You’d think NBA players, since the invention of double-knots back in the late 1990s, would have an easy time keeping their shoes on during the middle of a game. After all, most players have shoe endorsements that, at the very least, give them the pick of their brand’s litter when it comes to kicks that fit their feet the best. Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, for instance, has a pair of high-top Nikes that the company was kind enough to print “MARC” on. Just in case Marc decided to stay over at his brother’s house one night before a game, and the two couldn’t figure out which size 20 belonged to whom.
Then again, all the double knots in the world can’t stop a shoe from leaving a foot when it’s stepped on by someone like 6-10, 263-pound Utah Jazz big man Derrick Favors. Favors knocked Gasol’s right Nike loose during the fourth quarter of Memphis’ tough 90-84 loss to Utah, and Gasol reacted by treating his abandoned shoe like an extension of his All-Defensive hands. Watch:
Gasol was clearly upset that Favors wasn’t hit with a foul the possession before his shoe stomp, when Favors came down on Gasol’s right foot after Marc hit for a short jump hook in Utah’s paint. In the referees’ defense, it’s hard to know what sort of foul to call on Favors there – a loose ball foul, just because he stepped on the dude’s foot while they run down court?
And in Gasol’s defense, the candidate for Defensive Player of the Year may have had a clean pick on Favors’ spin move had he, y’know, not used a shoe to punch the ball loose.
That said, Gasol, you could have done better. After all, Miami’s Mike Miller (not exactly the league’s stoutest defender) not only chased the ultra-quick Leandro Barbosa out of a driving angle while wearing only one shoe during last year’s playoffs, but he also closed out properly and forced a miss on what would have been a mismatch even if Miller had been wearing both shoes.
Charlotte Bobcats rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist? He scored an actual basket in one shoe. It was possibly the highlight of his team’s season, and we still have a month of regular season basketball to play.
And all of this, because I am very old, reminds me of the great and late Wendell Ladner.
Ladner was perhaps the Metta World Peace of his day, an effusive and defensive-minded small forward that probably should have played the stretch-4 position, but also probably didn’t have the shooting acumen to pull off the job. Despite, um, repeated attempts to prove his worthiness as a three-point shooter. Ladner worked for several teams in the ABA, most famously as Julius Erving’s protector on the champion New York Nets, and his charm and fantastic mustache also allowed for photo shoots like these:
In Terry Pluto’s must-have oral history of the NBA entitled ‘Loose Balls’, the somewhat-famous onetime St. Louis Spirits broadcaster Bob Costas relayed a story of Ladner’s infamous shoe-chucking:
In the second playoff game in 1975 between St. Louis and New York, the Spirits had a 30-point lead over the Nets at Nassau Coliseum. Ladner was running after someone and ran right out of his shoe. Freddie Lewis was dribbling the ball away from Wendell, who was hobbling around in one shoe.
Wendell was so frustrated that he threw his shoe right at Lewis, hitting Freddie in the back. Freddie was a little guy, but he was a fighter and his initial instinct was to take a swing at whoever had hit him with the shoe, but when he turned and saw it was Wendell, he just smiled.
Costas was working that particular game, one that saw the heavily favored Nets lose in their first defeat in what turned into a major upset of a series. And though the story of Ladner’s shoe-chucking may have turned apocryphal (especially considering Woody Paige’s potential re-telling of a story; Paige, at the height of his cable TV nonsense prime in 2008, attributes a Babe McCarthy quote to himself); involving Ladner tossing his same low-top Adidas at Rick Barry), it’s still a tale that seems right in line with Ladner’s (far too short) time as a pro.
If you’re unaware of the Wendell Ladner story, scope this out:
Gasol’s interaction was just as goofy, and though we understand his frustration (Memphis just went through one of the tougher back-to-backs you’ll find: Denver to Utah, losing two straight games after winning 14 of 15), it makes sense. When you ask a company to write your first name in big capital letters on your shoes, the assumption is that you’ll be able to trust that they’ll stay on no matter who steps on your feet.
And if they don’t? It’s just fine to bash a basketball with the shoe that falls off. Even if you’re in the middle of an NBA game.
(Major thanks to Clint Peterson for the heads-up on this.)