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Storied Kicks: The sneaker stories of SJ Belangel and CJ Cansino

If you ask any hooper the most important thing they have to decide on before getting ready for a game, it’s gotta be the shoes.

WORDS by Kobe Dayao

If you ask any hooper the most important thing they have to decide on before getting ready for a game, it’s gotta be the shoes. 

Well, it could also be a bunch of other things but the sneakers are, hands down, a top priority for anybody looking to drop some big points in their next barangay league. The sneakers not only have to work well—helping you break ankles, torch your defender, that type of work—but they also have to be able to turn some heads while doing so. You look good, you play good. At least that’s what they say. 

Most of the time, these are what players look for when choosing the right pair of kicks to compliment their game. But beyond those functional and aesthetical aspects, a part of what makes choosing the right sneaker such a special thing are the stories that people associate with that pair. Whether it’s a memory from your youth, a memorable game that you played well in, or a special association with someone in your life, sneakers hold insurmountable meaning from person to person. 

It’s not all that uncommon for sneakers to be part of the storytelling aspect of the game, or to be the reason why those stories happen in the first place. Since MJ’s first signature shoe was banned from the league for not having the “right” colors, athletes, and fans alike have used footwear to constantly tell stories; either on a personal level, or on a greater-game perspective. But just as the Jordan 1’s black-and-red colorway served as a representation for a moment in basketball history, the shoe itself was part of the history-making process. That’s why when you bring up the 1s in any conversation, there’s one word that comes to mind, “banned.”

But whether it be an on-court tale or a real-life narrative, sneakers have their own set of stories for different people. The Jordan 1 may be associated by the general audience as “the shoe that wasn’t allowed”, but for some, the same sneaker could represent other things; a memory of their 10th birthday; the time they hit a game-winner in their high school championship game; or the memory of walking down the street to your local basketball court on the weekends for the Sunday clinics. Screams from your coach may or may not be included. 

One shoe, a dozen different stories.  

As the years go on, more hoopers, especially the youngbloods in the collegiate ranks, continue to create their own stories with their most cherished footwear. I had the opportunity to talk sneaks with two of the UAAP’s brightest stars and ask how the sneakers in their life helped tell and create their stories. 

SJ Belangel, Adidas Pro Model

Ever since he stepped into the UAAP scene, SJ Belangel has hit a plethora of big-time shots for the blue and white—both the Ateneo and Gilas Pilipinas kind—and has been laced up in some impressive kicks while doing so; equally impressive as his jump shot. 

SJ attributed his love for sneakers to his dad who, through SJ’s testament, was the true collector in the family. 

“Na-influence ako ng dad ko since my dad is a sneaker-collection kind of person. Dati pa, mahilig na siya sa shoes eh. Doon din ako nahasa, sa kanya, na mag-collect din.

As a young hooper, SJ had the opportunity to take him and his dad’s love for sneakers to different heights once he inked an endorsement deal with one of the game’s sneaker giants.

“When I first got endorsed by Adidas, nung Grade 9 ako, doon ako nagsimula talaga mag-collect ng sapatos. ‘Yung bagong labas palang NMDs, that’s what we collected. It was a dream come true. Dati, nanghihiram lang ako ng sapatos para maka laro, para makalabas,” said SJ.

“For me, knowing my back story, namamangha ako. Dati nanghihiram ka lang, ngayon, binibigay nalang sayo. It was a blessing from God na binigyan ako ng opportunity to represent adidas.”

During the first year of his contract, SJ had the opportunity to hoop in one of the stripes’ most sought-after models, the Crazylight Boost. With the lightweight build of the sneaker and the addition of Boost cushioning, it was the perfect mix of comfortability and performance for the young guard. 

“Crazylight Boost, ’yun ang ginamit ko nung Grade 9 ako sa Ateneo. I remember nung Gilas rin ‘yung Crazylight Boost gamit ko hanggang mag-Grade 10 to 11. I’m usually into comfort so for me, it was the best shoe talaga.

The Crazylight would go on to be one of the many sneakers in SJ’s arsenal as he progressed from the juniors division into the seniors. The relationship between SJ and Adidas may have taken a pause during his first few years in Ateneo, but the stripes came back on his feet right in time for SJ to hit one of the biggest shots in his career. 

You might have heard about this before; 2.9 seconds left on the clock, Philippines versus Korea, game knotted at 78, SJ Belangel sprints to the wing, pump fakes, then banks a 3-pointer to clinch the country a spot in the FIBA Asia Cup. Pretty cool moment.

SJ did all of that laced up in the Adidas Pro Model 2G, a revamped version of the original Pro Model from 1960. When I asked him why he picked that specific model to hoop in that day, it was as if everything he said prior came full circle when he mentioned that the suggestion came from none other than the man that started it all for him. 

“Actually, pina-try sa akin ‘yun ni papa kasi dati ‘yun ‘yung pinakasikat na shoes na pang laro noong panahon nila. Pro Model kasi OG talaga ‘yung sapatos na ‘yun eh. For me, nagustuhan ko ‘yung comfort nung tina-try ko palang in practice. ‘Yung Pro Model talaga ang masasabi kong go-to ko as of the moment,” SJ said.

From the OG, to the prodigy. What was once a sneaker that held memories from his father’s youth, is now a sneaker that carries a memory for an entire country. And we have SJ’s dad to thank for that. SJ helped a bit too, hitting that shot and whatnot. 

The Pro Model will undoubtedly be closely linked to SJ, and it’s no surprise that he’s having thoughts of keeping that specific sneaker in a special place after all it’s been through with him. 

“‘Yung isang reason na hindi ko nadala ‘yung blue ko na Pro Model [sa Asian Games], naisip ko na maraming nangyari sa sapatos na ‘to, which is memorable and life changing for me. ‘Di ko naman in-expect dati na mangyayari ‘yun eh. ‘Yung time na pumasok ‘yung shot, iba na ‘yung impact na narating ng sapatos na ‘yun,” said SJ.

Don’t be shocked if you see SJ post a picture on the ‘gram one of these days with those blue Pro Models in a crisp and clean acrylic case.

The memory that SJ shares with that moment, that play, and those sneakers, will be a memory he’ll be able to tell to the little boys and girls who watched him take and make that shot. It’ll be a story that he can pass onto the next generation of talent equally looking to make history as he did. Then, at the end of that story, he can pull up those blue and white Pro Models that have been tucked away nicely in a glass case. The association between those sneakers and SJ will always be synonymous. And every time that shoe is seen, we’ll all be remembering that moment, that shot, and that kid from Bacolod who took it. 

“Having those memories with me, I would cherish those memories for a long time. For me having those sneakers, nag f-flashback lagi eh. Everytime I see those shoes, ito ‘yung sapatos na naka-shoot ng buzzer beater. Maaalala mo talaga lagi ang mga magagandang memories na nangyari. Ito ‘yung sapatos na umiba ng buhay ko,” he said.

CJ Cansino…Entire collection

For CJ Cansino, his sneaker collecting journey started just a year before his seniors debut with the UST Growling Tigers. It was also the same year he bagged the UAAP Season 80 juniors MVP. I guess you could say the “look good, play good” fable rung true for the rising star from Valenzuela. 

“2017, Grade 12 ako nun, nung nasa UST ako, doon ako nag-start mag-collect talaga. Doon ako nag-start na magkaroon ng sariling pera para makabili. Noong nagkaroon na [ng pera], nung kumikita na galing sa mga endorsements, allowance, doon ako nag-start,” said CJ.

Starting off his collection with money from his own pockets was something CJ always had his mind set to. The classic demeanor of working hard for the things you want and are passionate about is something the future-Maroon star took pride in. 

“Sobrang mahilig ako sa sneakers. Sa akin, personally, gusto ko ‘yung sapatos dahil passion ko talaga eh. I can’t explain why, pero love ko lang talaga ‘yung sneakers. Pero ako kasi ‘yung tipong tao na ayokong nagpapabili sa parents, sa tita ko, ayoko ng ganun. Gusto ko ‘yung pinaghihirapan ko para makabili.”

Since the start of his collecting days, CJ has had an act for being laced up with some head-turning footwear, both on and off the court. From limited-edition Kobes, to first-release colorways of both Nike and Jordan brand models, there was no telling what was next on CJ’s rotation. And as hard as it was to answer which sneaker was his top amongst the rest, he recalled a particular one that reminded him of his roots. 

“Pinaka-favorite ko na nabili nun is ‘yung Sean Wotherspoon Air Max. Nung senior high favorite ko siya pag naka type-B [uniform]. Feel ko kapag medyo okay na ‘yung budget ko, kapag medyo stable na ako, hahanap ulit ako nung pair na ‘yun eh. Kasi iba ‘yung impact niya sa akin eh. Iniisip ko pag bumalik sa akin ‘yun, parang nasa UST ulit ako.” 

Seemingly enough, the Sean Wotherspoon Air Max 97/1—noted by Mr. Wotherspoon himself—was inspired by vintage/heritage pieces from the 80s to the 90s. A sneaker that was rooted from the past, is also a sneaker that sparks memories from it, at least for CJ. 

Unfortunately, those Air Maxes are no longer part of Cansino’s collection. Along with a dozen other sneakers, CJ had to let go of all but three pairs to help pay for his mother’s medical expenses. A decision he did not hesitate to make despite having deep memories with his footwear. At the time of this writing, CJ’s mom is all and well, but when the news struck at first, he was all but. The immediate thought of how to help his parents pay for all the expenses was a thought that kept him up at night. Every option was on the table, any way possible, whatever it took. 

“Naghahanap ako ng iba’t-ibang option kung meron. Nag co-computer ako noon eh so nag-iisip na ako paano makahanap ng pera. Meron naman akong savings kaso hindi rin sapat eh. Kulang pa, kailangan pa. Kung mayroon ako mapiga nun, pipigain ko talaga eh,” said CJ.

Then, at the corner of his eye, the stacks of head-turning sneakers would turn his. 

“Nung paglingon ko, sabi ko ‘dami ko pala sapatos, ba’t di ko nalang ibenta?’. So, yun. Nung pumasok sa isip ko, syempre nalungkot rin ako kasi ‘yung collection ko na ‘yun, ‘yun ang kasama ko simula nung nag-start ako mag-basketball. Pero, nung naisip ko ‘yun, sabi ko sige, sapatos lang naman ‘to eh. Doon nalang ako sa makakatulong muna ako,” said CJ.

CJ’s been known for handing out a couple of flashy assists throughout his career. But none compares, even in the slightest, to the assist he made to his parents. And he made that assist quicker than any other pass he’s made in his lifetime. 

“Gabi ‘yun eh, mga 1am. Pag-picture ko, pag-post ko sa [Instagram], wala pang isang oras, nabenta na lahat. Natuwa naman ako na maraming tumulong sa ganun. Hindi ko naisip ‘yun, na one time na magagamit ko [‘yung sneakers]. ‘Yung pag co-collect kasi ng sneakers, ‘yun ‘yung parang nakakapagpasaya sa akin, nakakabawi ng pagod. Hindi talaga pumasok sa isip ko na magagamit ko ‘yun for emergency funds. Eh kailangan i-sacrifice. Alam ko namang kaya ko pang bilhin to pag nagtrabaho pa ako. At least nakatulong pa ako sa parents ko,” said CJ.

Having the highly sought-after and rare sneakers are cool and all, but paying it forward to the people who supported you from the get-go? That’s LeBron-James-building-a-school levels kind of cool. Though it wasn’t an easy thing to do, there weren’t any second thoughts either for CJ. 

Many would say that sneakers don’t hold any real value unless you’re able to “flip” them for double its price. There are very few left who gauge a sneaker’s worth on the stories they made with it, or the memories that flutter when they see it. The footwear we choose to rock each day, each game, are more than just pieces of fabric and rubber glued together. They’re more than the x-amount price tag that comes along with it. And most of all, they’re more than just material things we hold on to impress our peers.

To a lot of people, sneakers are pieces of memories that hold close to. They’re our own personal memorabilia, graded PSA-10, either kept in a glass case or passed on to the next person who’ll then create their own memories.