Meet the Texas Teacher Behind Arkansas Basketball Coach Eric Musselman’s Custom Nike Shoes


After a full day of working as an art teacher in the Texas Independent School District, Marla Burleson comes home, sits at her dining table, and pulls out a pair of white Nike shoes. immaculate.

She first draws her creations on the white sneakers, giving herself a sort of stencil when she puts paint on leather. There is very little room for error once the brushes are out. Still, Burleson finds the painting relaxing.

This is partly why Burleson agreed to design and paint custom shoes for Arkansas men’s basketball coach Eric Musselman for wear to every game.

Burleson’s son-in-law Mike Ekanem is the director of player development for the Musselman squad. When Musselman brought up wanting custom kicks throughout the season, Ekanem knew exactly who to ask.

Ahead of Arkansas’ season opener against Mercer, Ekanem sent Burleson a pair of Musselman’s United Nikes and asked him to design them with the names and numbers of the players.

“I did it for him, and then within days he sent me a box with a lot of shoes in it,” said Burleson, 57. “So I thought, ‘Hey, I guess he liked them. “”

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Burleson has since painted over a dozen pairs of shoes for Musselman, mostly Nike Air Force 1. Another artist, Josiah Keys, painted a pair, but the rest were the work of Burleson.

Musselman said the shoes were part of an effort to generate interest in the program, for example, a Burleson pair painted with the names of The new signatories of Arkansas.

“We’re just trying to promote our program, to be creative, to be ahead of the curve, to do certain things before other programs start to copy it,” Musselman said. “Who knows what the next step will be? But it will be something creative that we think of, and then someone else can copy it a few months later.”

Marla Burleson (right) poses at the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City with her daughter Hannah Ekanem (left) and grandsons Major and Tye Ekanem.

Painting was a way for the former coach to relax

Art has been a part of Burleson’s life for a long time. She has been an educator for 35 years and has painted watercolors for fun, shoes for friends and murals for schools. Prior to this school year, she had coached basketball, volleyball, track and cross country, and painting was a way to relax.

Since switching entirely to teaching rather than training, Burleson said working on shoes for Musselman has added a new challenge to her artistic hobby. He combines his life as a coach with his life as an artist.

“A lot of people do different things to relax the mind,” she said. “I’ve always loved painting, so it’s a lot more fun.”

Musselman’s shoes weren’t the first she painted. She has made many pairs of canvas shoes such as Vans, but leather Nike is a different beast.

“Leather athletic shoes have become such a big fashion,” she said. “A lot of times (artists) use an airbrush and stencils. I’m old school, so I always hand paint them.”

Burleson has said hand painting is “boring,” but she enjoys the process. A pair can take three to four days if they work on it during the week, as they can only work after school. She sketches her design on the shoes in pencil, then adds her base coats of paint before entering with small paintbrushes to add detail.

The toughest pair Burleson has painted so far is also the one she’s most proud of: the classic Hall of Fame design Musselman wore to the Kansas City tournament. She had to recreate the tournament logo, and she filled the swoosh and the back of the shoe with a basketball motif.

“She’s an amazing artist, and to think that she can do some of the designs that she does on a shoe is a bit mind-boggling,” Musselman said.

Burleson said the best part about working with Musselman is that she has room to be creative. It will give her a general idea of ​​what he wants on the shoes, but the colors and design is up to her.

Musselman still gives Burleson credit for sharing photos of his work on social media. This has led to many requests for custom pairs from fans.

“I’m working on a few right now, but they also know that if Muss calls, everything else is put on hold,” Burleson said. “Being able to do the shoes makes watching the games even more fun. I feel like I’m more a part of what’s going on.”

This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: How Arkansas Basketball Coach Eric Musselman’s Custom Nikes Are Made


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