It’s Gotta Be the Shoes

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Contributor: Lewis Walker

In the spectrum of being a man, we all start off as boys who get caught up in having our proverbial toys—literally and figuratively. We graduate from liking G.I. Joe figurines, Saturday morning cartoons and karate flicks to cars, girls, Saturday afternoon college football and throwing some shit on the grill.

For me, a mildly-athletic, country kid from SC, there wasn’t much else to do other than play football, basketball, or be in the woods. There were a few things that kept us in the house: the Chicago Bulls playing was definitely one of them! After church on Sundays, you knew where to find the kid. (I may be dating myself with this statement but I loved the days of ‘NBA on NBC.’) We, simply, idolized these athletes, thought of them as super-human and did our best to emulate them. But, there was one, who stood out. He was head and shoulders above everyone else. That’s right, #23. The G.O.A.T.. Michael Jordan!

Motivated after each game, I’d get my boys together and go to the nearest court. There, I would drive to the basket, with my tongue out, in MJ fashion. We all wanted to be like Mike. We were in awe and indulged in the jerseys, the tees, Gatorade, the excessive and extra-hard chewing of gum, the pigeon-toed walk, the re-runs of ProStars, and ate those nasty ass, ‘no-taste-having-ass Wheaties,’ just so we could ‘be like Mike.’ However, after all of this, I realized that my subpar jumping ability, a desire to make it as a rapper and newfound infatuation with boobs superseded my desire to rule the basketball court. Knowing that I wasn’t going to put the work in to be like Mike, how else could I be the best?

In 1989, Mars Blackmon (played by the incomparable Spike Lee), gave me the answer… ‘It’s gotta be the shoes…’

Fast forward to 2016:

Still mildly-athletic, still heavy into rap and still fascinated with boobs (just one  pair now, hey baby!), who knew that 30 years after his introduction to the NBA, 13 years after his retirement and 200+ pairs of sneakers later, I’d still wanna be like Mike?! Well, with the exception of loving white women, oversized bootcut dad jeans, horrible cologne, and that damn hoop earring, who knew I’d still wanna be like MJ?!

The Turn-Out

The year was 1989, Daddy Bush was president and I was in the fourth grade listening to De La Soul, GangStarr, Queen Latifah and DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (all over the spectrum, wasn’t I?). During this time, there was a show, in its third season entitled, ‘A Different World’ which painted the picture of campus life on Hillman College, a fictitious HBCU in Virginia. Being authentic to what New York was at the time, on October 12th, 1989, ‘Brooklynite’ Dwayne Cleophus Wayne showed up in Episode 46, wearing the shoe that would, eventually, become a cultural statement. This also was my introduction to what being a ‘sneakerhead’ was all about. Behold, the ‘White/Cement Jordan IV.’ It was, by far, the most ‘beautifulest’ shoe I had ever laid eyes on with netting on the side, the speckled tab on the back and the signature visible air unit that Tinker Hatfield, in his infinite wisdom, decided to add.

Not realizing the shoe released February, of that same year, I’m thinking, ‘Hey, it’s October, my birthday is exactly two weeks away and Christmas is right around the corner, I got this!’ So, I get the nerve to ask my mother to take me to the mall so I could show her what I wanted for my birthday; and, in true momma fashion, she obliges and tells me we can go tomorrow. That Friday, she picks me up from school and we head to the mall.

We had one Foot Locker in Sumter and that was our first stop. Walking in, my mother asks an associate about this shoe that I described to her and after about eight minutes of fumbling over a poor description, the associate says,  ‘Oh, you want the Air Jordan?’ (Yes, the fuck took you so long!! Sheesh!) ‘That shoe sold out a while ago, lil’ man. You can get these regular Nikes, though, pointing to some ‘unmentionables.’’ I was crushed.

Back in the car and on our second (and final) stop, we went to Simpson Hardware, my old faithful. Yes, a hardware store in Sumter, SC, carried all the shit a young brother needed to stay fly in the 90s; NY fitted hats, baseball jerseys, Carhartt jackets, and of course, the Air Jordan. Walking in, I see the Jordan IV on a shelf and ask Grant (who I still talk to), to grab an 8.5 for me. He grabs the shoe, I try it on and, instantly, I’m in love. I ask my mom for them and because I was such a good kid, she says, ‘yes,’ until she saw the price. (Fuck!!!) ‘$110? For some damn shoes? No sir! You knew better than that when you asked me.’ (Now, in the context of today’s Jordan prices being north of $200, this is chump change, but in 1989, this could have paid a couple of bills.)

Nonetheless, I walked out with some fly shit for my birthday, just not what I wanted. But, this is the moment in which I knew I had been bitten by the Jordan bug letting up anytime soon wasn’t on the agenda. Sidenote:  By the time this article is published, the Jordan IV would have released again on February 13th to the tune of $220.  This might be a sore subject for some of the lady readers because your man–or ex, by this time–didn’t get you a Valentine’s Day gift because first things first, his sneakers! Ah well, maybe next year.  But, I said all of that to state, ‘The Jordan IV release was a pivotal moment in my 20 plus years in the sneaker culture.’

The Triumph

After this failure in ’89, I regrouped, recovered and settled for whatever my mom copped for me. I will say, more than likely, whatever Barbara spent her hard-earned coins on was pretty dope.  Recently, I was reminiscing, looking at old school pictures and, admittedly, she had your boy fly.  But I digress, fast forward to my 6th grade year, 1991.  This would be the 1st of Jordan’s six championship rings. During this time, I was heavily influenced by New York hip hop, so I had Pumas, Ellesses, Adidas Shell Toes, Le Coq Sportifs and the Hi-Tek ‘Jodeci’ boots, as well as the Nike Cortez and Air Force Ones, just like the dudes in all the videos. However, even with all the other options in my closet, my thirst still wasn’t quenched. I had to have the Air Jordan.

I remember sitting in Study Hall and James Amerson came in with the Infrared/Black Jordan VI. Even though I didn’t really understand the holes in the tongue, they were weird and fresh and had to be mine. Seeing as though I had a fumble with the 4s, I presented Barbara with a different approach this time around. Check me out, I actually earned half of the $125 and guess what? I got my 1st pair of Air Jordans! Could I play like Mike? Nope.  Could I jump like Mike? Hell no. But, when I put them on, you couldn’t tell me shit. Lol. I was Michael Jordan! No question. I wore those shoes until the bottoms started ‘talking.’ My mom had to throw them away for me because I didn’t have the heart to do it. No doubt, this was the start of my plunge into helping keep the lights on at Nike and at Michael Jordan’s house.

The Hiatus and Switch Up

I never forgot my Jordan VIs as no other shoe ever gave me that feeling. Well, except for the VIIs.  And, the VIIIs.  LOL. You get the point. Nike and Mike got it right and as long as Mike kept winning, the money would keep rolling in. Unfortunately for me, though, my momma wasn’t with it! I still had the freshest of kicks, Jordans or not. Instead of spending money on Jordans, I copped a variety of footwear including New Balance 997s, 574s, Magic Johnson Converse, Ewings, ACG Mowabbs, Wildwoods, Escapes, Air Madas, Reebok Blacktops, Asics, Filas, and any other shoe that I could get my hands on. While the other kids were waiting on the next Jordans, I had to be creative and standout in whatever I was given. Turns out, there was more to my insignificant little sneaker life than what Mike wore on the court and my funds, albeit limited, were turning me into a monster. I wasn’t concerned with what people said about the sneakers I was wearing; my focus was how they felt on my feet, and more importantly, how they looked with my outfits. LOL.

The Maturation and Swan Song

Once I no longer wanted to look like everyone else, my true passion came through. I still go through phases of wanting certain shoes, particularly, those that got me started. However, my connection with sneakers is deeper than you may imagine. They provided therapy through the passing of both my mother and grandmother, as well as my divorce. (I was averaging about 5-6 pair a week during that time. Yeah, I know, don’t judge me. LOL) But on the flip side, I have met quite a few amazing people standing in lines, for hours at a time, to become the rightful owners of carefully crafted rubber, plastic, leather, and suede foot attire. Whether I’m at Velocity Sneaker Boutique in the University area, Social Status, Black Sheep, Walter’s or Wish in Atlanta, one of the many spots in Georgetown (D.C), or one of the local big box stores here in Charlotte, there are always countless stories of how many pairs someone has, the most they paid for a shoe, the longest they’ve camped out for a shoe, pairs they wish they had, etc. This beautiful subculture that we’ve helped to keep alive is not what it once was, though. With limited releases, decreased shoe quality, ‘bots’ (computer programs that automatically buy shoes for you), the rise of the reseller (people that buy the majority of a store’s inventory, and double and sometimes triple the price to make a profit), the fun, the lust, desire for the sneaker game is all but gone.

I’m looking forward to picking up a pair of French Blue 12s in late March, but other than that, I don’t foresee any other pickups in 2016. I went from 250 pairs in 2012, down to about 195 at the time of publication. For any normal person, this is absolutely insane, but for an ‘athletic footwear enthusiast’ such as myself and countless others, this is about right. I have friends that have well over 300 pairs, some with 450 pairs, and even some that have had 500 or more pairs but chose to sold them all to keep the 20 or 30 they couldn’t live without. I’ve been ridiculed for having so many pairs, the traveling I could have done, the bills I could have paid off, etc and in my maturation, combined with everybody and their momma (literally) getting into the sneaker game, I’m prepared to gracefully bow out.

But as an ode to my 1st love, hip hop, I give you a paraphrased speech from Jay-Z’s ‘Vol 2… Hard Knock Life’…

‘Sorry boys,
But all the Yeezys and Jordans in the world can’t bring me back again
Lay down, lay down
Gonna stretch my debit card and the love for the game out in James Funeral Home on Purdy
All those lil kids and resellers and high retail prices stopping me from buying
But a lot later than a whole gang of people thought
The last of the real sneakerheads
Some of these kids are gonna keep it alive.. New, Improved Sneakerheads

I quit, I’m retirin’
Ain’t enough originality in this game, to keep me around
Sorry Yall, I tried.  Honest
Can’t go with me on this ride though
I’m callin’ the shots, the store is closin’
Where we goin’ to for breakfast?

I ain’t reloading…’

Since I’m ‘unofficially’ retired, I’ll give you a little more insight on how I operate as a sneaker enthusiast.

Where do I shop? I do most of my shopping online because I don’t like having what everyone else has. You see, I’m not brand loyal, but more so ‘model loyal.’ My favorite shoes for the past few years have been running shoes: Air Max 97s, New Balance 998s, and Nike Huaraches.

What is the most I’ve paid? I’ll just say that I have a pair of Zen Grey Yeezy 1’s by Nike that I bought resale. I’ll also add that that particular transaction was a few student loan payments.

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