How Taylor Heinicke and the Commanders became obsessed with Air Jordans

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In late October, Washington Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke was in the training room following a game against the Green Bay Packers when an idea struck. The victory had given him a bonus — he earns $125,000 every time he plays at least 60 percent of the snaps in a win — and that day, he unintentionally sparked what he now calls “a fun little tradition.”

In 2020, when Washington signed Heinicke as his quarantine quarterback, he had two pairs of shoes: one Vans and one Converse. Teammates needled him, telling him to get more swag. The next year, he started buying Nike Air Jordans, and by this fall, he had about 20 pairs.

In the training room in October, Heinicke picked out a pair of green-and-yellow Oregon 5 Jordans, and in the weeks since, as he has helped revive the Commanders’ season, he’s purchased Jordans in the colors of the teams he’s beaten: blue-and-white Georgetown 1s for Indianapolis, metallic green 4s for Philadelphia, blue Travis Scott 4s for Houston. After the Eagles upset, Heinicke also bought shoes for his offensive linemen, and after the Texans beatdown, the tight ends.

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“It’s kind of Taylor’s shtick right now … and his teammates are responding,” Coach Ron Rivera said.

Rivera laughed as he remembered a few defensive players screaming at Heinicke — “Hey, why don’t you get us a couple?” — and said he recently “poked a little bit of fun at” his quarterback by breaking out a pair of Gray Pine Green 1s and donning a Heinicke T-shirt.

By NFL standards, Jordans are a relatively everyman celebration. Some Commanders have toasted milestones with a new house or a Rolls-Royce, but for Heinicke, whose base salary is $1.5 million, the splurges mostly retail for about $150. The quarterback’s shoe game, like his fiery style of play, seems to have endeared him to his teammates, and he’s joined a relatively small group of Commanders — headlined by receiver Cam Sims, receiver Dyami Brown, special-teams ace Jeremy Reaves and defensive tackle Daron Payne — who seriously collect Jordans.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a culture [in the locker room] because there’s really only a few of us that go and get shoes,” Brown said. He added that running back Antonio Gibson is “trying to keep up,” but because he sometimes wears a pair of cheetah-print Adidas that are “not it,” he doesn’t qualify. (Brown and Howell both attended the University of North Carolina and received “player exclusive” shoes because the brand’s namesake, Michael Jordan, also went there.)

In the Commanders’ locker room, shoe preferences vary. Many players seem to enjoy the comfort of slides, and some leave plastic tags on their sneakers as a status symbol. Defensive end Chase Young likes to lift without shoes because it helps him strengthen his once-weak ankles. Veteran linebacker Jon Bostic said if he’s not in cleats, he’s in Crocs, and offensive lineman Wes Schweitzer, a rock climber, likes five-finger toe shoes. Cornerback Benjamin St-Juste sometimes rocks shoes by Off-White, a luxury fashion label, and left tackle Charles Leno Jr. cycles through Birkenstocks, Crocs and Jordans. Third-year safety Kam Curl said he bought a few pairs of shoes his rookie season, including all-white Air Force 1s, but none since, he insisted, “I’m not a sneakerhead.”

“I don’t really care about shoes,” he added, pointing out that, no matter what he wears, he’s confident. “I be putting that s— hon.”

Sims, one of the Jordans collectors, said his father started his obsession. In a favorite baby picture, Sims wore cherry 12s, but growing up, he could only get one pair of sneakers and one pair of basketball shoes per year. In high school, when his feet stopped growing, he started saving his shoes, and his rookie year in the NFL, he said, he went on a spending spree, “getting every shoe I could n’t get back then .”

Now, Sims has about 250 pairs. They’re spread across closets at his house, his dad’s, his mom’s and his cousins’, and recently, in the locker room, he was wearing a pair of the low-top Jordans created with the rapper Travis Scott, which generally cost about $1,200.

“I’m just a shoe guy,” Sims said. “When you see a person, first thing you notice is probably, like, they feet, they teeth or they face. … I want you to see my shoes, so you’re like, ‘Ah, he got on a nice pair of shoes.’”

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Receiver Curtis Samuel, who roasted a reporter earlier this season for wearing sandals that looked like “grilling shoes,” said he doesn’t usually buy Jordans.

“I’m cheap,” he explained. But once in Miami, he visited Flight Club, an upscale sneaker consignment store. He bought a pair of Chicago Bulls 1s for about $550. Then, when he was packing to fly home to North Carolina, he couldn’t find them.

“I had to buy ’em again!” Samuel said. “I was a little upset, but it happens. I’m probably the only guy that [loses] sneakers.”

Practice-squad receiver Marken Michel, who said he wears Uggs “every single day,” recently made an exception. On Nov. 17, Founder’s Day for the historically Black fraternity Omega Psi Phi, Michel wore a pair of red high-top Jordans, which he said he only bought because Brown “gave me a hard time about my shoes.”

“Never!” Brown protested.

“He got every single shoe,” Michel said of Brown. “So I went and got these.”

“Now we lying,” Brown said, rolling his eyes.

“I ain’t going to lie,” Michel said, grinning. “I feel kind of cool in them.”

Brown accused Michel, who prides himself on being thrifty, of recently wearing Jordan 1 Retro Lows by Dior, which can cost north of $10,000. Michel looked aghast. Brown called Sims and Heinicke over. Did they really believe, as Michel claimed, that these were his first pair of Jordans?

Heinicke furrowed his brow, walked over to his locker and pulled out a pair of high-tops, seeming to refute Michel’s claim. In the ensuing shouting — “Y’all are lying!” Michel said — it became impossible to tell who was clowning whom. Brown wanted a reporter to think Michel was one of the team’s most fashionable players; Michel wanted to preserve his reputation as being frugal.

Later, Heinicke told a reporter about Brown and Sims: “Don’t let these two fool you. These two got the most shoes on the team.”

Last week, in a news conference, Heinicke joked that, after this successful stretch, he now has too many Jordans.

“I’m not going to answer that,” he said, grinning. If Washington is lucky, Heinicke’s tradition will continue, and he’ll be buying himself and his teammates Jordans for weeks to come.

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