I remember being 16 and emptying the Claussen pickle jar of loose change I earned as a busboy, exchanging it for legal tender at the bank and bee-lining to the Athlete’s Foot with one goal: the Original Air Jordan IIIs, all white, black bottoms. Granted, I was, and still am, a suffering Knick fan. But Jordan’s double-clutch dunk from the free throw line in the 1987 Dunk Contest had me handing over my hard-earned tips to His Airness. He didn’t need my money, to be sure. But, I needed to believe I could fly, and this was the fastest $100 ticket to that illusion.
Now older and wiser, I gag at paying more than $100 for any pair of shoes and I’m resigned to the fact that I never could and never will dunk anything but a cruller. But I respect the game and the players marketable enough to roll out their shoe lines with the backing of Nike, Adidas, Puma and Under Armour.
Still, I was not prepared for the sight that awaited me at a store called the Flight Club on Broadway in Manhattan the day after Christmas. If basketball shoes are manna, then Flight Club is St. Peter’s Cathedral. Plastic wrap never had it so good as when it is shrink wrapped to perfection around the latest pair of Kyrie 2’s with the cross-strap and hyperfusion technology. There are hundreds of new and collectors-item kicks aligned in color-coded rows by year, athlete and shoe company, up and down two long galleries that stretch a couple hundred feet deep. Jay-Z’s Black Album thumped on bass-heavy speakers and store attendants zipped between the throngs of shoppers, calling out shoe styles and sizes into walkie-talkie headsets to stockers in the basement who would send the boxed kicks up to the try-on area near the register. Uniformed and non-uniformed guards darted their eyes across the store like pit bosses as teenage boys with their parents, European and Asian tourists, and plenty of regulars from the 5 boroughs tried on thousands of dollars worth of crisp classic and new model sneakers.
This is what $100,000 in sneakers looks like:
His Airness was well represented, with nearly every permutation of Air Jordan from 1985 onward, in every color possible, and in perfect condition. The shelves were emptying fast as teenage boys cradled the shrink-wrapped rubber and plastic totems like priceless artifacts discovered in a treasure chest at the bottom of the sea.
The panoply of names and prices:
Jordan 12 Retro in Carolina Blue: $275. The Nike Kyrie 2 ‘What The?': $250. The Nike Kobe Elite Low 4KB Liquid Lime: $250. The Nike Air Foamposite One Metallic Gold: $280. The Nike Air Foamposite 1 Supreme with Metallic Flames: $800. The Nike Zoom LeBron 4 All Stars for $500 had nothing on the Nike Zoom LeBron 4 Playoffs for $1500.
Hoop shoes, like classic cars, are often made in limited editions. Scarcity equals value, especially when teenage boys see their favorite rapper sporting the rare pair in a new music video. I get all that. I’m a Run D-M-C fan, and ‘My Adidas’ rings as true today as it was when it dropped in 1986. But today’s rappers and entertainers have helped push sneakers into the price stratosphere, especially on resale sites like www.stockx.com. Adidas released a limited edition of Jam Master Jay shell tops in October in memory of Jason William Mizell, aka Jam-Master Jay, the iconic DJ of the group who died in 2002. The run was so scarce that you can’t even find a pair for resale online.
(Photo from @OfficialRunDMC)
And then, there’s Pharrell. Take the Human Race NMD “Pharrell Friends and Family” by Adidas (photo below.) They are a mere $8,000 at FlightClub. Mr. Williams has been designing shoes with Adidas for a few years now and they are not all priced like brand new motorcycle, to be sure. But eight grand for a pair of sneakers I’d likely destroy on a crisp hike through Central Park defies my own rules of style and sensibility. Granted, I’m not the target audience or income bracket for this model, but who is, really? Whoever it is, they must be ‘Happy’.
(Photo from FlightClub.com)
Clearly, Adidas is onto something here. The brand has hung in there as Nike has relentlessly expanded into every sports and apparel category possible. It has fought off Under Armour as that scrappy Baltimore brand signed Steph Curry and other stars to mega-endorsement deals. Investors have clearly noticed, as the stock, which trades in Europe, has soared 56% this year. Compared to Nike (NKE) which has fallen 18% this year, and Under Armour (UA) down 38%, Adidas has posterized its competitors.
It’s too simple to say that Adidas’ affiliations with Pharrell and Kanye West have propelled the company’s turnaround in 2016. That said, it has taken its lessons from its earlier years and blended fashion and entertainment into a winning formula. Why does it release $8,000 sneakers? Because it can. Can they charge more? Probably. Have we hit Peak Sneaker? Don’t count on it.