It’s Gotta Be The Shoes
A new DVD and novel on the history of our obsession with MJ’s sneaks.
Last Thursday was brutal for Atlanta travelers. It rained. It hailed. There were even reports of tornadoes touching down just outside of the metro area. The whole thing sucked because my wife and I had plans of attending the world premiere showing of A.R. Shaw’s 23: The Street History of a Shoe, a documentary centered around hip hop culture’s fixation with the Air Jordan brand.
Twister or not, we made it out. So did a room-full of other Weather Channel radicals, sneaker heads and Michael Jordan fans wanting to see the film that’s complementing the release of Shaw’s first novel, the vividly-written 23. A trailer for the doc can be found here. After checking it and reading my one-on-one with Shaw, a writer who daylights as the sports editor for Atlanta urban weekly, Rolling Out, visit 23novel.com to buy a copy of the book. The DVD comes free with a purchase.
SLAM: How does it feel to have a labor of love finally seeing the light of day?
A.R. Shaw: It’s been a lot of work and effort. It’s been a process, but it feels good to finally get this thing out there so people can give their opinion and give me some feedback on it.
SLAM: Let’s talk about that process for a second. How long did it take for a vision in your head to transform into one that you can hold in your hand?
ARS: Man, it started back in 2006, when this story just came to me about this kid who wanted some Air Jordans. He would do whatever it took to get these shoes. The story just came to me. I kept expanding on it. Finally, I was able to get the draft right. It finally came out right, maybe two months ago.
SLAM: Are you a Jordan head? A basketball head? What makes you an authority on the subject?
ARS: I love basketball. I played basketball since I was 6, 7 years old, man, just playing in the streets, playing in the neighborhood. I just love the game. If I could find a court right now, I’d go out there and play. As far as sneakers are concerned, I’m not too much of a Jordan head like that but I’ve been around it. I have friends that love it [though]. They do whatever they can to get their hands on these shoes. And me, just being an observer, I’d just look at these guys and be like, “Wow, what makes you so enthusiastic about these shoes?” What I did was I just started doing research, talking to people in different cities and different states, getting their opinions on the shoe culture. I went to Chicago, New York, L.A. and Atlanta and just shot a documentary and captured the feeling of what it was like to have a pair of Air Jordans in the 80s and 90s.
SLAM: What makes these cats who stand out in front of the shoe stores for three and four days for a pair of sneakers so unique?
ARS: A lot of older guys like wine. I will compare it to fine wine. You wanna get to a point where you have something that nobody else can get. With sneakers, these guys love them to the point where they wanna have the most exclusive, rarest sneakers that you can’t find. It’s kinda like a sport to them. It’s like a game outside of the game. Can I have the best sneakers? Can I have the sneakers that you just can’t find? These guys love sneakers. They love being involved in the culture, man. It’s something else.
SLAM: No doubt. Back in high school and college, I was a low-budget Jordan head myself. Are these official Jordan collectors really well off? How do they do it?
ARS: Right now, you have guys who couldn’t afford the shoe when they were younger, but now they’re in their late 20s, early 30s. They have a job now, so they can pay $1200 for some rare sneakers. These are actually professionals. A lot of people think it’s these kids, but at this moment, they’re professional guys with 9-to-5s. They’re entrepreneurs. But they still love sneakers.
SLAM: Beyond the obvious shoe culture theme of the book, 23 covers some other important subject matter. Tell me about the book’s other messages.
ARS: It’s not all about the shoes. They’re actually the back story to a story. [The book] kinda highlights on what went on in the 1980s as far as crack cocaine. Just how it was growing up during the 80s. Specifically, I chose Chicago. I went to Chicago four or five years ago. The city just intrigued me. It’s one of the most unique cities in America. It has sections where you got these projects for miles and miles. The city is just so segregated. You would think Chicago was in the south. It’s one of the most segregated cities in America. But at the same time, it’s very inspirational. So, I took the story of Chicago and just highlighted how crack and other things were going on in the 80s. I just wanted to show the social aspects of what was going on, more so than just the Jordan shoe.
SLAM: Have you approached Nike at all with your project?
ARS: Not at this point. Maybe in the future. My goal wasn’t to impress Nike or get Nike involved. My goal was just to, first, tell the story from a young black male’s perspective. Second, was to show and highlight the sneaker culture. Those were my main two goals. If Nike wants to holler and get on board, cool. But I’m not really looking for that.
SLAM: There are references to popular 80s shows like G.I. Joe and Silver Spoon in the book. How old are you?
ARS: I’m 28. But the character is a lil’ older than me. I think he’s six or seven years older than me. Everything takes place in ‘88, ‘89, around the era when the Jordan brand was just poppin’ off. It’s not based on me. It’s just a character I created, put him in this world and built these things around him.
SLAM: After someone reads the book and checks out the documentary, what kind of thoughts do you want them to leave with?
ARS: I especially want young, black males to pick it up. I got a lot of messages for young, black males who are trying to make it. I’m sure you know, growing up can be hell—especially for young, black males trying to find a way and the correct path to your success. Hopefully, people will get that [message]. I think the book is for everybody. I think women can enjoy it. I think men can enjoy it. It’s for people of all ages. I think it’s a story that everybody can relate to at some level. With the documentary, I just want people to understand the culture. A lot of people don’t understand how serious the sneaker culture is. A lot of people don’t understand that these guys really take this seriously. When a shoe comes out, they have the release dates on their calendar. It’s like an event to them. I wanted to highlight that. I want people to understand that this is not a fad. These guys really take this seriously. I just want them to understand where it came from and how it started.