Wanting What You Can’t Have

by Chris O’Leary

When I was growing up, sneakers were a once-a-year deal for me. At the end of August every year, Team O’Leary (I’m the oldest of four) would pack it into the minivan, head down to the mall and get our back to school shopping done. By the time I had hit high school, the shoe purchase had become the most important part of the day.

A lot of things go through your mind when you’re in that store, sizing up the one pair of kicks that you’re going to wear for the next 365 days. Will this shoe be cool in a few months? Is it good to ball in? You’re wearing it between classes and after school too, so will it look good when you’re not on the court? Finally (remember we’re talking northern Canada here), in the event that I have to walk through a foot of snow for a stretch of time one day, will this thing hold up somewhat adequately?

When I was going into my junior year of high school, I stumbled on a find that amazingly managed to fit all of these criteria. It was the end of August and I was on a family vacation in the Shuswap area of British Columbia. We stopped one day in this small-ish city, Kamloops, to do some shopping. There, I found Shoe Strings—an athletics store that was having a grand opening sale.

Everything was 50 percent off.

Sitting on a shelf on the back wall in the store, hiding away like it knew it was too good to be selling for so little, was Reebok’s Shaq Attaq II.

It was love at first sight.

Decked out in a mid-’90s appropriate all black, accented by an Orlando Magic-friendly royal blue liner, I had tried the shoes on, put them back in the box and had them out the door in about five minutes.

Those shoes were on my feet through every moment of that junior year. I wore them to every class; I had them on my feet the first time I drove myself to school; I played in them at lunch every day at school and made the team that year in them. Thankfully, a severe lack of minutes helped add to their longevity.
In one bizarre moment where I was off-roading in a teammates’ car that season, I did have to sift through a foot of snow after we almost rolled the car when it went off the narrow trail we were driving on. Three of us showed up late for practice and my soaking wet shoes made it through the extra suicides we had to run.

The shoes made it through basketball season and crossed over into the outdoor game for me that summer. By the fall of my senior year they had crossed the point of no return.

The breaking point came at the end of that summer for me, when the shoes actually broke. I’d been playing outdoors a lot and I had gotten a job at McDonalds, which taught me quickly that kitchen grease plus your basketball sneaks equals sneaker death. When the toe hole in the top of the shoe grew to the point that a small animal could make its way into them, the now old Shaq Attaqs had to go.

As I’ve grown increasingly sneaker crazed over the years, the Shaq Attaq II had fallen by the wayside in lieu of Air Force Ones, NBA-themed shell toes, Jordan XI’s and just about every other technological advancement made in the sports footwear industry.

Lately though, I find myself thinking about that day back in Kamloops on vacation, walking through Shoe Strings and how I felt when I saw that shoe. I think about how I dropped the stack of Champion sweatshirts I had in my hands onto the nearest sibling and bolted to the back wall and grabbed the shoe by the heel and held it up and looked at it, like Elmer Fudd would have if he ever caught the animals he hunted. If I had my time back, I would have found a way to go home with a couple pairs, but I wasn’t at that point with sneakers and I know my parents—who were laying down what they still felt was a ridiculous 50 bucks for the shoes—would never get to that point.

To the best of my knowledge, Reebok hasn’t re-released the Shaq line. That got me thinking about other shoes that I want to get back in my life that haven’t been retroed yet. Of course, the Shaq Attaq II is on top of my list. Here’s four more that are keeping me up at night.

LWP, Nike

The lightest basketball shoe of its generation (and up until a couple of weeks ago, I’d have said possibly ever), the LWP conjures up images of Tim Hardaway being the NBA’s king of the crossover. Nike has yet to re-release it.

Ratball, Adidas

Got them in anticipation of the summer of ’96, brought them home, mulled it over and returned them for a pair of Nike Air DVST8’s. I couldn’t find a picture of these anywhere.

Kamikaze, Reebok

I never owned a pair of Kamikazes. I foolishly thought back when they came out that if I didn’t like a pair of Shawn Kemp’s signature kicks, that I could wait a year and a better model would come out. Twelve years later, I’m still shook, wondering how I could have passed up on this gem.

Tai-Chi, And 1

Okay, maybe an exception to the rule. I’m sure these have since re-released, but I can’t get enough of these shoes. I’ve got a pair of the white and reds like what Vince Carter wore at his coronation in 2000, and I had a pair of black and red low-cuts that I completely destroyed playing outdoor ball in a few summers back. In my dream parallel universe, it rains the colorway of every NBA team in Tai-Chi’s.