By Stuart Lieberman | May 27, 2020, 1:04 p.m. (ET)

Lex Gillette competes in the long jump at the Summer Paralympic Games Rio 2016 test event on May 20, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

 

Four-time Paralympic silver medalist Lex Gillette always refrains from purchasing three or more of the exact same article of clothing or pair of shoes, even if they differ in color. The 35-year-old ensures every piece of his wardrobe has its own unique texture, embroidery, stitching or tag. 

That way, the visually impaired long jump world record holder can easily pick out his outfit each day so he’s not “walking out the door looking like crazy” at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. 

“I’m always trying to figure out something I can use to distinguish between each article of clothing or each pair of shoes,” Gillette said. “I adapt with the times and figure out ways to live effectively.”

That’s how he distinguishes the 40-plus pair of Nike Air Jordans that are both piled high underneath his raised bed and perfectly packed into his storage unit. 

Gillette has capitalized on the release of “The Last Dance” this spring, using the documentary series about Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls as a teachable moment for his social media followers. Through multiple videos, he has articulately explained to his audience how a blind person differentiates one pair of Jordan kicks from another.

 

 

“I get a ton of questions about how you live your life without being able to see,” he said. “How can you cook? How can you do all of these things? One of the questions I get a lot is who dresses you? Well, I do it myself.”

Gillette’s favorite line is the Jordan 11s, the first pair he ever received back in high school. There’s a Jordan logo on the high ankle area, the shoelaces are significantly thicker than any of the other retro pairs and there’s just an undeniable feel of patent leather around the sides, back and front. 

All of those descriptors are what Gillette coins “identifiers” for him to decipher one pair from another.

“Those types of things are seared into my memory,” he said. “Each version is completely different. It speaks its own language if you will.”

His runner-up picks include the pair featured in “Space Jam” and the 72-10s, which commemorated the Bulls’ 1995-96 season in which they recorded an NBA all-time season best 72-10 regular-season record that stood for 20 years.

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Gillette grew up in North Carolina just like Jordan. Since he lost his sight completely when he was 8 due to recurrent retina detachments, his life has been guided by the phrase, “there’s no need for sight when you have vision.” His mother, Verdina, kept him in sports and eventually found he had a natural talent for the long jump. At 19, he won his first Paralympic silver medal in the event and has gone on to win three more since and four consecutive world titles.

While Gillette purchased his first pair of Jordans in school, his sighted guide, Wesley Williams, introduced him to the complete collection about 13 years ago when he began taking an interest in fashion and wanted to make a splash.

“The Js are a really nice, iconic cultural statement. I’ve definitely worn them during Team USA events and when I’ve done speaking engagements in the community, but not competition yet,” he said. “That’s a dream of mine, to have some Jordan long jump spikes.”

 

 

Speaking of competition, Gillette has been the long jump T11 world-record holder for nearly a decade and is now known among his teammates now as “OG,” or the Original Gangster. When he eventually returns to the long jump runway after the COVID-19 pandemic, first and foremost, he’ll be coveting his first-ever Paralympic gold medal at the Tokyo Games next year. But in the process, he also hopes to push the envelope and become the first athlete in the T11 classification to jump seven meters.

Akin to No. 23, he’s ready to give it everything in the tank.

“He’s just tenacious,” Gillette said of Jordan. “A lot of the things that he talked about I totally believe, like, ‘If you’re going to sit down and watch me compete for two to three hours at a time, then I have an obligation to be at my absolute best.’ 

“I thoroughly believe that because I have a lot of people who invest their time into getting me where I need to go, and there’s so many people who have a hand in my career that it’s an obligation that I always give my best.”

Just like Mike.

Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.