Last week a group of reporters crowded around the locker of John Lucas III within the confines of the Toronto Raptors dressing room just to gape at his shoes.
They were flashy, a low-slung pair of gold flats, complete with little gold spikes, which resembled something Dorothy might have happily clicked her heels to in The Wizard of Oz if the script didn’t call for ruby red.
Lucas refers to them as “units.”
In a room of manly basketball players where the almighty sneaker rules as the footwear of choice, Lucas is a proud anomaly, an athlete who collects fancy footwear like some people collect trading cards.
The 30-year-old would happily admit to having a foot fetish, estimating that he has upward of 6,000 pairs of shoes in his collection, which he pampers lovingly whenever he gets the chance to return to his off-season home in Houston.
“Shoes is everything,” Lucas proclaimed on Monday following a workout at the Air Canada Centre practice facility.
The Raptors, riding a two-game winning streak, will attempt to make it three in a row Tuesday night at home against the Denver Nuggets.
Lucas said he has been collecting shoes for as long as he can remember, and not just sneakers, which professional athletes receive gratis by the carton load from the likes of Nike and Adidas.
Lucas does like his runners though, and he professes to still having his first pair of Air Jordan Ones that his parents bought for him when he was of the age that his parents were still dressing him.
As for the gold numbers he was styling with last week, Lucas said they were manufactured by designer Christian Louboutin and made of pony hair.
Lucas didn’t say how much they cost, but a quick search of the Internet revealed similar styles going for roughly $1,200.
“I’m just a shoe fanatic, “ Lucas said. “I’m the guy, I step outside the box. Shoes people might not want to wear, I’ll wear them. Just put a nice unit on. I’m into fashion and stuff like that. It’s just something I like to do.”
Lucas said he has a special room at his home in Houston just to house his footwear.
“I take care of them,” he said. “I have boxes for them. They’re never sitting outside. Once I get done wearing them I put them back in the box so they don’t collect dust so they still look brand new.”
These days, it has been Lucas’s flashy play on the court, and not his footwear, that has caught the attention of Raptors coach Dwane Dasey.
After signing a two-year, $3.07-million deal to join the Raptors in the off-season as a free agent, Lucas was used sparingly through the first three months of the regular-season schedule, averaging 11 minutes a game.
Lucas was Casey’s third option at point guard behind Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon but he knew coming in that changes might be afoot, the reason he decided to accept general manager Bryan Colangelo’s contract offer.
“From the discussions I was having, I knew something was going to happen, a move,” Lucas said. “It was just a matter of waiting for what was going to happen. It played a decision in me coming here.
“They were straight up with me from the start. They said just stay with us, just stay patient and stay locked in. And that’s what I did. I never got rattled, I never got frustrated.”
That change played out last week when the Raptors shipped out the veteran Calderon, along with power forward Ed Davis to the Memphis Grizzlies in return for offensive wing whiz Rudy Gay. Calderon was then dealt to the Detroit Pistons.
The move meant more playing time for Lucas and in the six games since the trade he is averaging 18 minutes off the bench and 10.8 points. He’s shooting a red-hot .565 (13 of 23) from three-point range.
In Sunday’s 102-89 win over the New Orleans Hornets, Lucas scored 10 of his 19 points in the decisive fourth quarter to key the victory.
Lucas said he was wearing the new Kobe VIII low-cut sneakers from Nike for just the second time against the Hornets.
“They’re probably the lightest shoe out right now, the lightest shoe I’ve ever put on my feet,” Lucas said.