Its Never Just a Shoe
Over the summer transitioning from 8th grade to high school, my already embarrassing size 13 foot grew to an elongated size 14. I remember going to FootLocker to look at some white Nike Flights that would take me into my freshman year at Whitney Young and make me instantly one of the fresh kids. My shoe size was a blessing and a curse because my mother believed in paying reasonable prices for gym shoes, not "Jordan prices." This meant that when the Jordan 11 Concord dropped that instead of those she got me the less expensive Grant Hill's that I did not appreciate due to them not looking as fly as the Jordan 11. I say my size 14 was a blessing because it took me into another realm shoe-wise, because in those times a size 14 was an extended size almost only exclusively for basketball shoes, specifically Nike.
For black men, shoes are rarely "just shoes." Shoes are for us what baseball cards were for generations before us. They take us back to a time when we felt closer to our favorite players. While much ado is made about Jordan's, trust that the same feeling is felt when we get that pair of Griffey's, Deion Sander's, Bo Jackson's, Penny's, Barkley's and countless other stars we watched in awe on our television. Shoes are a throwback to our childhood innocence, to times we may have missed out on our wants because our parents were focused, rightfully so, on our family's needs.
Shoes are also a throwback to memories. We can trace where we were or who we first saw wear a shoe we liked. I never forget Ruben Smith at Dirksen wearing Jordan's. I'll never forget being in 3rd grade at Caldwell and my boy Andre or my crush Takeisha having all the latest Jordan's. As I got older and was able to buy my own Jordan's I realized one of the most overlooked things about Jordan's is the social capital aspect. Jordan's command respect in their arena, especially the OG versions (original colors that Michael himself was actually seen wearing or played in). If you wear them to a Bulls game, people will look at you in awe and say "Nice MJ's." Worn with the proper outfit and you will command respect when you enter the room amongst people in the know. The social capital is so great in regards to shoes that they are automatic conversation starters. Try wearing the 89 Bo Jackson's or a fresh pair of Penny Hardaway Foamposites, the people that know, will automatically speak to you, it's a language some of us understand and some of you never will.
At some point in high school my mother went to work for a company and had a co-worker that I met only one time but I swear he was one of the coolest guy I ever met. Why? He wore a size 14 shoe and if my memory serves me correctly he played college basketball. Peter ended up giving my mother shoes for me and I would be totally elated. These weren't used up old Nike Basketball shoes. There were the shoes on the back of magazines with the 800 numbers from iconic Nike advertisements. Some of the most notable were one of the first signature Chris Webber shoes, Juwan Howard's and the iconic Gary Payton Gloves. I was the envy of my peers and even had shoes that our state championship winning basketball team didn't have. This is when I also found out that Nike had a guarantee on all their shoes. if anything was wrong with the shoe, even months later, you can take it to Niketown and they would scan the shoe and give you the monetary value determined by the store. One fateful evening I returned a pair that had lost pressure in the air bubble. Niketown gave me back something close to $150 and that's when I saw them...
The Air Max Uptempo '95, white on white, also known as The Tim Duncan. I had to have them! I left Nike Town feeling like new money. Like I could go to the court and drop 50. I bought them, went to my grandmother's house and proudly let the house know I was going to Rainbow Beach. I laced up my fresh out the box Uptempo's and heading straight to the court. I was too young and not good enough for the grown man 5-on-5 court so I was forced to play on the high school court where we played an every man for themselves varisty or a 32. I was cooking in my new shoes, even so much so I made a move to the basket and got a single drop drop of what looked to be oil on the toe of my uptempos. But that wouldn't be the worst part of this trip.
I was a trash talker, I thought thats what all the greats did and it motivated me to go harder. Every bucket, every blow by, every steal, I talked trash. This one particular game there was a guy out there and I was giving him buckets. I gave him the crossover like Iverson did Jordan when he made his idol his rival. I called this guy every name in the book and on one play I left him at the top of the key and noticed he didn't follow me to the hoop. I looked back and he was at the top of the key and I saw it! The guy had pulled a silver revolver out of his waist band and was mumbling in a damn near inaudible tone but you can tell he was mad. In the next split second I thought of a way out, I could run but I was accompanied by family who had no idea what was going on or couldn't run from the scene like me so that was out. I used my only option. I approached the guy and started apologizing profusely and told him it was all basketball and just a little trash talk. Everybody else on the court froze and I apologized more than I ever have before. He shouted to me that it wasn't just basketball and then he put it on "Larry" and "GD" (referencing Larry Hoover, founder of one of Chicago's legendary gangs the GDs) and I just kept apologizing. I nevr said sorry so much in my life.
I don't think I've ever watched someone have an internal struggle that strong. In hindsight, I can see that the young man's decision to resort to pulling a pistol over a game of basketball had less to do with me than I thought at the time. I tried to shake his hand but he wouldn't, he wouldn't even face me completely. Once I knew he was going to let me walk away, I looked over at my family and they knew we needed to retreat. I remember being scared to turn my back until I was well out of sight thinking I didn't want to get shot in my back, as if I could dodge the bullet if I saw it coming. Once I got out of sight I ran faster than Forest Gump.
When I looked at the Nike SNKRS app and saw that the Nike Air Max Uptempo '95's were dropping these were the thoguhts that popped in my head. I didn't think "I need an all white shoe for the summer", I didn't think about the $150 price, it took me back to this moment in time. The feeling of floating out of Nike Town with those shoes, feeling like that day regardless of the scuff on the toe that those shoes were on my feet when my life was spared. So when you see somebody wearing their favorite pair of sneakers, remember they may not just be wearing a pair of shoes, they're probably wearing part of their history, its never just a shoe.