by Chris O’Leary

The thing that I love most about sneaker culture right now is that you can find freshness where you least expect it. This summer, walking by Bryant Park in NYC, I saw an old, old man (he may have had a walker, I can’t remember) making his way up the Avenue of the Americas with a pair of Mars Blackmon Jordan IVs that looked brand new. Scarf-wearing hipsters rock Jordan IIIs with their too-tight jeans. Girls have worked Dunks, Tigers and shelltoes into their footwear rotations, when they can get them in their size.

Some may call this the downfall of the sneaker culture, but I don’t see it that way. With so many things so wrong in the world right now, this is the only slice of utopia that I’ve got, so I’m gonna cling to it.

My convoluted point is this: sneaker hotness is waiting around the corner for you, seemingly wherever you go. This notion clubbed me over the head on Saturday night, when I went to cover a volleyball game.

Every fall, the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Canada, hosts the Can-Am volleyball tournament. Four top teams from the Canadian university scene take on four top clubs from the NCAA. Saturday night’s main event bout had the two-time reigning Canadian champs, the U of A Golden Bears, taking on the USC Trojans.

I was just a few steps into the gym before I’d find myself mesmerized for the rest of the night. There, on the feet of every player on the USC team, were the sickest custom Nike Kobe IV’s I’ve seen all year.

After the match–a straight-set sweep by the Bears–I headed over to the USC side to talk sneakers with the team. I found head coach Bill Ferguson and told him I’d never seen a volleyball team wear basketball shoes before.

“Well, Nike, graciuosly, is a fantastic sponsor and a lot of our guys are real big,” he says. “They take a big pounding and they need a real sturdy shoe and a real light shoe so when Nike came out with their Kobe model last year the whole idea was to be a very light shoe that had a lot of support. So naturally, volleyball players were drawn to that shoe.”

As we’ve heard from its inception just about a year ago now, the Kobe IV is far from your typical basketball sneaker. Low cut, insanely lightweight and with loads of cushioning, the versatility of the shoe shouldn’t be that surprising.

“We all coach club and everything and a lot of kids were popping up wearing Kobes,” says USC assistant coach Chuck Moore. “We asked them about it and they said it’s the best volleyball shoe they’d ever worn.”

Ferguson and Moore, who both admittedly are big sneakerheads, spent the last few weeks on Nike ID, coming up with a design they agreed on. Once they ordered the shoes, the coaches hustled to have them ready for the team’s trip to Edmonton.

USC Kobe IV Vball

“We jumped through some hoops to get them for the guys for this particular weekend,” Moore says. “I was at the UPS delivery center at 7 am the morning that we flew out. The bus departed the school for the airport 15 minutes late, waiting for me to run up with a box of shoes. It was pretty tight.”

When the shoes made it onto the bus, pandemonium followed suit.

“It was like Christmas, it was hysterical,” Moore says. “We just busted them out right there on the bus. We just started throwing them to the guys and it was like they got the shiny red bicycle for Christmas, it was awesome.”

“I had the Kobes all summer just to play basketball in and when (the coaches) gave it to us for volleyball I was pretty stoked for that,” says Trojans left-side sophomore Brad Keenan.

“We wear running shoes from Nike (Air Pegasus 2007) and those aren’t that great. Basketball shoes are way better.”

The players all seem to love the shoes. Ferguson says the generation gap might limit how much he wears his pair.

“They’re pretty cool,” he says. “I don’t know if I can get away with cruising around town in them, but they’re very comfortable and they look pretty cool. I’m going to try and wing it at one point.”

– Photo courtesy of Paul Swanson, The Gateway.