In the minutes that follow the 38-27 win over Ole Miss on Oct. 12, Kelly Bryant walks into the postgame players media availability in style. On his head, an all-black St. Louis Cardinals hat. On his body, a ’90s-style windbreaker over a white T-shirt. Missouri’s starting quarterback looked cool.
The highlights of Bryant’s postgame outfit, though, are on his feet. Unlike some of his teammates, who wear slides or regular running shoes to their postgame interviews, Bryant arrives with a bit more going on.
On his size-15 feet are a pair of all-black Air Jordan XIs with a translucent sole. The Jordan XI is something of a holy grail among sneakerheads. Michael Jordan wore them during the 1995-96 NBA season, and since then, the shoe has achieved an iconic status, with multiple styles and colorways coming out periodically since the original debuted.
Bryant owns six pairs.
The graduate transfer from South Carolina is an accomplished college quarterback. He was a national champion at Clemson, and when Missouri’s season comes to an end, he’ll likely set his sights on a future in the NFL.
But Bryant is more than all of that.
He’s a sneakerhead.
“The reason I have a lot of shoes is because that’s the first thing people see,” Bryant says. “It says a lot about a person.”
His reasoning is simple. As an athlete, Bryant is naturally competitive. He views shoes as a competition; whoever has the coolest sneakers wins. And Bryant likes to win.
Athletes are foraying into the fashion world. Houston Rockets point guard Russell Westbrook’s pregame outfits are regularly featured on ESPN and always make the rounds on social media. But it isn’t anything new. Walt Frazier starred for the New York Knicks in the 1970s and was lauded for his style, and was one of the first athletes to sign a shoe deal.
Fashion designers such as Raf Simons and Virgil Abloh create their own sneakers now. Abloh’s collaboration with Nike is listed on the resale market for $35,000.
Bryant cannot and does not spend that kind of money, but even without a multimillion-dollar contract, his get-ups keep up with the times just like the pros. And a good pair of sneakers can make a whole outfit.
Now the owner of upward of 25 pairs of shoes, Bryant’s collection features mostly Jordans, seemingly including every color.
But he hasn’t always been flush with Jordans.
When he was young, he gravitated to the Jordans he found at the shoe store; his mother’s answer, though, was always no. Jordans were too expensive, she’d say, and Bryant’s big feet drove up the price even more. And so Deborah Bryant bought her son Nikes. He didn’t get his first pair of Jordans until college.
Bryant wonders now if maybe it was his mother’s refusal to spring for the Jordans that fuels his desire to collect them. By his own admission, he can’t seem to stop buying them. Once you’re sucked into buying shoes, it’s hard to stop.
“Every time I get a pair of Jordans I say, ‘OK, I’m done buying Jordans,’” Bryant says. “But then I see a Jordan I really like, so I keep falling back into the trap.”
After downing Ole Miss on Homecoming, Bryant was wearing a pair of “Cap and Gown” sneakers, a 2018 edition of the Jordan XI. The shoes can only be found on the resale market, where they go for upward of $600. Bryant is frugal, though, and says he’s never spent more than $240 on a pair of shoes.
As he built up his collection, Bryant made his savviest sneaker acquisitions back home at ColaKicks, a sneaker shop in Columbia, South Carolina. There, he’s able to trade in older pairs to save money on new ones.
“I didn’t have to pay top dollar,” Bryant says.
That kind of creative thinking is well-suited for a quarterback, and, who knows? Maybe that ability to trade could set him up for a front-office job in the future.
As consumed as Bryant is with his sneakers, he doesn’t own the largest collection of shoes on the team. Receivers Jonathan Nance, Johnathon Johnson and Justin Smith all are said to have more. But Bryant has some of the most sought-after shoes on the secondary market, such as the all-red “Win Like 96” XI, currently available for more than $300, or the “Cool Grey” XI high-top, which currently can’t be bought for less than $600.
At his home in Columbia, Missouri, most of Bryant’s shoes stay in his closet while others sit in boxes neatly lined against the wall of his bedroom. If they’re not on his feet, they’re in the box. Some look like they’ve never been worn.
Bryant keeps up with the latest shoes on the market, but he is dedicated to the originals. The Jordan I might be the most iconic shoe ever made, and he has 12 pairs of them, in several colorways. The purple-and-gold-with-a-red-trim “LA to Chicago,” the “Carolina Blue” low-top and, of course, a pair in Mizzou black-and-gold. The original black-and-red (known as “Bred”) is the favorite in his current collection.
Bryant has as many different-colored shoes as a person could need, seemingly enough to match with any outfit.
But if he could design a shoe of his own, it would be a Jordan I, of course. And it would be loud; a vibrant shoe for a vibrant personality.
“It would be a low-top,” Bryant says. “It would be colorful. It would be something different … pretty much all the colors of the rainbow.”
When he’s not scouring the shelves at ColaKicks, Bryant is staking out sneakers on Instagram. The quarterback follows multiple sports and fashion accounts that post about sneakers and makes note of when certain shoes go on sale. He’s clinical about the shoe-buying process.
In May, Nike announced it was re-releasing the “Bred” IV, another popular classic Jordan. It hadn’t been released since 2012, making it one of the hottest commodities on the sneaker market. Spotting a chance to add to his collection, Bryant was in on it and turned to his go-to sneaker apps – Nike SNKRS and the GOAT app – on the shoe’s release date. Because of his large shoe size, Bryant has to buy most of his sneakers online.
Even with such dogged research and attention to detail, purchasing such coveted shoes as the “Bred” IV is a crapshoot.
Bryant missed out on this one, and for him it remains the one that got away.
“I cry about it to this day,” he says.
A major concern among sneakerheads is creasing the leather on their highly sought-after shoes. Some will go so far as to never actually wear the shoes on which they’ve spent upwards of four figures. Bryant was once like that, too, taking every measure to keep his valuable sneakers pristine.
But as his collection has grown and changed, Bryant has embraced the inevitable. Creases add character, so Bryant has stopped going out of his way to avoid them.
“I think the crease makes the shoe, in a sense,” he says. “When I first started getting into it I was like, ‘I’m not trying to crease my Jordans,’ so I was walking a certain way … It was getting to the point where I wasn’t even wearing them.”
Still, Bryant is just waiting for the right moment to break out some of his shoes. He hasn’t yet worn the “LA to Chicagos,” which debuted in May, and he’s only worn the all-red “Win Like 96” XI twice.
“You need to have a nice little outfit with them,” Bryant says.
You only make a first impression once.
Bryant’s style idol is Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr., who, like Westbrook, has no problem taking fashion risks, sporting vintage graphic tees over plaid pants and Jordans.
“I definitely love the way he dresses,” Bryant says, before pointing out one problem. “But we definitely wear different size shoes.”
Bryant isn’t quite at Oubre’s flashy level yet, and sometimes he will take a more comfortable approach to his post-game attire. Usually, he tries to gauge what he will feel like after a game when choosing his outfit. He must have been pessimistic about the Tennessee game, because after the tough loss on senior night last Saturday, he was dressed modestly in a hoodie and joggers.
His shoes? Plain ol’ black Nike trainers.
Bryant only has one more football game in his collegiate career. Will he wear something special on his feet Friday in Little Rock? Well, if he is, he’s likely been thinking about it, since he already has ideas for his shoes in the future.
One of Bryant’s more immediate plans for his collection is to purchase a wall mount to display his sneakers. But he’s thought even farther ahead than that.
He knows what shoes he wants to be buried in.
The “Cool Grey” XI high-top is one of the hardest Jordans to find at a reasonable price. It has a light grey body with a white sole. Bryant says there wouldn’t be anybody who doesn’t like them, and he has a point. It’s a good looking shoe, appropriate to accompany someone to his final resting place.
“They don’t get much better than that,” he says.
Even when contemplating the inevitability of death, Bryant remained committed to his sense of style.
“It’s a shoe that can go with pretty much anything,” Bryant says.
If sneakers are a part of a first impression, as Bryant believes, being buried in “Cool Grey” XIs would be a pretty good last impression.
Bryant’s legacy at Missouri will be a complicated one. When his time is finished, he’ll have played just one season in the black-and-gold, a season in which the team failed to meet many of its expectations.
But whatever his on-the-field legacy ends up being, it will be difficult to reject his off-the-field legacy.
Kelly Bryant has nice shoes, and his collection is a winner.