The Stash Down Under
Meet Garvin Louie, the LeBron James of sneaker collectors.
by Brad Graham
Garvin Louie has the craziest collection of LeBron’s line of Nike sneakers in the Land Down Under. Matter of fact, the 30-year-old native of Australia, who owns 80 pairs of various LeBrons, might just have the craziest collection in any country. And to think, it all started simply because he was “reading about this kid from Akron in SLAM…[who] sounded like the guy talented enough to take the NBA back to where MJ left it.”
Louie began his collection a decade ago with the purchase of the Air Zoom Generations. More recently, Louie has procured rare gems such as the LeBron 8 South Beach, LeBron 9 Elite Miami Vice and LeBron X Denims, as well as two pairs of Big Apple VIs. The latter were an impulse Black Friday purchase made the day after he witnessed King James dominate the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Otherwise, Louie lists the AZG, the IIIs, VIs, 8s and 9s as his five favorite models.
Though it’s no longer the case—what with LeBron having won back-to-back Finals MVPs—Louie fondly remembers a time when he was able to “land just about any colorway, in any size, without ever waking up at 3 a.m. and fighting the elements.”
While he may fear the day retro LeBrons become a true mainstream force, Louie assures us he’ll remain with the series because, “I’ve been there since [LeBron] didn’t have enough talent around him to even make the Playoffs.”
Louie’s collection is more about his love for LeBron than it is about anything else, but he is also quick to give Nike props for their past work on the signature—”No other brand could’ve given us the whole royalty angle, taken us through the Chamber of Fear or introduced us to The LeBrons”—as well as their current work. “The strategy has rightly moved away from storytelling and is now focused on technological advancement,” he says.
While Louie’s wife does “her best to understand my intense interest in the LeBron series,” he did recently sell off a number of shoes to make more space for their daughter. Now, the only thing he has to worry about is his daughter following in his footsteps and eventually asking for $500 to purchase herself a pair of LeBron 20s.
Here’s our full conversation with Louie…
KICKS: For those unfamiliar with the Garvin Louie story, tell me a little about yourself and how you ended up collecting sneakers.
Garvin Louie: I put it down to the explosion of basketball trading cards, Starter caps and jackets, Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, Charlotte Larry Johnson jerseys, half-hour NBA highlights on weekend mornings, NBA Jam Session, L.A Gear with lights, British Knights, the Reebok Pump and everything Nike—Flight, Force, Max, Air, Huarache, Zoom, Shox, the Alpha Project, Space Jam, Barkley vs Godzilla. Growing up during the 80s and 90s it was hard not to have at least a little interest in sneakers—the athletic brands made it near impossible not to become a fan—but I actually owe my passion to my parents, who, along with my Uncle (who was based in New York City), were able to occasionally afford to dress me in high-end sneakers. That’s how it all began. Now, I’m 30, with an awesome wife who is doing her best to understand my intense interest in the LeBron series. But she’s supportive of my habit nonetheless, well, most of the time. We also have a new born baby girl who’s the center of my world.
KICKS: That’s understandable. You mentioned your yncle sent you kicks from the U.S. Naturally, that opens up a can of questions. So take me through the process: how long did they take to arrive via mail? Did you have any say in which editions were sent over? What did people in the school yard say when you showed up in shoes not available locally?
GL: From memory, it took the parcel a couple of months to arrive. It was pretty exciting, especially because there were no tracking numbers back then so each day around the expected arrival date I’d get home from school, excited as hell. I remember thinking, so long as they had the Swoosh on the side, they were cool. It wasn’t anything like the sneaker culture of today. I distinctly remember being sent a pair of Barkleys one year and a pair of white/teal/black trainers another, that I wore into the ground.
As for the schoolyard, anything Nike was considered cool but in all honesty, it didn’t matter so much. As long as you weren’t wearing Aerosports or Spaldings—no disrespect to Mario Chalmers—you were OK. Back in the day, Nike, Jordan Brand, Converse, L.A Gear, Reebok, British Knights, they were all as cool as each other but now, the whole culture is so different. Now, we have 10-year-olds who can now identify the LeBrons from the Kobes and the KDs from the Hyperdunks. In many ways, it’s great to see the whole thing has become a global phenomenon but there’s still something odd about a kid demanding $300 for a pair of shoes they’ll outgrow in six months. There’s no better example of a First World problem, right?
KICKS: Well, now you have to be careful, your daughter might be asking you for $500 to purchase her first pair of LeBron 20s in 10 years time. Can you remember the first pair of LeBrons you actually bought?
GL: Yes, of course. They were the white/black/red Air Zoom Generation.
KICKS: What made those sneakers must-haves?
GL: Prior to the AZGs, I found myself buying a fair amount of shoes, but they were mostly to play ball in. The AZGs became must-haves because I’d read about this kid from Akron in SLAM Magazine. Right there and then, I decided he’d be the new player I’d follow. For me, there was a bit of a lull in the NBA once Jordan retired from the Bulls, even with Grant Hill and Penny Hardaway but LeBron sounded like the guy talented enough to take the NBA back to where MJ left it. I wore those AZGs into the ground. Then, once the Zoom LeBron IIs came out, I never looked back.
KICKS: How’s the sneaker scene Down Under?
GL: Up until about five years ago, Melbourne wasn’t exactly a hotbed for limited editions, but luckily things have changed and now all the good stuff is landing on my doorstep. It’s just a shame the hype machine is becoming too big and powerful, but what can you do?
KICKS: In your opinion, what separates the LeBrons from other signature lines on the market?
GL: When they first emerged, I felt the LeBrons were the first signature shoe to carry the significance of a Jordan. Sure, guys like T-Mac (adidas) and Vince Carter (Nike Shox) had their own lines while AND1 was really doing some massive things away from the NBA but for me, the timing was perfect. Like I said before, when the AZGs first came out, I was really looking for something to own, be it a player to follow, a team to like or a new product line to consume. LeBron, and his Cavs, they were all those things. It also felt important because it was Nike. I’m sure a lot of other collectors would agree, the passion for LeBrons wouldn’t be the same had he signed with a rival brand. I think about it like this: no other brand could’ve given us the whole royalty angle, taken us through the Chamber of Fear or introduced us to The LeBrons. What’s interesting is how the Nike strategy has moved away from storytelling and is now focused on the product line as its flagship, driven mostly by technological advancement and meeting LeBron’s specific needs. I think that evolution has been key to keeping me interested all these years.