PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. — Sometime last summer, Roly Padron was hanging out at his house, located in a modest suburban golf course community outside Miami, when his phone buzzed from an incoming text. It was Ray Allen, basketball Hall of Famer, and he wanted to give former President Barack Obama a pair of customized Air Jordan golf shoes for an upcoming birthday.
So Padron went to work. After receiving a couple of pairs from Nike, he carefully stripped the protective clearcoat from the section of the shoe to be painted using acetone and cotton balls, lightly sanded it, created a stencil of the elephant-print treatment he planned to apply, which traces to His Airness’ early days, and emblazoned the number 44 near the heal of each shoe.
“Ray said [Barack] loved them,” Padron says. “I’m like, Is this a dream?”
More like just another day in the crazy life of a 41-year-old former property manager turned one of the hottest artists in the increasingly growing world of custom sneakers and golf shoes. How Padron, with no formal art training to speak of, got to this point is an even crazier story than having a two-time NBA champion and 10-time All-Star ask him to design a pair of shoes for the former leader of the free world. It’s a classic Miami hustle, with a twist because it’s an honest one.
Padron grew up nearby, in working-class Hialeah, where he was mostly into three things as a kid: sports, art and sneakers. His mom would buy him one new pair of shoes a year—the Jordan III, with that aforementioned iconic elephant print, was his favorite—and he’d wear the soles out of them.
One day when Padron was around 13, he was with his mom when she stopped at a shoe-repair store to have a pair of heels fixed. Padron, who often spent time doodling during class, noticed cans of spray paint behind the counter that the owner used to touch up the women’s shoes. And that generated an idea.
Padron returned to the store and bought a can of spray paint from the owner. He took it home, put masking tape around the edges of his beat up Jordan XI Concords and painted the white uppers black, matching the black patent-leather lower portion of the shoe. When he showed up at school the next day, his friends ogled at the shoes and asked one question Where did you get those?
The attention was intoxicating.
“Whenever my sneakers got beat up, I’d take a sharpie or some paint and do something to set them apart,” Padron said. “I’d bring some new life to them.”
Eventually, real life got in the way.
After high school, Padron tried college but decided early on it wasn’t for him. He had to, however, find work when his girlfriend became pregnant and the couple got married. Eventually, he settled into a job as a property manager at a local condo development.
That same year, 1996, Tiger Woods turned pro, and the apartment complex Padron had just moved into was offering a new station called the Golf Channel.
“I borrowed my brother-in-law’s clubs, some old Wilsons, and started playing at a local par-3 course and ran into a high school buddy of mine there,” Padron said. “And we kept on playing.”
Instantly, Padron, who grew up playing baseball, fell in love with the game. To him, it was the perfect mix of two of his loves: athleticism and artistry.
Combining it with his third love—sneakers—would take a while longer, however, as Padron continued to work as a property manager for 15 years before getting fired from the job for laziness. “I was slacking,” he says. “I hated it.”
At this point, Padron had separated from his first wife and was remarried to his current wife, Shay. They were living with her parents to save money when Padron started caddieing at LaGorce Country Club in Miami Beach to make some cash until he could land a new full-time job. All the while, he kept painting shoes, mostly as a hobby, including a pair of TW 13s that he wore while he caddied.
On a hot summer day in 2014, the caddiemaster told Padron he had a good loop for him but didn’t say who it was. When Padron showed up on the range, he saw it was the NBA’s king of three-pointers.
“I thought, holy sht*,” Padron said of seeing Allen. “So I said to myself at some point, I gotta let him know I do this on the side and would love to do some work for him.”
At the time, Padron’s “work” had been limited to friends and family and a few posts on Instagram. There was also the delicate balance of not coming across as a hustler trying to get in the deep pockets of an NBA superstar who just wanted to play golf.
Standing alone on the 14th hole with Allen, Padron made his move. He told Allen that he loved his kicks, a pair of Jordan golf shoes that hadn’t been released to the public (Allen as a Jordan athlete had special privileges). Padron then explained how he designed his own shoes and that he’d love to do some work for him.
“I’m thinking, like Eminem says, you got one shot,” Padron said of his request to Allen.
After the round, as Padron cleaned Allen’s clubs, Allen asked to see his work. Padron gave him his phone, and Allen kept swiping. Then he asked for Padron’s number and told him he’d connect with him in a few weeks.
“Imagine what those three weeks were like,” Padron said.
True to his word, Allen texted and told Padron to meet him at a gas station in downtown Miami. When Padron showed up, Allen opened the back of his Range Rover to more than a dozen boxes of Jordan golf shoes. He told Padron to grab as many as he wanted and to do his thing.
Padron took four pairs and a week later met Allen back at LaGorce. Allen loved them so much, he told fellow NBA star Penny Hardaway, and Hardaway told someone else. Not long after, Padron created Nomad Customs—named after his oldest son, 22-year-old Damon, spelled backward, and his new business venture was on its way.
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Custom kicks have been a part of basketball for years, with the number of artists growing steadily. Baseball and other sports soon followed. Golf, perhaps not surprisingly, was late to the trend, but in recent years it has taken off.
In 2018, Puma asked Padron, who plays to a 2-handicap, to design a pair of shoes for Rickie Fowler as a way to honor the late Arnold Palmer at his eponymous annual PGA Tour event. Already unique in that the shoe was a high top, Padron’s craftsmanship incorporated Bay Hill’s umbrella logo splashed across the spikes. When Padron hand-delivered them during tournament week, Fowler was blown away, saying, “Wow, that’s some good painting.”
Since then, Padron’s work has been featured on the feet of Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas, Jason Day, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Bryson DeChambeau, Gary Woodland, Tony Finau and Harold Varner III, to name a few.
How far has golf come in the world of increasingly custom kicks?
At the Tour Championship in August, Koepka made headlines not only for what he didn’t wear when he posed nude for ESPN’s Body Issue but also for what he did wear that week at East Lake, a pair of Nike Off-Whites, which were outfitted with a golf sole and most noticeably featured a zip tie attached to the shoe.
“It’s fashion, bro,” Koepka said when asked about them after his second round that week. “This is such like a typical golf nerd, like 40-year-old white man … I don’t know how to explain it. It’s the Off-White. It’s fashion. I guarantee the whole golf world has no clue what Off-White is, but it’s fresh. If you’re a sneakerhead, you’ll get it.”
Though Padron didn’t design those shoes for Koepka, he continues to collaborate with more golfers. When we met in his office—a garage attached to his house that he has converted into a makeshift art studio—he was working on pairs for Koepka, Reed and Finau for the 2019 Presidents Cup.
Meanwhile, the texts keep coming.
A couple of years after his chance meeting with Allen, a text came in from a number he didn’t recognize. The message started off with, “This is Bryce Harper …” Early last year, Andre Agassi texted, hoping Padron could help him. And on a Saturday night at 1 a.m., while Padron was in bed with his wife, he got a text from Ken Griffey Jr., telling him to call at a different number, which turned out to be a service that would connect the two men.
As for Padron's inspiration? Like many artists, it comes in all forms, notably his kids and from other artists. It also comes at all hours of the day. Sometimes an idea will hit Padron at 3 a.m., and he’ll jump out of bed, head down to the garage and start working on it.
Padron has come a long way from those first few shoes he created for Allen, whom he charged $200 for each pair. His work commands a higher price tag, $500 to $2,500, depending on how complicated the design is and how long it takes—ranging from a few hours to a few days depending on how elaborate the job. He’ll do anywhere from 15-20 pairs a month. The math beats property management.
Padron also has also stayed true to his roots, continuing to work out of his garage to avoid additional overhead, though he does employ an assistant two days a week to do the dirty work of prepping the shoes for paint, which allows him more time to focus on the art.
So coveted is Padron that two shoemakers are considering employing him to create a line within their brand. “That’s the ultimate dream,” Padron says, “to have my name on a shoe.”
He’s on his way.