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T.J. Ward has got game.
The 26-year-old safety for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns is more than just an up-and-coming defensive back. He’s also a serious sneakerhead with more than 400 pairs in his converted bedroom closet in Cleveland and even more kicks stashed back home in California.
“I like to go away from the norm — not too flashy, but noticeable,” Ward said of his collection.
The athlete’s footwear includes some of the coolest limited collaborations from Nike, Jordan and Adidas, as well as looks by high-end labels such as Balenciaga and Christian Louboutin.
“Usually I wear designer sneakers when I’m dressed up,” he said, “unless it’s some classy-looking sneakers like the Jordan 11.”
The shoe fiend adds to his collection all year, as he lives in Cleveland during the season, travels for games and spends time back home in the Bay Area in the off-season. His alma mater, Nike-sponsored University of Oregon, also keeps him in special Ducks colorways of Swoosh product.
And the athlete isn’t shy about sharing his acquisitions with his more than 20,000 Instagram and 52,000-plus Twitter followers at @bossward43. Recent pics show his players-only Oregon Ducks trainers, Air Pythons, Reebok’s Shaqnosis, Lebron X EXT Hazelnut, Air Yeezy IIs and New Balance 574 Year of the Snake styles, in addition to custom Nike ID football cleats.
In fact, he keeps tabs on the scene through social media, regularly following sneaker blogs and e-commerce sites alike.
Here, Ward sounds off on the pair that got away, his favorite shops and his typical acquisition strategy.
Number of pairs: About 400, including some that date back to high school
Brands: Adidas, Balenciaga, Christian Louboutin, Converse, Jordan, Louis Vuitton, New Balance, Nike, Prada, Reebok and Vans. “I have a lot of Vans and Chucks, but I don’t think that would surprise anyone, because I’m from the Bay Area.”
Percentage worn: 25 percent. “Some of them I just want to keep, but some of them I haven’t gotten to wear yet.”
Most out-there pair: Jeremy Scott Adidas Originals Bones
Other sneakerheads you admire: “I’m definitely top of the league. But my dog Joe Haden, [cornerback for the Browns]? His kick game is crazy.”
Road-trip packing strategy: “If it’s a short trip, I’m definitely bringing a different pair every day. If it’s 10 days, I’ll have at least five pairs.”
Sneaker destinations: “When we go to New York, I’ve got to hit [sneaker consignment store] Flight Club. And there are a few spots in Chicago: Barneys, a Louboutin store and a spot called Succezz.”
Biggest shoe splurge: “$1,500 for my Louboutins.”
Most paid for a sneaker: “When I go to Flight Club, [prices] get up there. I paid $1,000 for the Year of the Rabbit [Jordans].”
Holy Grail pair: “I’m still looking for the ‘Back to the Future’ shoes, [the 2011 Nike Air Mag release]. I’m going to have to get those on eBay.”
Hometown favorites: “During the off-season, I’m in the Bay Area. I go to Tru in San Francisco for all the exclusive kicks. In Cleveland, we have a Saks Fifth Avenue, and Next has urban wear.”
Storage strategy: “Most of [my shoes] are here with me in Cleveland, so I had to change one of my rooms and build a closet. The bedroom didn’t have enough space.”
Do you unbox your shoes? “They’re still in the boxes, almost all of them, except the ones I throw on to go to work, like my [Nike] Air Maxes. I have pictures of all the shoes on the boxes.”
Outfit planning: “It usually starts off with the shoes. [But] if I have a shirt I really want to wear, I’ll go through all my pairs.”
Buying plan: “I don’t spend too much time shopping — I just hit up my [connection]. It’s not really as difficult as it used to be to get a rare shoe or a special edition. I just make a few phone calls.”