From The Ground Up
Fila gets back to basics in basketball.
Unwritten Rule Of Basketball # 178:
That may also be rule # 1 in some other rulebook.
Standing on the concrete of a last minute venue substitution, my good friend Adrian was visibly annoyed. It was late in the summer of 1998. A rare day had fallen into our laps where both of us had a day off from our overly demanding part-time jobs. Looking back, it was always the jobs that paid me the least that demanded the most out of me physically. I always hated that.
Adrian’s annoyance didn’t stem from our wages that were only slightly better than the minimum, or the relentlessness of the tiny black flies that told us it was summer. I was the source of his problems that day.
With the day off, we made plans to sneak into the gym at the local college, which closed its doors, but never really locked them. We’d walk into the college like we belonged there, casually made our way to the PE and Rec area of the building, open the gym doors, close them behind us, hit the lights and bam — unlimited open gym. For free. It’s perfect.
It’s perfect every day except that one. After the casual approach, the nonchalance at the PE entrance, we got to the final door and it was actually locked. We should have given up there. I know Adrian wanted to, but I wasn’t having it.
I had planned ahead.
Had we gotten into the gym, I’d have worn my Jordan XIIIs. I had just gotten them that summer and I wore them to the gym every chance I got. Treating my grails like the grails that they are, they don’t see concrete. That’s why they look the way they do today. On the off chance that the gym was closed and we ended up at an outdoor court, I packed my outdoor sneaks with me as well. I think they were Air Thrill Flights, but I might have my years mixed up.
Adrian, unfortunately, did not plan ahead. I found another court — a short one, but flat and free of glass and debris — a few blocks away from the college on an outdoor court at a nearby school. I quickly laced my outdoor sneaks and was ready to go, but Adrian was hesitant. He had only packed his indoor sneaks. A black and silver pair of Grant Hill 3′s, by Fila (kinda looked like these).
He sat on the concrete with his gym bag next to him, his socks exposed, shoes next to him like he was San Antonio Dennis Rodman. In short, he wouldn’t have played that day if I didn’t talk him into it. He very reluctantly agreed, put his shoes on, laced them up and gradually made his way to his feet. Very slowly and lightly, the soles of the shoes touched concrete for the first time.
“I know you wouldn’t do this in your Jordans,” he told me.
I agreed, we played and I think when other guys joined in the game later that day, I accidentally stuck my finger deep in someone’s eye. That memory is hazy, though. What sticks out as clear as day, is the face Adrian made when he took those first steps on the outdoor court in his Sunday bests, and how much he loved those G-Hill 3′s.
This is the story that’s nestled in the back of my mind as I’m talking with reps from Fila last week on the phone. One of the first things I ask them is if they’ll be retroing more of their popular ’90s signature joints, worn by Jerry Stackhouse and Grant Hill, when both were young and making SLAM covers.
They’re proud of their past, they tell me, but they’re about the present and future right now. And for the first time in more than a decade, they’re checking back into the sneaker game.
A large part of Fila’s re-entry into basketball comes from Michael T. White. A fixture in the high school scene for 17 years, Fila sponsored his signature events this summer, giving them a platform to show their product on the feet of young male and female ball players across the US.
If you’re a fan of AAU ball, if you play it, or you cover it, you’ll probably see Fila this year. Having set up shop as a penthouse destination for basketball footwear in the ’90s, the Italian brand has gone back to basics. Grant Hill and Jerry Stackhouse may still (somewhat miraculously) be in the League, but Fila’s not worrying about what they’ve got on their feet now. Their concern, they say, is on the grassroots scene, where they’ll start small. 15 years after making sneaks for Hill and Stack, they’re catering to kids at the high school, club, AAU and college level, as opposed to a couple of pro players.
Fila has sponsored 20 AAU teams for this coming summer and they’ll all be wearing the DLS Slam (no relation to this fine site or magazine). The St. Louis Fusion Elite, BMD Franchise in Baltimore, the Derek Smith All-Stars, Team Detroit and The Future Elite, from Atlanta, are a few of the teams you’ll see in the shoes this summer.
There are no glaring bells and whistles with the shoe; no signature athletes, no ad campaigns, no catchy slogans. Just a pair of sneakers, waiting for feet that could very likely have never heard of what they’re lacing up.
“This is a player’s shoe.”
That’s the recurring phrase in my conversation with the Fila reps. A shoe built for performance and seemingly, more about branding than making cash. The DLS Slam won’t make it to stores (though a scaled down, lifestyle version will). It’ll make it to tournaments throughout the summer and it’ll be up for grabs at Fila’s website in July.
“We’re kind of evolving, trying to create a look that’s recgognizable as us,” Fila’s director of footwear design, Mark Eggert says.
“The reason this is a player’s shoe is because there’s also a regular retail version. It’s that contrast. We put more into this product to make it a real players’ shoe.
“It was designed knowing that it would have to perform and it’s being done in conjunction with the basketball program … it’s being worn by kids who are actually going to play in it. It’s going to have to perform.”
Tech-wise, Eggert breaks down the features of the shoe. The midsole provides one-half of the shoe’s namesake, thanks to Fila’s DLS foam technology. From there, it’s straightforward and simple. A molded footbed, a double-stitched forefoot to toughen the shoe up and what Eggert describes as a medial side pannel that’s been bulked up to help with abrasion during play.
“It’s not a high-end product,” he admits. “But we’ve got some nice touches to help it be a viable, technical shoe and still be very affordable.” (Note — the shoe will cost $85 US.)
Eggert’s admitting that it’s not a high-end product rings a bell with me. I wrote recently about shoes you go to war in: simple, durable kicks that you rely on when you want a shoe that might perform more than it visually impresses. I ask him if the DLS Slam falls into that category.
“That’s exactly what this is,” he says. “Put it this way. When you buy the shoe, there’s not a percentage of money that went to a name of the guy wearing it or the marketing budget for it. It went to the shoe.
“It’s very affordable and everything you’re paying for is on the shoe itself. That’s a very good way to look at it. It will perform and it will last and hopefully, I think it’s a pretty nice looking product as well.
“It’s part of our whole grassroots initiative. It’s a little more about being on court and playing with this shoe than wearing it around or representing someone else when you wear it.”
A part of me wants to send a size 13 to Adrian, with a note on the box telling him to head down to that backup court from back in the day and just go nuts in the shoes. It’d probably just stir up bad memories, though.