Monday, November 17th, 2008 at 2:10 pm  |  51 responses

The Downside To The Retro Craze

Penny never thought he’d school people like this.

by Chris O’Leary

Fat t*ties turn to teardrops as fat ass turns to flab
Sores that was open wounds eventually turn to scab
Trees bright and green turn yellow brown
Autumn caught em, see all them leaves must fall down, growin’ old

– Outkast, 13th Floor/Growing Old

Life’s lessons always seem to pop up on me where I least expect them. The most recent schooling came a week ago, when a quick jaunt into a couple of sneaker spots dropped a painful revelation on me:

I’m old.

The lesson didn’t come in the way I thought it might have. It wasn’t post-basketball-induced arthritic knee pain, a random ACL strain or back spasms that had me hanging my head as I walked out to the parking lot. It wasn’t the fact that in the last few years, I’ve gained a cloak of demographic-shifting invisibility that lets me walk through The Gap un-harassed. It wasn’t even people calling me sir at fast food windows that did me in.

Air Penny IIIt was the Air Penny II that’s left me thinking about crow’s feet and wondering when I started using words like jaunt in my work in the first place.

This story has a SLAM-specific relevance to it. The other day, Ryne dropped a picture of the white-on-white Air Penny II on the site as the Kick of the Day. I clicked on the picture, went to Eastbay and then checked Foot Locker’s site as well to confirm it. My favorite edition of the Air Penny line was available.

I’ll admit I slipped on this one. I should have been up on the release date, should have been a more loyal Niketalker, I guess. I should have done a lot of things. The bottom line was this shoe has been out for more than a minute now, and I didn’t have it.

That afternoon, I made my way into Footlocker, my desperation for a shoe I’ve obsessed over for the last 12 years as transparent as I normally am in these places nowadays. I scoured the racks and saw nothing.

The following excerpt may be painful to read for fellow

Undeterred, my attention shifted to the staff of the store. I found a kid who was probably half my age. He looked at me, made eye contact and looked away. I stepped to him as he cracked open boxes of new product.

“I’m looking for the Air Penny II,” I told him. “Did you guys get it in?”

His blank face said a lot more to me than anything that would come out of his mouth. Actually, no. What he said topped the fact that he clearly had heard these words put together for the first time when they spilled out of my mouth.

“The Air Penny II?” It was like he said it back to me just to see if he was saying it properly.

“And that would be…?”

“Oh my god, he has to be f*cking with me,” the voice in my head told me.

“Is that…clothing?”

I could see my Facebook and Twitter statuses filling in (that’s sad, I know) as the serious look on his face held firm. This was no joke.

Chris O’Leary is…
- Astonished
- Confounded
- Blown away
- Kind of livid
- Not experiencing this bullshit for the first time

Take your pick.

“No man, it’s a sneaker.” I caught myself snapping at him.

“Don’t be that guy,” the inner-voice cautioned. “You worked retail. Don’t be the spazzy asshole who screams at a kid making eight bucks an hour.”

“It’s a sneaker,” I said in a calmer tone. “A retro from 96/97.”

“Oh,” he said back, his face as blank as ever. “Yeah, we don’t have that. You should try Champs though, they’re two stores up from us.”

Yeah, I know where Champs is.

I’ve been going to Champs probably longer than this kid has been alive. I thought back to Anfernee Hardaway’s rookie year and how I bought his Champion replica jersey from that Champs. I remembered my friend Adrian (who as a 6-2 high school senior used graze his head on the rim in warm-ups) buying the Air Penny I there. So I went to Champs.

You can guess what happened.

Air Penny II BlackAnother kid, maybe 20 years old repeated what I had just said back to me like he was saying something in a foreign language.


“Yeah. It’s a sneaker.”

“I’m gonna have to check with the manager, hang on.”

Of course you will. It’s not like you’d have an interest in an iconic sneaker from one of the best players to lace them up in the mid ’90s. Check with your manager, please.

The kid goes into the back of the store and leaves the door open, revealing one of my favorite things in the world: shelves lined from floor-to-ceiling in sneaker boxes. Orange, blue, black, white, it’s like a sneaker stock rainbow. Beautiful stuff. The kid re-emerged from a slice of my personal heaven, completely taking for granted the magnitude of his access to the spot.

“Yeah, my manager says we had some but they’re all gone.”

My fists clenched in my jacket pockets and I felt one knee buckle. I thought about how this kid doesn’t even know what these shoes look like and felt my teeth grind. It wasn’t until later, when I was talking with one of my favorite SLAM contributors that I had reality crashed over my head like a chair-shot from The Rock.

“Those shoes are before their time,” she told me. “Think about it. They were maybe six when Penny wore those. What do you know about sneakers that were released when you were six?”

Maybe I’m not the best person to ask that, but I saw where she was coming from and it reinforced the situation for what it was. It’s not on them. This is about me. This is about watching the sneakers I grew up on—sneakers that are paramount in some of the best memories I have of this game—becoming less than a footnote to a new generation.

I kind of felt panicked when I thought about how this sneaker may well pass me by for the second time. One of my worst nightmares was about to recur.

This was the flint grey XIII all over again.

In my panic, I tried to flex what little sneaker muscle I have. Emails to people at SLAM brought back nothing; my guy at Nike Canada put the arrow through my heart when he told me the Penny II is a US-only release. He also brought about retroactive rage when I remembered that the faceless manager at Champs said he’d had the shoes in but sold them. He probably says that to all the sneakerheads.

Since my initial attempts at abusing my power didn’t work, and because I can’t think of a snarkier/more creative way to end this, I’m going to put myself out there one last time:

Can anyone help me out with this?

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  • http://www.alllooksame.com Tarzan Cooper


  • http://www.ballislife.com Justin Walsh

    people not knowing old school bball kicks (especially penny’s considering every idiot in champs argues about how lebron is the next penny when they play nothing alike) is just sacrilegious

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ryne Nelson

    I wish I could help Chris out, especially after this nice piece. Then again, he’ll forget about the sneakers soon enough because of his old age. :-)

  • http://www.alllooksame.com Tarzan Cooper

    damn chris, just get the shaqnosis

  • Jake

    Hey man I know exactly where you can get some of those, email me back with your shoe size.

  • riggs

    those are my least favorite penny’s but you seriously shouldve back handed that kid for not knowing the name :D

  • Jake

    Oh I forgot to ask,do they have to be the white on white or does the color pattern matter?

  • riggs

    forgot to add pickyourshoes.com is my personal fav. website for retros.

  • Jake

    For some reason, the website won’t let me insert a link…I’m going to go into rage mode soon.

  • NBK

    Holler at me when they rerelease the Jet Flights, those are my penny II

  • NBK

    The Penny II are 129.99 on pick your shoes (white/white) w/ navy blue trim

  • http://slamonline.com Vish

    I saw them at the Nike factory outlet store at the Woodbury commons in upstate NY…they were going to 75 dollars…i was shocked all white like the first pic…..

  • Steve

    Try pickyourshoes.com I saw them on their last week. They’re authentic.

  • Roberto

    Yo Chris,

    I don’t know if your trying to get them in person or order ‘em online but all I did was type in “Air Penny II” into google and I found a whole bunch of websites that have them to order.

  • Jake

    Thanks NBK thats the link I was trying to post.those are some beautiful shoes…my brother was the first person in his high school with them back when they first came out,I’m gonna cop him a pair for christmas.

  • http://www.ravingblacklunatic.blogspot.com Allenp

    The black, blue and white ones were the BUSINESS when they came out. Man, if you rocked a pair of those playing ball in high school you were the effing truth, no questions asked.
    Damn, I remember the original Deion Sanders and when Junior Seau’s shoe was a must have. I remember the stir the patent leather Jordan’s made across the country and how nobody was really checking for the kicks he rocked when he first came back. Damn, I’m getting old.

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ryne Nelson

    Jake – I never saw your comment in moderation. Anyway, glad to see the info’s still getting shared.

  • Jake

    I’m pretty sure it’s my computer Ryne and not you guys…I just tried copy and pasting some links to friends and it wouldn’t let me.so i re-started and we will try again.http://www.pickyourshoes.com/new4/nike_penny2_wht_roy_blk.htm

  • NBK

    Speaking of the Jet Flights does anybody know where I can find those? They are sold out on every website and Ebayer’s don’t decribe it right

  • http://www.where-basketball-b-longs.blogspot.com/ B. Long

    I get these same reactions when I ask for anything besides Air Force 1s and Jordans in Louisana, Chris, so I feel your pain. I was looking for a pair of hyperdunks and they don’t even carry them at our Footlocker. How is that even possible.

  • http://www.grupoquark.com Miguel Garcia (Mexico)

    Hi, i totally feel you, had to go through the same -only electronically- the solution i got: EBAY. Just received a fresh pair o Penny´s II a week ago.

    Good luck!

  • Michael Lee

    gone are the beautiful days of the lil penny commercials…Thank God Thirst is R.I.P. but will we ever see an equialent to LJ’s Grandmama?

  • http://twentythreenine.blogspot.com Russ Bengtson

    You’re not old, Chris. You’re old when all this stuff comes back out and you just don’t care anymore. Nike not only killed the golden goose, they chopped it up and processed it and sold it as Golden Goose McNuggets. Sucks when you realize your entire childhood and young adulthood is just another commodity that can be sold to you again and again and again.

  • http://twentythreenine.blogspot.com Russ Bengtson

    (I still have an original pair of black Penny IIs that I’ve only worn once.)

  • Michael Lee

    excuse my lack of spelling…but to b long u should come to northern cali or try the footlocker websites. Its crazy all the shoes that are sold out in most areas just sitting on the shelfs like a common chuck lol…i guess they arent a lot of sneakerheads in Sacramento, and sadly I do not possess the funds to buy the shoes i covet *sigh*

  • http://www.where-basketball-b-longs.blogspot.com/ B. Long

    @Michael: I copped a pair of Mamba and the Kobe McDonald All American Hyperdunks off Ebay so I’m good.

  • Richie

    That was good read Chris, i was in the same generation you were in. And the all white jordan 11s were it for me back in the day.

  • Michael Lee

    I need to hop on this eBay…my friend be making bank selling stuff on there…its crazy what people find valuable on there

  • ciolkstar

    These and the Deion cross trainers were hot
    sh*t when I was a kid. I could never get my folks to cop em for me though.

  • Ping Ping

    The exact same thing happened to me …. i had to drop some knowledge on the kids in the store(s) i went to … made my heart hurt.

    Our Penny’s will be their D-wades soon enough

  • LeeVan

    I’m (only?) 24, and I got that same Champion replica jersey, and from champs, too. I still have that and a blue w/ red & white Grant Hill Pistons jersey.
    Penny was my dude back when I was a youngERster, and I have a Lil’ Penny t-shirt to verify my boyhood man-crush.

  • http://www.freewebs.com/betcats BETCATS

    im 16 now and if some clown doesnt know the history behind the shoes he is rockin, i will call him out. You cant rock Fila without knowing about Grant Hill, you cant rock Converse without knowing about Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, cant wear Jordans without at least seeing tapes of Jordan, cant rock nikes without knowing the legend of Moses Malone, and you dont lace up Reebok without remising about Orlando Magic Shaq. Thats just my perspective on it. History is recorded for you to read it, i do that to the fullest.

  • Roberto

    They need to remake the “Nike Air Aggressive Force.” I loved those those…

  • http://slamonline.com Khalid Salaam

    Chris don’t feel bad. Think of it like this, would you have rather been born in this era and never even had the opportunity to experience the greatness that early-mid 90′s sneakers were? or 90′s hip hop? at least you enjoyed it when it was worth enjoying.

  • http://slamonline.com Chris O’Leary

    @Jake: thanks for the linkage. I hope your brother isn’t a reader, or the cat’s out of the bag come Christmas.
    @Russ: you kill me, man. I’d settle for some black/white or white/white golden goose mcnuggets right now.
    @BET: drop your resume off at FL and school these kids up.

  • http://slamonline.com Chris O’Leary

    Khalid, you speak the truth.

  • http://www.freewebs.com/betcats BETCATS

    Chris, this summer i am gonna work at Footaction, fu(k footlocker and finish line, Footaction and Champs all day!

  • Boing Dynasty

    Dude, Ebay.

  • thesubwayconnection

    Boing’s right. eBay ‘em. They’re set on about a $100 average per pair. You might even save some money. If you don’t have an eBay account, I do. :D (Yeah, I’d ship ‘em in for you.)

  • O.R Paperstacks

    Chris, I feel you on this. Penny 2′s are my all time fav shoe. I too have been waiting 12 yrs for this shoe to drop and when it did I was all over it. It was the first time in years that I got up on a Saturday. Almost walk out wearing them. Got two of the Black pairs and will prob have total of 5 when they start to get cheaper. It is that serious with this shoe. One can only hope the wht/blue cw is released.

  • Orlando Green



    I have a sz 14 in the blk colourway for sale? Make an offer.

  • Young Chris MP3

    You can grab the white and black ones off Finishline.com. I got my pair of the black/blue a few weeks ago, but it took me like 7 stores to go through in order to find it.

  • Rocky8

    Chris. this shoe is still out in Hong Kong. I’ve seen the white/white colorway in all of the shops.

  • Young Chris MP3

    I know they have a Miami Heat colorway releasing early next year, and then the Penny 3′s (my favorite of the line) as well as the Half Cent (a fusion similar to the Six Rings or Spizikes)

  • http://anf.blogspot.com anf

    Man I feel you.
    Here in Hong Kong, there’re lots of white/white colorway in the stores. Price is around $140 with full sizes. (I’m sure there’ll be discounts later on)

    Hola if you need help.

  • http://anf.blogspot.com anf

    Btw Russ’ comments on being old and golden goose theory is right on.

    I am a huge Penny fan and owned lots of his trading cards, tees and shoes. Yet when the retro Penny I/II/III came out, I didn’t even attempt to look for them anymore..

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    Good stuff, Chris.

  • Prentice Mcgruder

    i caught those pennys with money i got from my grandmother for my 9th birthday, first pair of basketball kicks i ever owned. It was funny because they were just sittin there getting dusty for £40 (England), i didn’t know who Penny was and it wasn’t until after they got passed to my little brother that i became a fan. Ahhh sneaker nostalgia..

  • NJ4Life

    Anybody know the name of the kicks jkidd was wearing from like 00′-02′? They had like a meteor running the length of the shoe from the heel to the tip. Any help would be appreciated.

  • Fitz

    Man great write up..I feel you..Im not sure how old you are.But Im 24 and it does make me feel old..The crazy thing is there is almost a Penny Generation out there(I mean just type his name in on YouTube)..If you were like between 10-20 years old in the mid 90′s you knew all about Penny,and every shoe he had, if you were a BBALL Fan..To this day I think Penny Did some things on the court that no player ever has or ever will..The Guy Was so Smooth,yet so explosive,he just made the game look so easy..And it just goes to show you.After all these years these Pennys right here are better then any current players shoe bar none..Off the hook,Im pickin up two pairs..One for Play and One for show..Great Memories,The Days when you could sit by the TV and Watch Basketball on a Sunday afternoon on NBC(which was the best)And watch Players Like Penny..Vintage 90′s BBall.Nothing else like it..

  • kyle


    I found them dont kno if they have ur size. But does anyone have a suggestion on bball shoes with the best ankle support im just coming of a broken ankle and a plate and 8 screw later wat are good bball shoes with solid ankle support?