The AND 1 Tai Chi is One of the Most Underrated Sneakers Ever
The NBA All-Star Weekend has given us countless highlights over the decades, both above the rim and, of course, below the knees. From Michael Jordan’s jaw-dropping free-throw line slam, to Kobe Bryant’s trash-talkin’ All-Star debut – there have been plenty of storied moments that are etched into our memories with specific sneakers on feet.
For future Hall of Famer, Vince Carter, the year 2000 represented one of the most legendary periods in professional basketball history. Just months before bounding over a 7-foot giant at the Sydney Summer Games in a pair of Nike Shox BB4, Carter etched his name into NBA folklore with an iconic Dunk Contest victory. The All-Star Weekend aerial assault announced Carter as arguably the game’s most electrifying talent, but what were those mysterious mid-tops on his feet?
Seemingly overnight, the little known AND 1 Tai Chi was swept up in Carter’s undeniable clout. The performance basketball market finally had a new contender.
The sporting globe loves a great underdog story, and the unexpected ascension of AND 1 and the Tai Chi is a sneaker yarn for the ages.
After starting as a basketball-only apparel brand back in 1993, AND 1 decided to move into the footwear market in ’96. After taking sample sketches to Foot Locker, it wasn’t long before the brand had their first shoe, and their first endorsee. However, with Nike, Jordan Brand, adidas, and FILA dominating the court, things were always going to be a grind.
‘Early on, for the shoes, it was tough. The tees and shorts were just flying out, and everyone wanted them, but some people would just laugh at the shoe,’ explained former VP of Footwear Ryan Drew in an interview with Nice Kicks.
‘We signed Stephon Marbury, who was a rookie, and it was his first shoe. It weighs a ton, it’s got this big Player logo stitched onto the side, and it’s all leather and super puffy. The logo was probably like a 500 stitch count, but we thought it was the greatest thing ever.
Ironically, AND 1 had thought about signing Carter in his draft year. However, like other potential suitors, they had question marks over the 5th overall pick’s all-round game. They weren’t alone, that’s for sure. Carter ended up signing for PUMA as their marquee athlete, even receiving his own signature in his first year with the Raptors, while AND 1 ended up signing Raef LaFrentz and Larry Hughes.
Unfortunately, things went sour pretty quick for the Big Cat, with Carter opting out of his contract in early-2000. There’s been reports that his signature Vinsanity sneaker was causing pain in his feet, so PUMA let him back out of the 10-year deal, provided he didn’t out the brand publicly. So, just like fellow star Kobe Bryant, Carter began a storied sneaker ,free agency period, sporting various brands from game to game. Naturally, AND 1 shot their shot, sending him some custom size 16.5 Tai Chis.
Considering the season Carter was having, he would’ve had a ridiculous amount of product showing up in his mailbox. However, in a huge win for AND 1, the Tai Chis managed to find a spot in his rotation alongside Nike and adidas performance models leading up to All-Star Weekend. Sure, it gave the brand a mini boost in sales, but that could’ve never have prepared them from what was to come.
‘I felt like I could jump to the moon!’ Carter famously told USA Today after his famed five-dunk display in Oakland. He forever transformed the way people dunked the basketball that evening, and he also changed the way the market looked at AND 1 footwear. In the months following, images of Carter’s gravity-defying feats were printed on countless newspapers and magazines globally, with those familiar half-and-half red/white Tai Chis front and centre. It was some rampant marketing, and AND 1 didn’t have to pay a cent for it.
To this day, the Tai Chi remains the only AND 1 silhouette alongside the Too Chillin to sell over a million units. In fact, for a brief period, many regarded AND 1 as the second biggest footwear brand in the NBA, with the likes to Kevin Garnett and Latrell Sprewell even lacing them up. When the cameras panned to the bench, and it wasn’t uncommon to see three or four players with them on feet, such was the brand’s influence among the league’s lesser-knowns. People were so crazy about it, AND 1 did over 100 colourations.
Despite Carter’s above-the-rim exploits in the Tai Chi, AND 1 were unable to secure his signature, with the Raptors star joining Team Swoosh on a ginormous deal. In another ironic twist, it was his Olympic dunk in the Nike Shox BB4 that perhaps signalled the slow decline of AND 1 in the NBA. The market soon turned their attention to tech-packed performance ballers, with the Tai Chi’s modest make-up unable to compete. Known for its lacklustre traction and heavyweight full-grain leather construction, it’s probably safe to say the silhouette’s popularity was destined to decline.
These days, the Tai Chi doesn’t garner as much attention as some of the storied Nike and Jordan Brand builds of the early-2000s. Hell, even FILA’s Grant Hill models probably get more attention. But the AND 1 Tai Chi was one of the most recognisable sneakers of its era, and deserves its own place in sneaker folklore.
Images via AND 1.
Header via vincecarter15_official