Ever since KICKS 3 (summer 2000), each issue of the annual sneaker mag—KICKS 10 not included—has contained two or three new inductions into the KICKS Hall of Fame, where footwear legends past and present are honored. This may not be fresh material for those of you who’ve been copping the mag since before the new millennium hit, but for the younger heads, we’re posting the entire HOF online over the course of the next few weeks. (It’ll be archived under the KICKS tab above.) Enjoy, and don’t forget: KICKS 14 is on sale now! —Ed.
by Ben Osborne / @bosborne17
If, way back in 1989 (“The number, another summer…”), Air Jordan wearers needed any further proof that their shoes were the shit, they got an indelible stamp of cool when Spike Lee’s remarkable Do The Right Thing came out. Even as a small moment dropped amid the movie’s rapid-fire shots of on-point social analysis and witty one-liners delivered by an insane cast (do you realize that this movie featured Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Richard Edson, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Harris, Martin Lawrence, Rosie Perez and John Turturro?!), few scenes were as memorable as the one where neighborhood protagonist Buggin’ Out (played by Giancarlo Esposito) gets his “brand new Air Jordans” scuffed up by a Larry Bird-shirt wearing white dude who is not welcome on the movie’s Bedford-Stuyvesant block.
It goes without saying that anyone reading this magazine should already have seen the flick, and not for the Jordan love. But just to recap…As Buggin’ Out rolls on his scorching hot Bed-Stuy sidewalk, the aforementioned Bird dude clumsily rolls his bike down the block and bumps into Buggin’ Out, messing up the latter’s prized AJIV’s. It’s worth noting that it appears Mr. Ten-Speed hits Buggin’ in the back and the shoes get messed up in the front, but that’s a cinematic mystery that will not be solved right now, since Mr. Lee is on vacation and could not be interviewed for this piece. In any event, the scene includes repeated close-ups of Buggin’s formerly crispy white and gray AJ’s, along with several lines of dialogue that show the passion people had for their Jordan’s back then. As if the hot-tempered Buggin’ Out wasn’t already angry about being bumped on his block (“Who told you to walk on my block on my side of the street?”), he’s further incited by his boys, Ahmad and Cee, who play off of the power of his Jordans. “Man, your Jordans is busted,” begins Ahmad, played intensely by Magic Johnson’s homie Steve White. “Yeah, you might as well throw them out. Them shits is broke,” adds a young, hilarious, lisp-having Martin Lawrence as Cee.
The outward love that Buggin’ Out has for his state-of-the-art Nikes is actually just the most obvious example of some serious swoosh placement throughout the flick. Lee’s Mookie rocks the dope Bo Jacksons on his extra-long pizza delivery runs, while hulking Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) troops up and down the block in white, red and black Revolutions. About the only footwear shown prominently that isn’t Nike belongs to the three hysterical guys on the corner, who chill in sandals all day. The scattered Nike plugs—not to mention the white Jordan Bulls jersey that Lee’s Mookie wears at the beginning of the movie—were probably no accident, given Lee’s role at the time as an active Nike pitchman through the Mars Blackmon ads.
Several scenes after Buggin’ Out gets his sneakers run over, the Jordan love is shown once more. As Guy’s “My Fantasy” (word to Damion Hall) plays in the background, Buggin’ works hard to clean up his Jordans, leaning on a fire hydrant while scrubbing his beloved kicks with a toothbrush. This scene represented the first time I’d personally ever seen such a strategy, and within days I was using it on my own Jordan IVs.
Just think about all this again. You had a major film—not some shoot ‘em up flick or ditzy comedy, but a critically acclaimed drama with top-notch actors and a very real look at urban racism—that spent a couple scenes showcasing shoes. Even if Spike was partly going the other way and spoofing the love folks have for their kicks, you could throw that sentiment out the window on the strength of his freelance work as a shoe pitchman.
Either way, the realistic love for the shoes was there. Air Jordan owners who saw Do The Right Thing felt even better about their pair, while those who didn’t own any yet felt a further need to cop them. That influence is the stuff Hall of Fame slots are made of.
And that’s the quintessential truth, Ruth.