Date added: 11/06/1995 Is It the Shoes?

Sports Illustrated, by Franz Lidz

In the '30s, A JAZZMAN FROM New York crooned Your Feet's Too Big: "Up in Harlem at a table for two, there were four of us -- me, your big feet and you. From your ankles up, I'll say you sure look sweet. From there down, there's just too much feet."

In the '90s, Jazzmen from Utah, Magicians from Orlando and Warriors from Golden State swoon in an Atlanta shoe store for big feet people. They come to Friedman's on Mitchell Street to gape at the burgundy lizard loafers in 14E and goggle at the tobacco-colored ostrich sandals in 17D. "I spend a lot of money here, but it's worth it," says Terry Davis, a Maverick from Dallas. "After all, I do make a living with my feet."

Today thousands of oversized Mauris, Karl Kanis and Paolo de Marcos crowd tongue-to-heel in ceiling-high stacks in the huge store. Davis eases his size 16M's into a pair of black Martiganis with gold studs on the vamps. "How do they feel?" asks Bruce Teilhaber, the store's president.

"They feel sweet."
"How do they fit?"
"They fit cool. But for 900 bucks, this had better be the whole gator."

Teilhaber is a sort of latter-day Gene Shoe. The Phoenix Suns' Charles Barkley (size 16M) calls him Uncle Bruce. The Magic's Shaquille O'Neal -- he of the 22D's -- has been shod at Friedman's since college. "Nine out of 10 pros buy dress shoes from me," Teilhaber says. "They call when they get to town, and I send a van to their hotel."

The Houston Rockets' Hakeem Olajuwon phoned Teilhaber at home one Sunday. "Bruce," Dream said breathlessly, "I need shoes."

"You don't need shoes," corrected Teilhaber, "I send them to you by the case."

"You're right," said Olajuwon. "I want shoes." So Teilhaber picked up Olajuwon (size 17M) at his hotel, opened the shop and sold him 32 pairs.

Sports figures tend to buy shoes in bulk. Vancouver Grizzly center Benoit Benjamin (size 17M) purchased two dozen on his first visit. This summer boxing impresario Don King footed a $65,000 bill for 110 pairs. And what's the big-ticket item for big NBA feet? "A pair of $1,200 Davanzati boots," says Teilhaber. "Alligator with mink inside."