For the NBA's biggest and brightest stars, showing off their personality on their footwear is easy -- because most players at that level have their own signature shoe. Below that is an All-Star level of players who have access to player-exclusive colorways that aren't available to the average fan -- or average NBA player.
For those without a top-tier sneaker deal and PEs aplenty, a new option has emerged: custom-painted kicks, which have become more popular than ever. Salvador Amezcua, better known as Kickstradomis, has been providing that custom touch for nearly 20 players this season, and he has worked with several in advance of this year's Christmas Day slate to provide new holiday-themed looks.
For Amezcua, a 30-year-old Los Angeles native, his love for sneakers dates back to his childhood.
"I loved shoes," Amezcua said, "but couldn't really afford anything cool."
Once he picked up a job selling shoes at Finish Line at 24 years old, he was able to get his hands on more shoes with his newfound employee discount. He then began combining his passion for sneakers with another of his childhood loves: art.
His first foray into the art world started when he was just 4, as he'd make his own comic books during his elementary days. He never took art classes in high school or seriously pursued a college program in the field, but he continued to develop his skills, eventually buying a batch of art supplies and taking his first stab at leaving his own mark on an empty canvased pair of Nikes.
Before he knew it, Amezcua was painting as often as possible, learning how to add more dimension to his designs along the way, more precise lettering and graphics that could be appreciated up close. As his skills improved, so did his profile and visibility in the sneaker community. By early 2016, he was invited to showcase his series of "Back To The Future"-inspired customs atop iconic Nike models like the Air Jordan IV, Air Jordan XI and Kobe 11 at a Sneaker Con event.
However, en route to the convention's exhibit -- what would've been the highlight of his custom work to date -- he was involved in a car accident, and he never made it to the event.
"That accident ended up sidelining me for a complete year," he said.
While dealing with the aftermath of his accident, Amezcua ended up forging a friendship that would help to fuel his current standing among customizers in the league. Like all major custom artists, he had begun posting his work online, and he soon learned the power of social media and the network it allowed him to reach.
"I found out Karl-Anthony Towns had been following me on social media for a long time, and I reached out," Amezcua said.
Towns, the 2015 NBA draft's No. 1 pick, has long been a fan of flashy sneakers that tell a story. Unfortunately, his Size 20 feet have kept him limited on options, as he's been stuck primarily with Nike's Hyperdunk 2016 and 2017 models throughout his career. That's where Amezcua comes in.
"He ended up inviting me to his spot in L.A., and we talked for a few hours," Amezcua said. "He knew then that I was the guy to take his kick game to another level, and he wanted me to keep his feet fresh as often as possible."
The two have worked together on over a dozen custom-painted designs since, with Towns often texting ideas and concepts his way, and the shoes arriving as soon as a week later. While he's developed relationships with several players in bringing their concepts to life, none have been more instrumental to his growing network than Towns.
"Karl told me he loved my story of overcoming the accident and the fact I was an underdog in the custom world," Amezcua said. "He's become a great friend of mine now, and he resurrected the artist inside me."
Towns' custom "Love Trumps Hate" pair caught widespread attention at a Kentucky alumni game this fall, and he's also worn several Timberwolves-themed Hyperdunks this season. His Kanye West tribute pair honoring the 10th anniversary of the musician's "Graduation" album was an instant hit earlier this month.
For Christmas, the duo has worked up one of their favorite pairs yet, playfully dubbed "How KAT stole Grinchmas." Taking loose inspiration from Kobe Bryant's "Grinch" Zoom Kobe 6, the most iconic holiday-themed pair the league has seen, Towns' newest Hyperdunk design also features winter snowflakes across a starry backdrop, a candy cane Swoosh and the classic Grinch character along the collar.
As the 7-foot-1 center's unmistakable kicks started gaining attention around the league and in locker rooms, he was eager to send everyone Amezcua's way for more work.
"He's opened so many doors for me throughout not only the NBA, but also throughout the music industry," Amezcua said.
You'll also be able to find Kickstradomis customized pairs on players like Montrezl Harrell, the Clippers center who's become a frequent fan, and often switches his shoes at halftime to showcase more of his extensive sneaker collection. With input from Harrell, Amezcua painted a pair of the LeBron 8 V/2 in a "90s XMas" theme, highlighted by some of the 23-year-old center's favorite cartoon characters, like a Santa hat-donning SpongeBob SquarePants.
Amezcua also has custom pairs in store ahead for Adidas headliners James Harden and Damian Lillard, lending some extra layers to their respective Harden Vol. 1 and Dame 4 signature sneakers. He's crafted a Kobe tribute that Lakers guard Josh Hart wore at Bryant's recent jersey retirement ceremony, manifested a magical Disney-themed pair for Orlando Magic guard Shelvin Mack, painted a palm tree pair for Heat center Hassan Whiteside, and has also made Batman- and Iron Man-themed editions for Mavericks guard and noted movie fan Wesley Matthews.
As his work has hit the hardwood all season long on the feet of several players, it's still Towns who Amezcua has come to enjoy working with most. He'll forever be appreciative of the encouragement and help along the way, even if his massive pairs always take the longest to bring to life.
"Working on his Size 20 shoes is a gift and a curse, but I love it," he said. "There's more real estate for more detail, but definitely much more paint."