By Matt Wong
NEW YORK -- The sneakers flew in perfect rhythm. All three of them, one after the other after the other, as Tiki Barber showcased his hidden talent -- juggling.
Surrounded by cameras, the New York Giants' running back was savoring the moment. Until, well, he fumbled. And the sneakers tumbled to the ground.
But with Coach Coughlin nowhere in sight, Barber smiled, picked one up and admired the shoe -- the Reebok Pump 2.0, the first sneaker to automatically conform to the foot.
"I think I fall right in line with this Pump shoe," he said. "This year I am custom fit for the Giants. I inflate and adjust to whatever's around me."
Barber was at Reebok's launch party, along with the New York Knicks' Jamal Crawford and Jerome Williams, promoting the new generation of Pumps -- a version with no laces and no squeezable basketball on the tongue.
The actual pump now lies in the heel of the sneaker. So instead of manually pumping air into the chamber with your fingers -- ala Dee Brown in the 1991 Slam Dunk contest -- the air is released every time you take a step, with your actual heel doing the pumping. And after a few paces, the shoe conforms to the individual foot, providing an abundance of support.
But not an overabundance, thanks to a release button designed so the pressure never exceeds five pounds per square inch.
Following the trend of customization, Reebok is hoping to emulate the success of the iPod, video games and even food chains.
"Go into Burger King and it's still, 'Have it your way,'" said Bill McInnis, the designer of the shoe. "Go into Starbucks and you can have a cup of coffee 50 different ways."
But as much as Reebok believes in moving forward, the evening also celebrated the past, paying homage to the original Pumps, which launched in 1989. They showed clips of old commercials with Dominique Wilkins, Dennis Johnson and Boomer Esiason. And then, of course, Dee Brown pumping up his black high tops, then lifting off diagonally for the blind-lefty flush.
The flashbacks even had Crawford and Williams reminiscing about the good ol' days.
Crawford, who was already sporting a pair of all-black Pump 2.0 running shoes, recalled his old green and white Pumps with the orange basketball on the tongue. And Williams remembered how sweet his pair looked when combined with the long, striped sweatsocks he stole from his dad's drawer back in high school.
"That's how I intimidated (opponents)," Williams joked. "Reach down and pump them things up a couple of times, get in a defensive stance and go to work."
Did it help?
He grinned and said, "I'm in the NBA now."
As the only Reebok reps on the Knicks, Williams and Crawford can't wait until the basketball version of the Pump 2.0 comes out in February during the All-Star break so they can make their teammates jealous.
"When they see these shoes," said Williams, "they're all gonna get mad."
Matt Wong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.