Most didn’t realize it just then, but the shoe game would never be the same again and it had everything to do with a man named Michael and a brand called Nike. For sneakerheads and casual collectors alike, the post-1985 years will be forever known as A.J., or “After Jordan.”
The Air Jordan I, designed by Peter Moore, quickly earned the nickname “Banned” because NBA Commissioner David Stern deemed the black and red colorway a violation of league regulations because they didn’t have enough white in them. Stern was so opposed to the kicks that he fined Jordan $5,000 every time he wore the shoes on the hardwood. The running tab was picked up by Nike, which for the first time began to get a glimpse of the monster the Air Jordan brand would soon become.
By 1988, the grip the shoes had achieved on consumers was so strong that some resorted to violence to ensure they would be rocking the newest J’s on the block, the court or in the club. Assaults, robberies, riots and even murders started piling up as demand for the shoes took off faster than Jordan from the charity stripe. And as with any must-have commodity, prices for the sneakers started climbing too. If some were willing to kill to lace ’em up, others would surely fork out a little extra cash, right?
With each passing year, new models of the J’s were released and stores couldn’t keep them in stock. In 1990, just five years after the first Air Jordans retailed for $64.99, the Air Jordan V’s were going for a cool $124.99. For consumers, it was a small price to pay. Some estimates put a pair of Jordans on 1 of every 12 Americans in the early 1990’s. To put that in perspective, 2 of every 12 Americans goes hungry each day. From then on, it was clear that the kicks had transcended the realm of footwear and cemented their place as a legit status symbol.
Today, long after Michael Jordan played his last game in the NBA, the Nike Air Jordan machine shows no signs of slowing. Some of the biggest names in the Association, from CP3 to Melo to Russell Westbrook, get their feet frosted by the Nike swoosh. And a new kind of zealous collector has emerged to continue the market’s exponential growth: the sneakerhead.
These cats have transformed sneaker collecting into much more than a weekend hobby. These sneakerheads use sites such as Sneaker News to research Jordan release dates, plan their buys and passionately discuss the culture for hours on end. They’ve essentially created a brand new economy where the most limited pair of sneaks can be resold for thousands of dollars. The only trick is getting your hands on a pair, which nowadays involves a whole new kind of street hustle.
In June of 2012, Burn Rubber sneaker boutique in Royal Oak, Michigan was selling Kanye West’s Nike Air Yeezy II. The price tag: $245. Add on the 400% markup from the boutique and you land on $1000 for a pair of the exclusive kicks. And to think, that’s the easiest part. The real grind happens before the shoes ever go on sale when collectors line up outside the store and brave the elements for a week or two, praying they can snag their size. Those fortunate enough to do so are left with a tough decision. What to do with their prized possession?
Some will deadstock them, or keep them in the box, to add to their growing collection. This ensures the sneakers will remain in pristine condition, essential if you plan to resell or trade the shoe down the road. This is a common practice of sneakerheads who have seen the “underground” market surge and become more organized in recent years with events popping up solely for the bartering of sneakers. One example is Sneaker Con, which debuted in 2009. By 2013 it had become one of the largest events of its kind with an estimated $100,000 to $200,000 changing hands in the matter of several hours. Most of that coin goes from one young man to another, turning teens into savvy businessmen.
Others will simply add them to their growing collection, with friends and family glaring into the cardboard boxes with a certain amount of envy. And a select few will bravely slip the smooth leather on to their feet and let the rubber hit the road, walking with a renewed swag knowing that at that moment their shoe game is cashews. That is until the next fresh release drops and it’s time to drag their ass back in line for another shot at scoring a pair of kicks that will speak to their soul.
Question: Is it crazy to go to such lengths for a pair of sneakers? And if you did, what would you do with the sneakers you copped?