Rockets’ Josh Christopher lands full-circle Jordan Brand shoe deal
After finding a passion for footwear thanks to his older brother Patrick, ‘JayGup’ looks to make his mark on — and off — court with the Jumpman
Just before returning to Houston for the start of his second NBA season, Rockets guard Josh Christopher dropped by his grandmother’s home in Carson, California, to share some good news.
“After a year from being drafted, I’m going to sign with Jordan Brand,” he said, beaming.
“Is this for real?” His grandmother, affectionately known as “Hane,” asked.
While the brand had sent the contract via DocuSign, the youngest of four wanted to print out the paperwork the old-fashioned way, inking the deal on the kitchen table of his grandmother’s house. This is where he and his brothers would play the game for hours on end as kids.
“It all started in the backyard,” his grandmother declared.
Now 20, Christopher’s ascent in hoops has come along with the recognition his style has long received as he looks to bring a new dynamic to the Jordan roster.
“I think having someone like me on the team might make Jordan want to push the limit a little more,” he said.
While million-plus followers across social media, nightly fashion shows via the Toyota Center tunnel walk, and explosive board-and-push play on the floor all factored into Jordan signing Christopher, there’s also a family lineage that’s connected him to the brand.
When I was creative director at sneaker magazine Sole Collector, Christopher’s older brother Patrick became the first college player featured in the magazine in 2008. Highlighted for his extensive collection of original Air Jordans, the eldest Christopher brother pulled out navy-hued originals to match his Cal Golden Bears uniforms, like the Obsidian 12 and 15 or Midnight Navy 16. It was issue 23, no less.
“If it wasn’t for Pat, I wouldn’t even really be into shoes like that. For real,” said Christopher. “He introduced me to kicks and Js predominantly. When it comes to shoes, it was always Js.”
Christopher relays that black and red Retro 11s were his first pair of Jordans and remembers winning his first Nike release raffle in 2012 in middle school and getting a black, cement and red pair of Jordan 4s.
A favorite family photo from an AAU tournament during the summer of 2013 shows Christopher in the 4s, his brother Caleb in the LeBron 10, and Patrick in “Oregon Ducks” Air Jordan 3s. Those black and yellow exclusives have long fetched well into the four figures since only 300 pairs were made.
“This is actually one of my most proud moments for him,” Patrick Christopher said of his brother landing the multiyear deal. “If anyone knows me, they know how big of an influence Michael Jordan has had on my life. I essentially chose to play at Berkeley because they were Jordan Brand at the time. For Josh to have the opportunity and to be chosen, it’s extremely fulfilling for me as an older sibling that operated in the same space.”
As Christopher joked in the original issue of Sole Collector, he chose Cal over both Texas and Kentucky in 2006 because of the access to exclusive sneakers that the Bears would enjoy as one of a handful of “Jumpman schools.” That was despite the recruiting pitch from his childhood friend and neighbor, Kentucky alum Tayshaun Prince.
For Christopher, growing up looking up to Patrick and his seemingly endless collection gave him the bug early on. When his brother played professionally in Turkey or France in the early 2010s, he’d often buy shoes online and have them shipped to their house in Compton. Christopher, not yet close to a size 14, would try them on to be like his brother.
Their close connection also led to Christopher’s nickname, which has become his social media handle across platforms. Patrick has long been dubbed “Fish” by friends and family,
“We were in the Compton house, going through all of his shoes,” recalled Christopher. “Our friend said, ‘Pat is the big fish, Caleb is the little fish, and Josh is the guppy.’ I started to run with it.”
A few weeks later, a friend merged the two together at a John Lucas Basketball Camp in Houston, calling him “JayGup” all weekend. It stuck ever since, with the nickname carrying him through a branding effort in high school that saw him launching his own logo T-shirts and being regularly featured by SLAM Magazine. The longtime “basketball bible” dubbed Christopher “the biggest personality in high school basketball.”
While many prep phenoms leave their hometowns for powerhouse programs or academies, Christopher decided to stay at nearby Mayfair High School.
“Mayfair is a public school and didn’t really have much,” he said. “Slippery courts, rims that were breaking off, and it showed the work that we were putting in.”
That work was noticed when Jordan Brand stepped up to sponsor the Monsoons during Christopher’s junior season.
“To get recognized as a public school and get a deal, to be able to put myself in that position and then have teammates and my brothers get kicks too – that felt really good,” he said.
The first shoes provided to the team were the same ones that Christopher had tracked down a few years earlier.
“Guys were going crazy when we got ‘Bred’ 11s or when we got Concords,” he continued. “Just to be able to see the joy that all the kicks and the gear put on people’s faces – kids in public school getting kicks was fire.”
The deal wasn’t just for new uniforms and sneakers either, with Christopher still appreciating the brand’s investment in his school and the future players’ future classes.
“They renovated our whole locker room. That locker room was beat down from decades,” he said. “They redid the whole thing, put in carpet, lockers, a TV, an Xbox and AC. They did everything.”
After being drafted 24th overall in the 2021 NBA draft – his draft suit was featured in Vogue and co-signed by designer Dapper Dan – Christopher was initially looking to play out the process of landing a sneaker deal. He and his representation at BDA Sports and WME engaged with more than six brands over the last year as he looked to highlight his on-court skills and off-court fashion during his rookie season.
“Everybody,” he said of the brand interest. “Adidas, Nike, Reebok, Converse, Li-Ning – everybody was tapping in.”
Though he wore Jordan Brand in high school, Christopher attended Arizona State, an Adidas school, for his lone collegiate season. His longtime close friend and LA-area high school star Shareef O’Neal, son of retired NBA player Shaquille O’Neal, led to interest from Reebok as the brand looks to find its footing in the NBA again. Dwyane Wade, who holds a lifetime deal with Li-Ning and his own Way of Wade brand, pushed the Chinese company to pursue a deal.
Everything changed when Jordan made its official offer over the summer.
“As soon as they brought it to the table, I was like, ‘Oh, it’s done,’ ” he said.
In recent seasons, the Jordan roster of NBA athletes has hovered around 30 players or less than 7% of the league.
“Jordan Brand is superselective with who they pick and who they want to be part of the team,” he added. “Jordan Brand is like a big family, and it’s about culture on court and off court.”
On a young Houston team with several Adidas, Puma, and Nike endorsers, he’ll also be the lone Jumpman endorser.
Fittingly, Christopher had his initial “breaking the ice” meeting with Jordan reps during New York Fashion Week in September. To begin the season, he’s been rotating a batch of recent performance models from the brand.
“The Lukas are my favorites right now,” he said. “The Lukas, the CP3s, I got a pair of Jordan 28s and the 37 Lows are cool, too. I’m gonna try to sneak in some Retros every once in a while too. When the ‘Cherry’ 11s come out, I’m playing in those!”
Off the court, the League Fits devotee has been rotating between Off-White 2 Lows and a batch of Retros that he bought on the day he signed his contract, including Doernbecher 12s, the grey 5Lab3s and “SoleFly” 16s.
“I think any fit I throw on should be on League Fits,” Christopher joked.
As he finds his way during his sophomore season in the NBA, he’s looking to make the most of that blend of on-court play and off-court style during an era where social media stardom as a high schooler can sometimes be too much, too soon for players on the rise.
“He’s never been handed anything and has always had to outwork the narrative of popularity in a space outside of basketball,” said Patrick Christopher. “He’s a gym rat, he’s a worker and a student of the game. In some instances, it’s really, if you can dress like that, you better have the game to match. Not everyone does.”
It takes a long pause for Patrick Christopher to rattle off the pairs from his collection that were handed down to Christopher once “Gup” hit an early high school growth spurt and was also a size 14.
“Let’s see — ’cause he stole them all,” he joked.
White and gold BIN 23 Jordan 9s were worn during a Mayfair game that rapper YG attended. “Ferrari” 14s didn’t necessarily match, but Christopher still broke those out. Patrick Christopher laughs when thinking about the pair of 2005 “Grape” Jordan 5s that didn’t make it a full game as the outsole peeled off mid-play on his youngest brother.
As it turned out, Patrick Christopher eventually sold most of his collection – just as his younger brother was making his mark in high school – to help fund his luxury clothing brand Sloan & Bennett and his second chapter as a fashion designer. The brand name takes inspiration from the cross streets of the house in Compton originally purchased by his grandparents in 1977 that Patrick Christopher bought in 2017.
As Christopher often does, he credits his family as the source of creativity that he’s long displayed.
“My dad is a musician and artist,” said Christopher. “Just watching my dad paint stuff and use all of his canvases, and playing his keys late at night, influenced me in the arts. When it comes to the arts, it influenced who I am now.”
Christopher leaned on his longtime creative collaborator, videographer, and editor Cam Beverly to announce the deal on his social channels. With a monochrome setting in an empty gym and just the bounce of a basketball, the camera slowly inches closer, eventually revealing a Jumpman logo across Christopher’s chest.
It’s a remake of the dramatic Heart ad that Jordan launched during his return season to the NBA in 2002.
“Paying homage to Mike, but with a spin on it,” he said. “Trying to show love to Mike in that way, and still make it Josh fly.”