IT’S GOT TO BE THE SHOES

by | May 11, 2022

The year was 1989 and at the tender age of ten years old I had fallen in lust for the very first time and now 30+ years later, not much has changed. The Nike Air Jordan IV still holds a special place in my heart. 

The Air Jordan IV isn’t just a basketball shoe, it was a pivotal moment in pop culture. As kids, my brother and I would seize any opportunity to go into the local shoe store with the sole purpose of looking at the shoes. The Air Jordan IV wasn’t about running faster or jumping higher, It was a status symbol. it was about being cool and these shoes were the epitome of cool. My parents didn’t get it, and in hindsight they were spot-on. Spending north of $100 on a pair of sneakers is 1989 for a 10 year old was a losing proposition. There was no rational way to justify the cost. It was purely a romanticized emotional desire but that didn’t make me want them any less.

The only kid from my 3rd grade class that I remember by name is Stoker Wallsmith, and it’s because he was the only kid in the class with a pair of Nike Air Jordan 4’s. I was 10 years old, it was decades before the word “influencer” would become a household word, and even then I could recognize the concept of something being a status symbol. Air Jordan’s were cool and Stoker Wallsmith had Air Jordans, so via the transitive property, Stoker Wallsmith was a cool kid.

Half-way through the 4th grade we moved and I had to change schools. Everything was different. New building, new teachers, new kids but the one thing that remained the same for me was that you could identify the “cool kids” by the sneakers they were wearing. I get how ridiculous that is as an adult, but I was 11 years old so cut me some slack. I always gravitated towards the kids with the cool shoes. By now, the Jordan 5 had been released and it was Brian Bozeman that had them. Then in 5th grade it was David Zulich with the Jordan 6’s. Seriously… This is what I remember about being a kid. 

My parents still weren’t down with the idea of dropping over $100 on a pair of sneakers, but we always had cool shoes, even if they weren’t Air Jordans. My brother and I continued to seize every opportunity to go to the shoe stores. I honestly don’t think that we ever tried a pair on. We would wait with baited breath by the mailbox for the “Eastbay” catalogue to arrive so that we could rummage through pages searching for what Nike had up its sleeve. I don’t think I ever really considered wearing another brand of shoe. At least not seriously. In the early 90’s, the kids like me playing basketball in the driveway or at the parks with their tongues hanging out of their mouths while attempting their own, often pathetic, version of the “Jumpman logo” signature dunk were all wearing Nike’s.

Decades later, Nike is still pumping out Air Jordan shoes. The popularity of Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls championships, and a growing sneakerhead sub-culture continue to drive shoe sales. As of April 2019, Nike’s Jordan Brand was worth more than $3 billion in wholesale revenue. Shoes have become as collectible as baseball cards and there are a plethora of shoes on the StockX shoe exchange website regularly selling for more than I paid for my first car. Nike does limited edition releases and collaborations with influencers and designers. The limited edition runs drive the prices up even higher.

In 2018 I finally treated myself a pair of Nike Ar Jordan 4’s. It felt extremely satisfying to fulfill a lifelong dream, even if it was a silly one. Then last year my 8 year old daughter asked for a pair of Air Jordans for Christmas. It’s funny how life comes full circle. 30+ years later and the Air Jordan brand is still a huge part of modern pop-culture. The only thing that’s changed is that  instead of it being me asking my parents to buy them for me, it’s my own kid asking me.

And yes… she got the shoes.

Exclusivity: Nike has consistently positioned the Air Jordan shoe line as an exclusive and aspirational product. This allowed the entire company to benefit from the Jordan marketing campaigains and grow market share without cannibalzing their higher tier products. The Air Jordan wasn’t a shoe for everyone. It was a special product for the elite few, and for everyone else there was Nike.