Alex Park, Managing Editor
Mark Jackson said on a broadcast earlier this NBA season that reigning MVP Stephen Curry is hurting the game of basketball, largely due to his ability to be an efficient high-volume scorer in the NBA shooting mostly three-pointers. While this may be true to some extent, that same statement can be applied to legends before Curry, such as Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson. While these players might not have ruined the game per se like Jackson said, there’s a topic that often goes undiscussed in basketball and sports culture that ties every athlete together:
While sneakers have been around since the 18th century, the popularity of branded sneakers didn’t really take off until Chuck Taylor started endorsing Converse sneakers. Adidas and Puma then followed suit in the 1920s but it wasn’t until 1984 that sneakers really exploded onto the scene, and that was because of Michael Jordan.
Jordan Brand is synonymous with basketball. Currently there are 30 signature models for His Airness as well as countless team model Jordans. Obviously, MJ’s on-court success played an integral role in his brand, which still holds plenty of weight in today’s market with Jordan himself getting paid $100 million annually.
So how can something that is so culturally transcendent be a bad thing?
In an investigation by GQ magazine, it was discovered that about 1,200 people a year die over sneakers, usually over Jordans. According to SportsOneSource, one of every two basketball shoes sold in the U.S. in 2013 were Jordans, with Nike holding a near monopoly in the shoe market with 92 percent. Jordan Brand is a subsidiary of Nike.
While the market numbers may have changed, the recent string of sneaker violence has not. On February 27, a New Jersey man who owned a sneaker store was gunned down outside of his own shop, purportedly for sneakers. This past December, a high school freshman was murdered by her own uncle over a pair of Jordans.
Sneaker violence isn’t something that’s brand new either. In 1990, Rick Telander wrote a cover story for Sports Illustrated discussing sneaker violence titled, “Your Sneakers or Your Life”. Much of what was said in that article still holds true today.
Sociology explains that sneaker violence occurs because of peer pressure. Economics says that it’s capitalism that really amplifies sneaker violence. Or maybe Americans are just truly materialistic with an addictive personality.
Taking a look at how these sneakers are marketed as well, it’s evident that the marketing team at Jordan Brand and Nike does an excellent job at selling their brand. Why else would we be buying sneakers worn by a player who last played in 2003? The advertisements depict these sneakers as the holy grail of life, like they’re supposed to take you from nothing to something, but in reality, it may be the opposite.
While some may suggest Jordan Brand and Nike take social responsibility, the solution isn’t as simple. After moving on from sales that involved many of the customers camping outside of stores — literally camping out — companies introduced sneaker raffles, RSVP systems, and social media contests in hopes of reducing violence. While this may reduce sneaker violence on-site, there is still the issue of black market sales and “meetups” — but now the problem of human greed comes into play.
What are you willing to do to get the hottest pair of sneakers out there right now?
No matter what companies do, there will always be violence surrounding sneakers. It’s up to the people who associate themselves with this culture to take responsibility for their actions and not to fall into the hype.
Because when you fall too deep into the hype, you kill the game.