The humble ‘Sticky Pad’ keeping NBA sneakers on the court

The Miami Heat’s Gabe Vincent and Max Strus sat in their lockers side by side in Madison Square Garden an hour before a game against the Knicks. Strus was eating vegetables and rice, and Vincent was putting on his uniform after shooting practice.

But Vincent stopped when he heard Strus talking about wiping the bottom of his shoes with the palms of his hands.

“Oh,” said Vincent in disbelief, “are you a lick and wipe guy?”

“I don’t lick,” Strus said, dropping his fork to respond. “I don’t lick. No no no.” His voice was tinged with indignation, as if Vincent had accused him of a crime. Vincent burst out laughing.

Many NBA players are particular, some even superstitious, about how they make sure their sneakers have enough traction for the court. Some use a variety of wiping methods: the maligned lick and wipe, in which they rub their saliva on their shoe soles, or a dry wipe, in which they use only their bare hands. Still, most rely on a wiping pad that sits on the sidelines of NBA arenas. It’s officially called the Slipp-Nott, but most players refer to it as a “sticky pad” or “sticky mat”.

“I feel like the sticky mat is a ritual at this point,” Sixers goaltender Shake Milton said. “That sounds like what you’re supposed to do.”

The Slipp-Nott was created in 1987 by Jorge Julian, who left a cozy job at Northrop Grumman in hopes of making basketball courts everywhere creakier with the sound of sneakers holding on tight.

There are translucent sheets on top of the Slipp-Nott covered in adhesive substances (Julian declined to share details for fear of helping his competitors). Once a sheet absorbs too much dust or dirt to function properly, the user can tear it off for a new one.

The sticky pad comes in different sizes, but the standard is 26 inches by 26 inches, so tall humans playing basketball can fit their feet in it. Some teams whose arenas have narrower sidelines, such as the Utah Jazz, order a small or medium size version. Pads can be as small as 15 by 18 inches, which is just big enough for a size 20 men’s shoe.

Julian’s first NBA buyer was the Los Angeles Clippers, who purchased the Slipp-Nott in 1988 for a discounted rate of $70 per pad and gave Julian an arena pass. At the time, players used wet towels and wiping methods to gain traction, so many were skeptical of the pad. To allay their concerns, Julian, using his personal pass, went into the locker room with a VHS tape recorder to record testimonials from sports coaches and players about the effectiveness of the pad.

Today, most teams use a Slipp-Nott and have custom pads with their team logos, but the price for these pads is now $588.

“It’s like my lifeline,” Golden State Warriors forward Anthony Lamb said. “I always play in the same shoes, so sometimes when I run out of shoes and my shoes are ruined, I’m going to need that sticky pad.”

Lamb performs in the black version of Nike’s Paul George 6 sneakers; worn pairs sit by his locker, with new ones in boxes. Sometimes he wears the “five games too many” shoes, he said, and they get slippery.

When the Warriors faced the New Orleans Pelicans in November, Lamb said, he didn’t reach the sticky mat before entering the game and Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram made a move that knocked back on the ground. Lamb was on the wrong end of a highlight and the butt of jokes in the Warriors locker room.

“My foot didn’t come down,” Lamb said, laughing and putting his face in his palms, “and I was like, fuck, I should have hit the sticky pad.”

Golden State forward Jonathan Kuminga might have the most shoes of any team member, with countless pairs often spread out in front of his locker and in his locker drawers.

While many players use the pad or a wiping method, Kuminga generally doesn’t rely on one or the other. He wipes the bottom of one shoe on top of the other, partly because it saves time, he says, and because he’s been doing it since he was a kid. Because of this, many of the shoes in Kuminga’s locker look brand new, except for the laces, which are torn and covered in dirt and dust.

“I hope one day, if I get my own shoe, maybe I can add something to my laces so that every time I wipe I don’t have to mess my laces anymore,” said Kuminga holding a pair of shoes. with blue laces that had been stained black.

Knicks big men Isaiah Hartenstein and Obi Toppin always finish their pre-game routine by wiping their shoes on the Slipp-Nott. Hartenstein sprints to the pad first, usually after the starters have been announced, and Toppin follows shortly after his teammate, ripping off a leaf when finished.

Hartenstein almost forgot to do his part of their routine before Game 5 against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, but Toppin tapped him on the chest and pointed him towards the pad.

“It’s a ritual for us for sure,” Hartenstein said. “We have to do it before every game, and I always come first. We almost fought once because he left first. This will never happen again.

After the creation of Slipp-Nott in the late 80s, Julian dominated the on-court traction market in the NBA. This changed in 2011 with the introduction of Court Grip, a bottled liquid product developed by Mission Athletecare that users could rub onto the bottom of their shoes. . Dwyane Wade, then-Heat star, was a partner.

Mission Athletecare founder and president Josh Shaw said then that it would “probably take six to 12 months for people to realize this is outdated”, referring to Slipp-Nott. A brief rivalry for traction supremacy in the field began, but it was Court Grip that ultimately became obsolete. The gray bottle has disappeared from the sidelines, and for now, the sticky pad has the hearts and soles of players across the NBA.

nytimes sport

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