Olympic Diaries (1996): Gary Payton Details Creation of the Nike Air Zoom Flight “The Glove”

Gary Payton is passionate about more than defense and trash-talking.

During Payton’s days in Seattle, his name was synonymous with defense and trash-talking, but you can’t forget about his shoe line, which features one of the most unique and celebrated Nike creations ever. The Nike Air Zoom Flight “The Glove” is a shoe many would like to see back, and Gary is on a mission to please his fans. “Just know that I’m working to bring it back soon, so I want fans of it to be on the lookout,” said Payton. Yet, before that, Gary wants people to know how The Glove was formed.

As the 1996 installment of our Olympic Diaries series, Gary Payton details the creation of the Nike Air Zoom Flight “The Glove”, how the shoe was tailor-made for his style of play, his favorite Olympic Basketball shoe, and the reasoning behind his switch to another brand late in his career.

RELATED: History of Gary Payton shoes

Nike Air Zoom Flight “The Glove” White/Black

Nice Kicks: Your nickname was taken literally in the design of this shoe, but how did the thought of creating a basketball sneaker inspired by an actual glove come about?

Gary Payton: During the design process, we checked out different types of gloves for inspiration. I really liked the leather ones that secure your hand with the pull of a zip – the ones that have a zipper on the back part of the glove. I thought it would be nice to have a shoe that featured an element like that. No one had anything like that at the time, and I thought it was a really dope concept. So, when I pitched the idea to Nike in one of our meetings, they were like, ‘Gary, that’s a really great idea.’ That’s what we came up with. To have the first shoe that ever featured a zipper like that was special to me. I just came up with the concept, and they made it happen.

Nice Kicks: Oh, so you approached Nike with “The Glove” concept?

Gary Payton: Yes. The Glove was supposed to be about me. It was a symbol of how I play defense and how fast I was, so I wanted to put a lot into it. When I played, I only wore one pair of socks, so I stressed to Nike that I wanted to have a shoe that was secure and fit like a glove. I didn’t want it to be your regular slip-in-and-lace shoe because I didn’t think it would secure my feet. So, we incorporated the zipper, and we placed the shoelaces underneath so that you can tie and lock the foot in with the “Monkey Paw” technology around the ankle to make it tight and snug – just like your fingers going into a glove.

Nice Kicks: How did Nike initially react to you wanting a shoe actually inspired by a glove?

Gary Payton: Nike is always prepared, so when we went to the first meeting, they had a presentation of things that I reminded them of laid out in front of me. After one of my follow-up meetings with them, they already had a shoe model built, and it threw me off guard. I really liked it a lot, but I wanted something more glove-like – something that reminded me of a glove. That’s when I mentioned the zipper element and how I wanted it to be like the Hallmark glove I mentioned earlier. I remember them looking at me funny and kind of confused. They were like, ‘Oh, okay. That sounds…good.’ I explained to them that I wanted a shoe you could zip up that would lock your foot in and fit like a glove. That’s when they first came up with the “Monkey Paw” technology. After that meeting, we came back three weeks later and they gave me the prototype to play in and test out. It was a process of about two months for both sides to agree on a shoe that everybody liked.

Nice Kicks: I’m guessing you were in Beaverton a lot seeing that you spent the bulk of your career, both college and pro, in the Pacific Northwest?

Gary Payton: I spent a lot of time at Nike’s headquarters in Oregon. I went there every summer to model my shoes and test them out, so I was there on the regular. I went to school at Oregon State, so it was right down the street.

Gary Payton wearing the Nike Air Zoom Flight “The Glove” White/Black

Nice Kicks: How was the “Monkey Paw” technology tailor-made for your style of play?

Gary Payton: The “Monkey Paw” technology was built like a glove. It had five little strands that came together in the shape of a hand. It was designed to grip my ankle and keep it from twisting because Nike knew I never taped my ankles when I played. I had bad ankles, and I sprained them a lot. The monkey paw was really built for me to lock my feet in. It also made the shoe very light. I wanted all of my shoes to be light because I was fast.

Nike Air Zoom Flight “The Glove” Black/White-Red

Nice Kicks: Durability is often brought up when mentioning lightweight shoes. How often did you switch sneakers in a season?

Gary Payton: I played and played until my shoes wore down or got messed up. Sometimes, the zipper busted open, so we decided to incorporate more Air into my shoes to make the grip around my foot looser so that the zipper wouldn’t bust. But I didn’t go through shoes like the guys that play now. They probably need 82 different pairs of shoes. During our time, we didn’t even worry about that. Shoes were just shoes. If I had a good game in one shoe, I wouldn’t give those shoes away. I was real superstitious about that. I would wear those shoes until I had a bad game, and then I would give them away. Nike would send me a gang of boxes, but I didn’t go through shoes like that. I still have a lot of my shoes because I didn’t wear a lot of them through the seasons.

Nice Kicks: Do you still play in The Glove?

Gary Payton: That’s all I play in. I don’t wear anything else on the court but the Glove. I have hundreds of Glove colorways in my garage, so I have turned it into something like a shoe store. I usually go in there and pick out a pair each day I play, and I hoop in them faithfully.

Nice Kicks: Wait, hundreds of Glove colorways – how do you still have so many?

Gary Payton: I have some prototypes that just didn’t work out for us during the design process and never came out. They didn’t look good enough for me at the time, but I still kept them. I have a ton of Glove prototypes that didn’t make it to the stores, and I kept the prototypes of all of my shoes. I was happy that Nike gave me the opportunity to be in there and be a part of the process of creating my shoes. They let me be a part of the whole creation and let me give my ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to each design. It was really fun.

Gary Payton rocking the Nike Air Zoom Flight “The Glove” in China

Nice Kicks: Well, there’s a lot of people out there that really want to see The Glove return soon.

Gary Payton: We really want to try and bring back the original Glove around the time they announce my Hall of Fame class. We’re trying to get that into circulation. I know everybody is looking forward to it, and it looks like it’s going to happen soon. It’ll be good for everybody to have the opportunity to get those shoes again.

Nice Kicks: One of the colorways that people seem to love is the pair you wore as a member of the Heat.

Gary Payton: Everybody on Twitter tries to get those off of me. I have about 100 pairs of those, and I’m going to save them because I wore those during my championship run. When I go to the Hall of Fame, I might sign a few of them and give them out to my biggest fans.

Gary Payton defending in his Nike Air Zoom Flight “The Glove” Miami Heat PE

Nice Kicks: Would you like to see The Glove release in new colors, in addition to the original colorways?

Gary Payton: Everybody has been talking about how they want the original Glove colorways instead of new ones. They can relate to the originals because I get a lot of guys that come up to me and say, ‘Man, I had those when I was in the fifth grade – I used to love the blue ones, the black ones, and white ones.’ I want the re-release to be the original colors, but depending on how well the re-release goes, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Gloves release in new colors.

Nice Kicks: Let’s talk about the Olympics. You wore a red, white and blue Glove, but most people remember your time in the Nike Air Much Uptempo during the 1996 Games. How did you like the design of the shoe and the overall wear of it?

Gary Payton: It wasn’t a shoe that necessarily fit to my foot, but I really liked the design of it. It was a great attention-getting shoe that Nike provided for a few of us during the Olympics. I promoted my shoes so much during the regular season, so it was cool to wear the Nike Air Much Uptempo for a couple of games. I enjoyed wearing my red, white and blue Gloves in the Olympics more though.

Gary Payton wearing the Nike Air Much Uptempo

Nice Kicks: Is there a player on the current Olympic Basketball team that reminds you of yourself?

Gary Payton: It would have to be Deron Williams. He can score, he can post up, he can give you assists, and he plays defense when he wants to. He’s that type of guard. A lot of people have said Rondo, but he can’t score like I did. He does assist though, and he rebounds better than I did. I used to get about 4-5 a game, but he can go get a lot of them. He reminds me of Jason Kidd. But, definitely, Deron Williams imitates me the most. I’m a big fan of players but not teams necessarily. A lot of people ask me am I a fan of the OKC Thunder because they moved the franchise from Seattle, but I didn’t play in Oklahoma City. I played in Seattle. A few months ago, we went to a rally to see if the NBA and the NHL would like to bring a team back to Seattle. We’re trying to make the people in Seattle see that if we can get an arena here, we can possibly bring a team back. The NBA and the NHL want an arena that can bring in a lot of people like the Staples Center. I’m a big part of the committee that’s trying to bring a team back. I think Seattle deserves it. It’s a great city, and we have big fan support here.

Gary Payton posing for the camera in the Nike Air Zoom Flight “The Glove”

Nice Kicks: During the late 90s, there were other point guards, such as Tim Hardaway, Penny Hardaway and Jason Kidd, that had signature shoes. Was there conversation amongst you and your fellow brand members about your respective shoes?

Gary Payton: The 90s was a great time for shoes. It was a lot of shoes out there, but looking back, I really didn’t check for their shoes at the time. I just really liked my shoe. But, at one point, I really started to check for the Jordan’s shoes because they were taking off. A lot of guys were wearing his shoes during the 90s, so I really looked at the Jordan shoe mostly. A lot of the shoes some of my brand members wore were just shoes that were specific to Nike Flight or Nike Air Max. There wasn’t a shoe out there like mine. My shoes was for me – The Glove.

Michael Jordan and Gary Payton exchanging words

Nice Kicks: Speaking of Jordans, your player exclusives get brought up from time to time around the office.

Gary Payton: Those were great. It was an honor for me to have Jordan call and ask me to move to his brand for the two years that I did. I wore his shoes in Boston and when I was with the Lakers. It was an honor for me to do that, and for him to get them made in my team colors, was great. They were great shoes to play in as well. I think he asked me to be a part of the brand because when we would arrive at All-Star Weekend every year, I would always have his gear on. Everybody would always say, ‘Why do you always wear Jordan’s gear?’ His brand was making some good gear at the time, so why would I not wear it? I played against him and we competed hard, but that has nothing to do with clothes. He was doing his thing. I tried his shoes out one game, and that was the determining factor for me in making the switch for those two years. To this day, I still wear a lot of his shoes because he sends me everything. Me and him are tight like that right now, and I see him every summer because my son goes to his camp. We still have a lot of respect for each other.

Nice Kicks: Well, what’s your latest Jordan pickup?

Gary Payton: I’m a big fan of the Jordan RCVR. It’s one of the most comfortable shoes out right now. Jordan sent them to me not too long ago, so I’ve been wearing those a lot, but I’m an Air Force 1 fanatic, and I’m going to wear those till the end of the end. I wear the Air Force 1s in every different color. The other day I had some all-black ones on with white trimming. I wear the all-white ones always. I love my yellow and whites ones and my grey and green ones. I even have a cognac-colored pair. Oh, and I can’t forget about my all-black snakeskin pair. My most recent pickup was the “Camo” pair that released a few months ago.

Gary Payton wearing an Air Jordan 12 PE

Nice Kicks: The Glove is your primary focus right now though. What’s one more thing you’d like to mention about The Glove?

Gary Payton: Just know that I’m working to bring it back soon, so I want fans of it to be on the lookout for that.

Throughout the Olympic Diaries series, follow author George Kiel III on Twitter at @geokthree for updates.

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