The fall of fashionable basketball shoes.
by Rudy Raya
There was a time when basketball players were the most stylish athletes on the face of the Earth. From the haircuts to the gold chains, but a player’s entire aura was encapsulated by what was on their feet. The game itself is practically a fast-paced fashion show, where over-grown athletes take the place of under-fed models and high tops are the substitute for high heels. Superstar athletes were backed by marketing campaigns that were more than just images of athletes running in slow motion to a song from some sell out indie rock band. But today, modern shoe companies are too concerned with making shoes cheaper and lighter that any kind of style or visual aesthetics have gone by the wayside.
In the late ’80s, basketball shoes began to take a more personalized approach to the way they were designed. No longer were the standard issue white on white’s suitable for all players. As each player has a different style of play, some wanted a different style of shoe to match it. The matter of what type of shoe to wear may seem like a basketball afterthought in today’s game, but the option to choose was not always there. And It wasn’t until the Jumpman himself, Michael Jordan, stepped on the scene that this fight for the expression of feet really began. His Airness himself could not lay this royal decree upon the League out of nowhere and it wasn’t without strife that anything would be done.
In this fight for the civil rights of shoes, Michael Jordan was MLK, Rosa Parks and John F. Kennedy all rolled into one. For each game that Jordan would wear non-league approved colorways, he would be fined $5,000. Despite the sanctions from David Stalin…excuse me, David Stern, game after game, Jordan donned the black and red 1s in a battle not just for himself, not just for Nike’s cheapest advertising campaign ever, but for colored shoes everywhere!
Enough of the history lesson already, the state of modern basketball shoes is quite honestly a tragedy. The easiest place to begin is with how physically unappealing a majority of them are nowadays. The shoes that line the walls of each and every sneaker spot look the same, regardless of a swoosh, stripes or that funky little division sign that is the Reebok logo. Lacking any sense of creativity and in many cases, quality, it is no wonder why everybody is either wearing Vans or All-Stars. It isn’t because of an absence of talent or quality spokesmen in the League; shoe companies are either trying too hard or not hard enough.
One of the reasons for the fall is the lack of quality advertising put out by shoe companies. Where are the Mars Blackmons, the Lil’ Pennys, and Grandmamas of today? The last great campaign of commercials were Nike’s “The LeBrons” featuring King James himself playing all the different sides of his personality. Despite the slightly off-putting look of the actual product, those commercials made you take a second look at those shoes. They never even really show him wearing them, but the mix of comedy, good music and creative filmmaking was all it needed. Sadly, I can’t say the same for the most recent poor Muppet representations of Kobe and LeBron.
One of the latest trends in basketball shoe manufacturing is that of the “bargain shoe.” The “sole” intention of this was to give those who couldn’t afford the newest name brand product, a quality basketball shoe at a reasonable price. A pair of Protegés, available at any K-Mart (if you can find one that isn’t closed down), will run a customer close to $30 give or take tax and model. Extremely cheap compared to any retail shoe that you would find at the mall or at a local shoe store.
The problem with these types of shoes is that, for most basketball fans, it isn’t always about what you’re wearing, but more so, who else is wearing it. Though it is a worthy cause, you won’t catch many people stacking Starbury boxes in their closet. The price of a pair of shoes also adds to the prestige. Many sneakerheads are proud to drop $200 on a pair of original Space Jams, and they will gladly tell you just how much they paid for them. If your parents can’t afford a new pair of Jordans, then get new parents. Either that, or get a job.
As of late, many shoe companies have focused on performance based shoes and accessories, but in reality, a majority of the people who buy the products are not going to be using them to play 12-minute quarters night in and night out. Kobe’s latest line of shoes are promoted as being lighter, easier to breathe, supposedly giving your body the endurance to last, but in the end you are pretty much paying for an over-priced, low-cut, stretchy sock with a rubber bottom. Most don’t care if their shoes give them bunions, blisters or blue stained socks, if they look good and make others take notice, then that’s all that matters. And since when did shoe companies start to care about people’s well being? The Reebok Question 1s were responsible for hundreds of thousands of sprained ankles, but that didn’t stop anybody from wearing them.
The state of modern basketball shoes is so sad that the most recent of basketball shoe crazes has been over reissued shoes. Even the most successful line of basketball shoes ever has managed to limit their potential by focusing most of their effort on “retroing” already “retro-ed” shoes. Not to mention the Frankenstein creations that are the Air Jordan Forces, which hideously manage to take beautiful works of art, stitch them together and throw them on top of an Air Force 1. There was a bit of legend behind each pair of Jordans, each design served as a different chapter in his illustrious career. But by re-releasing their classic shoes and tearing them apart, they are slowly killing their reputation. A new pair of once rare and widely desired shoes are now becoming available every month, making any bit nostalgia associated with the shoes null and void.
As sneakerheads and basketball fans alike, we aren’t asking for another pair of shoes with spinners or another kind of gimmick, but please, in the name of Tinker Hatfield, give us some form of an original sneaker. At the very least, a pair LeBron’s that doesn’t resemble hiking boots. A fresh design, with a ’90s feel to redefine the state of athletic shoes is not only wanted, but also needed. With the amount of talent in the NBA and technology at an all-time high, inspiration is abundant. It is just up to the Nikes and adidas’ of the world to put it all together in the form of something as simple as a shoe.