Richard “Rip” Hamilton is no stranger to the spotlight or the swag. He’s been influencing sneaker culture since the ‘90s and 2000s, eras when he made his mark on the game of basketball. During his college days in Connecticut, Rip rocked serious heat, including when he and the team won the national title in 1999. The Coatesville, Pennsylvania-native was then picked seventh overall in the NBA Draft, became a three-time NBA All-Star and played a total of 14 seasons in the league.

Rip always stood out on the court, though he also understood what it meant to be a team player. He was fortunate to have some incredible guidance over the years, from his coaches in Connecticut and Detroit to MJ himself in Washington, D.C. Despite only being teammates for the 2002-2003 season, MJ had a lasting impact on Rip’s career, particularly right before Rip’s championship run with Detroit in 2004. It was Rip’s championship mentality that convinced MJ to sign him to Jordan Brand. 

Back in those days, Rip started wearing a clear, plastic face mask to protect his nose, and it became his signature game-day accessory. We caught up with Rip to reflect on his career, his nickname, the face mask and starring in the new Jordan Brand x Travis Scott collection campaign.

You played college ball in Connecticut during what many consider the golden age for sneakers. What was your favorite pair to hoop in back in college?

My favorite pair was the Air Jordan XIV, the team color ones that I wore during the national championship game. They were special for me, playing on a big stage. There was no better way to represent MJ, especially with all of the great accomplishments he had in his career. 

It’s a funny story because we were a Nike team, and Nike wanted me to wear the new Foamposites. I liked them, but at the last minute, I threw the Jordans on my feet. I had to do it, man. I had to represent MJ and his legacy. I wanted to be like him, and I wanted to play like him. There was no better way to do it than to have those 14s on my feet. It was all about your swag. If your swag is great, you play great. 

You had to stand out. Speaking of that game, what do you remember about winning the national championship in 1999?

Well, everyone and their mama thought Duke was going to win the championship game. They had a great squad, but we thought we were the better team. Our confidence was at an all-time high. We felt that it was our year. This was our opportunity. I remember before the game, our coach walked into the locker room. He usually wanted the locker room to be quiet, but he was like, “Why is everybody quiet? Talk, play music, be loose. This game is fun.” That took a lot of pressure off of us, as young kids, to just come out there, play our game and have a good time doing it.

You’ve got a classic nickname, as well. Everyone knows you by it, but a lot of people probably don’t know where it came from.

Yeah, Rip. I got it from my father. One day, I asked my grandma, “Why did you nickname my dad Rip?” She replied, “Because your father used to tear his diapers off every time we would put them on. He would rip it off and run around the house butt naked.” That’s how he got his nickname. I’m from a small town of around 10,000 people. In the town, my dad is known as Big Rip. When I go back home, everybody still calls me Little Rip, even though I grew to be 6’7”, and I’m probably taller than 95% of the town. [Laughs]

“MJ always had my back because I earned it.”

You got to hoop with MJ during your time in D.C. What was it like playing with him?

Oh man, it was the greatest experience of my basketball career. A lot of times people say, “Hey, it had to be winning the championship in Detroit, or it had to be winning the national championship with Connecticut.” No, it was playing with Michael Jordan. As a kid, I and many others idolized MJ on and off the court — how he carried himself, the way he wore his little knee sleeve right on the calf, the wristband on the arm… He was the guy. That’s how you measured your game and your success. I had the unbelievable opportunity to play with him and have him in the same locker room as me. I was able to be a student. There’s no better information than what you’ll get from the guy who played your position at the highest level.

One thing that I always loved about MJ is that he’s down to earth. One day, I was in practice with him. He took two hard dribbles to the basket, pulled up and knocked it down. He said, “Hey, Rip. Add that to your game, the medium-range jump shot. That’s the hardest play in the game to guard.” I mean, that’s real data. People would pay for that type of data, right? A lot of people always say, “Man, you had one of the best mid-range games.” A lot of that came from being in the gym with Michael: watching him, learning from him and having him walk me through it. It was one of the most amazing feelings and one of the most important moments in my career.

That kind of advice is something you can’t buy, it’s invaluable. What do you remember about signing with Jordan Brand? Are there any special memories that stick out? 

I remember MJ would walk into the locker room with all the samples before they were even released. I figured he was doing that to get co-signs from us, the younger generation. Every time he walked into the locker room, I’d be like, “Hey M, you got to put me on Team Jordan. I go to war with you every day. You know I won’t back down off of anything. I got your back, just like you got my back.”

He had different ways of challenging me, man. It motivated me. He told me that Team Jordan was for All-Stars, for champions. I wasn’t either yet. I said, “Okay, remember you said that because once I become an All-Star, once I become a champion, you’re going to be my first phone call.” 

By the time I got to Detroit and won a championship, and became an NBA All-Star, my first call was to MJ. As soon as I called him, he just started laughing and was like, “Hey, Rip, don’t worry. I got you. Anything you need from this day on, I got you. I’m going to take care of you.” MJ always had my back because I earned it. He made me earn his respect. It was probably the best thing for me, especially as a young guy trying to make a name for myself in the NBA.

You mentioned the challenge to become both an All-Star and an NBA champion. What was the best part about winning the title in 2004 with Detroit?

The best part is that I did it with my brothers. I did it with a special group. We understood that in order for us to win, we had to do it by committee. We didn’t worry about the outside noise. 

When you play professionally, a lot of people worry about all the wrong stuff from the sidelines, or they just look at the numbers they put up. In Detroit, I was with a group of guys who knew that we were only as good as each other. We were the best team in basketball. That’s how we felt.

The team basketball you guys played stands out more than anything. Speaking of outside noise from folks, let’s talk about the face mask you wore after your nose injuries. How does it feel when you look back on wearing it, especially in these times, when people are wearing their own types of masks?

Not everyone knows that I broke my nose two times before I decided to wear the mask. The trainer would come up to me and say, “Hey, Rip, you have to wear a mask.” I didn’t want to, at first. It reminded me of being a kid during Halloween. I couldn’t imagine playing with a piece of plastic on my face for an entire game. I remember one of my teammates, one of the toughest guys of our era, saying, “Rip, you have to wear that mask. You’re not going to mess up our opportunity to win a world championship.” Every time I broke my nose, I’d have to sit out six weeks for surgery. 

The first time I wore the mask, I hated it. I threw it on the ground. I broke numerous masks, but then I got used to it. I felt superhuman, like a superhero. At one point, I was like, you know what? I’m going to wear this for my entire career. This is going to separate me from everybody else. There’s a lot of great talent in the NBA, and this is going to be my mark.

We’ve been talking about a lot of elements that you purposefully built into your personal brand, from the mask to the mid-range game. Another aspect is #Holdat. Where does that come from, and what’s the story behind it?

I’m always trying to figure out different creative ways to document my journey. I try to think outside the box. #Holdat started when I was in Chicago. Every time one of my teammates would shoot a fade-away jump shot, he used to say, “Hold that.” You could hear it all the way in the second or third row of the arena. It became part of our slang. We’d say it anytime someone made a good play. We’d say it anytime someone wore a nice shirt or was super creative about something. “Hold that” was the validation. 

So you just wrapped up the photoshoot for Travis Scott’s next Air Jordan VI and apparel collaboration with Jordan Brand. How does it feel to be a part of this campaign?

It’s super exciting. It’s one of the greatest feelings for me personally because Travis is Travis. He’s a superstar, right? He has a very creative mind. 

I often talk about seeing the game from a different lens, seeing plays before they actually happen. When you talk about Travis and how artistic he is, it’s the same thing. I felt as though it was perfect. When Travis reached out, I was like, “Man, I’m all in. This is what I love. This is what I do.” 

To your point about doing things differently, through a different lens, what stands out to you about this new collection?

Oh man, it’s amazing. The Air Jordan VI is one of my favorites, even just to rock around the house. The materials are going to keep the shoe looking good no matter how old it gets. I love the glow-in-the-dark soles and the different lace colors, especially the bright orange. I like how he added another pocket to it. Now, people can be even more creative with the shoe and put different things in the pockets. The shorts are amazing, too. They’re funky. Like the kids say now, they’re swaggy, right? They’re lit, man. [Laughs] The whole collection is awesome. The day after the shoot, I put it all back on and just rocked it around the house. 

One more question for you. These days, it wouldn’t be an interview without this question. How have you been getting through the pandemic, and what has life been like for you these days?

Well, the pandemic has changed a lot of people’s lives. It’s been tough for everybody. It gave me an opportunity to spend more time with my kids and my family. A lot of times, we get caught up in this thing called life, right? We’re moving at a hundred miles per hour. It was probably the most time I’d ever spent in my home. I probably went a year without eating out. 

I started wearing a mask again, of course. Now, everybody has to wear a mask. It doesn’t look odd anymore, or it looks odder if someone’s not wearing a mask. I think this was a big reset button for everybody to realize what’s really important.

Anything else you want to add about being Jordan Brand family?

Big shout out to the Brand and big shout out to MJ. The thing that people don’t understand about MJ is that he’s a person, and he has a big heart. He’s been taking care of me from the day I signed to my retirement right now. Even though I’m not in the league shooting jump shots, winning championships or making the All-Star team, he still takes care of me with product, shoes, with everything. So big shout out to the GOAT. Yeah, he’s superhuman, but he’s also got a big heart.

The new Jordan Brand x Travis Scott collection releases April 30, 2021.

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