‘They Gave Us Game’ campaign, which is focused around Lids’ partnership with The Negro Leagues Museum, Black Fives and the Harlem Globetrotters. The campaign honors the three historic Black institutions with products that pay homage to the players that built them up and helped pave the way for athletes today.
In an exclusive interview with CBS Sports, Tucker discusses what it means to lead the ‘They Gave Us Game’ campaign, and shared some never-before-heard stories about some rare sneakers and breaks down the ceiling for the Heat this season.
CBS Sports: What is it about the ‘They Gave Us Game’ initiative that connected with you and made you want to be a part of it?
P.J. Tucker: I think any athlete of color when you really look at it, it’s some of the coolest stuff you’ll ever hear. You hear stories about back in the day and what guys went through, it just makes you appreciate everything that we have today and all they did to pave the way. For me, I think it’s a part of our history and it’s something that everyone should know about.
CBS: You’re known around the NBA for your style/sneaker prowess – how excited are you for some of these products and what you’ll be able to show off?
Tucker: When you can get some dope product to tell a story that’s as amazing as this story it’s like the perfect combination. A lot of different colorways. A lot of everyday type of stuff. When I first got this stuff I couldn’t believe how nice it was, so it’s very cool to be able to do this.
CBS: Lids is kind of synonymous with headwear, what resonates with you linking up with a brand like that?
Tucker: Childhood, bro. It goes way back. If you had $25.99, you could get a fresh fitted for school! I’ve been going to Lids my entire life, so getting a chance to team up with them and do something dope like this kind of came back full circle.
CBS: You’re in Miami now, you’re also one of the league’s biggest sneakerheads – how’s the sneaker scene in Miami and how is it different from Houston/Milwaukee?
Tucker: I like it. It’s different here. The vibe is a little different but it seems like everywhere in the world has sneakerheads. Seeing people in the street, at the games, whenever there’s going to be a big release. There’s always a lot of hype, it’s pretty dope.
CBS: You told me a few years back that you had interns working for you searching for sneakers all day — do you still have interns that find rare sneakers for you on the daily or have the interns graduated?
Tucker: Nah, nah – I’ve got the connections now so I don’t have to sit there and pretend like it’s not me trying to get the shoe. I know most of the guys that get the real, rare, crazy stuff and if I don’t know the person, they know the person. So it’s a lot easier for me now, back then people were hiking the prices up on me on everything so I had to get some people that looked a little more non-assuming to do the work for me but they’re still my guys for sure.
Tucker: I had been searching for those for a minute. I’ve been knowing Melo since high school, that’s my guy. So when he came to the Rockets, I was like ‘Melo, I need them 4s.’ They were the London Olympic 4s and they came as a set. He was like ‘I only got one set.’ I’m like ‘here we go!’ I told him I would find them and that I would let him know as soon as I found them. So he doesn’t even know that I got the full set, I only showed off one pair but I got the full set. It literally took me 10 years to be able to find those shoes but I finally found them.
CBS: So, wait, when you say a set, there’s more and they’re all Jordan 4s?
Tucker: Right, they came in a pack. It’s a pack of three pairs. There’s an all-red one, those are the ones I already wore in a game. There’s a white and red pair that I just took on our trip to New York but I didn’t wear in the game that day. Then there’s a white/red/navy blue, kind of a Team USA colorway. But all three of them are the pack that Jordan Brand made for Melo for the Olympics.
CBS: I’ve seen the lockers at the Heat arena, a ton of room for sneakers, how many pairs do you think you have in there at all times?
Tucker: I don’t know! We just did some re-organizing. Our equipment manager had to change some stuff around just because we had so many pairs in there. Jimmy [Butler] had a bunch of pairs, we have a bunch of guys that have a bunch of shoes so they did some re-organizing. So I don’t know how many we have, I can’t even lie. I can’t even give an estimate, it’s just a lot of shoes.
CBS: There are a lot of sneakerheads in that Heat locker room – who are some of the guys you bond with the most over shoes on the team?
Tucker: Probably Jimmy [Butler]. Me and Jimmy talk about shoes all the time, he’s got a lot of shoes, man. He’s been doing it for a long time. He’s with Li Ning now so you don’t get to see as much of his heat but he’s got a ton of shoes and he knows a lot about different pairs.
CBS: With Nike and Kobe Bryant’s longtime deal ending, there’s going to be an eventual fading away of Kobe sneakers in the NBA and you’re already seeing some guys struggle to get pairs. Are you ever going to run out of Kobe’s?
Tucker: [laughter] That’s impossible! There’s no way. It’s literally impossible for me to run out of Kobe’s.
CBS: Who are the other guys around the league that don’t have to worry about running out of Kobe sneakers?
CBS: You played with this guy last year so you have the insight — what about Khris Middleton, is he ever running out?
Tucker: Khris is going to run out! For sure Khris is stacking up on extra pairs right now, he’s trying to save some for sure. He’s got some, but I don’t know how many he got. The ones he has and his PEs are fire, though.
CBS: It feels like you’re a prototypical Miami Heat player. How have you fit in with the squad and how do you like it?
Tucker: Everyone’s said that about me for a long time and they said it when I came that they’ve been wanting me to be here for a while. It’s been really good. We’ve had a lot of guys in and out of the lineup so it’s crazy that we’ve still been able to win and maintain the status quo with everyone on our roster. It’s pretty amazing to be on a team and feel like you’re going to win every single night you go out there.
CBS: You’ve been on plenty of contenders, you’ve been on a championship team. Do you look at this Heat team and see a championship-caliber team?
Tucker: Without a doubt. I’ve been around championship-contending teams and a championship team — this team is right there, man. It’s amazing how we figure out different ways to win every night. Some nights we’re not shooting it well, so we pick up our defense. Some nights we are shooting it well, so it’s all good and we’re rolling. We have games where we have four or five guys scoring in double-figures, almost a different leading scorer every night. The way we move the ball and our team continuity is crazy. The goal is to win a championship, I think anything short of that is a losing season for us. We got to win it.