GOODRICH, Mich. — Finding comfortable shoes for a growing Michigan teen is no small feat.
Eric Kilburn Jr. is a 14-year-old high school freshman from Goodrich who can no longer fit into his size 22 sneakers. The 6-foot-10 player, who competes on his high school’s junior varsity football team, took a telephone call at his home on Wednesday and heard pro basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal on the other end of the line, the Detroit Free Press reported.
“I was flabbergasted,” Kilburn told the newspaper. “My soul left my body for a moment, I was so shocked.”
O’Neal, who wears a size 22 shoe, said he sympathized with Kilburn’s predicament, adding that his mother was unable to find proper-fitting shoes when the future NBA center was his age, the Free Press reported.
“We are so blown away by the support from not only our community, but the (am I dreaming?) nation, maybe even global,” Kilburn’s mother, Rebecca Kilburn, wrote in a Facebook post.
Eric Kilburn Jr. received a letter from Reebok on Thursday, along with five pairs of size 22 shoes, his mother said.
“Hoping these shoes we created for Shaq could be a fit and offer you relief,” the company wrote in a handwritten note.
A friend of the family had found six pairs of size 22 basketball shoes in Arizona at Nike outlet about a year ago, MLive.com reported. They were the same kinds made for NBA player Tacko Fall, who stands 7 feet, 6 inches tall and played for the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
But those shoes were getting tighter because Kilburn is still growing.
Last Sunday, Robb Cropp, Under Armour’s senior director of footwear development, came to Michigan and scanned and measured the teen’s feet, the Free Press reported. Puma plans to do the same, according to the newspaper.
Custom-made shoes would probably take two months to design and deliver.
“We are in rarified space, there are not that many people in the world in these sizes,” Cropp told Hometown Life. “We had to help. We know the importance of sports to kids and their development.”
Max Staiger, head of basketball operations for Puma, said he believes his company can build customized shoes for Kilburn.
“There is no mold size for this, because it’s such a rarity from a mass production perspective,” Staiger told the Free Press. “What we will make looks and feels like a normal shoe, with just a little tweak.
“We’ve done this before with no issue at all.”
Kilburn said he is amazed at how his story has attracted so much attention.
“It’s crazy. I mean, I am going to be in comfortable-fitting cleats and shoes and I am astounded at the doors this has opened for me,” he told the newspaper. “I am excited to see where this goes. Thank you.”
He was even more excited when he traded texts with O’Neal on Thursday.
“When him and I were texting about shoes, (Shaq) said, ‘There’s much more coming big man. Love you,’” Kilburn told Hometown Life. “This is the ultimate.”