Why I'm a 'Sneakerhead'
As I set foot out of Quicken Loans Arena on a Friday night, the glass door locking behind me, I took to the cold, mid-December Cleveland, Ohio, streets with my standard post-game belongings: notepad, pen and credential lanyard. What made this night different, however, was that tucked under my left arm was a brightly colored box that encased a pair of brand new Nike Kyrie 1s - the first edition of a shoe made for Cleveland Cavaliers point guard and reigning All-Star Game MVP Kyrie Irving.
Thing was, it wasn't just any pair; it was the very first pair to leave through those arena doors. The kicks - Nike's newest signature basketball shoe, actually - would not be available to the buying public until that following Tuesday. The loud and decorated box itself was made exclusively for the evening's events, and only the select few who took the (questionable) financial plunge would possess this limited edition packaging. I was officially on what many in the sneaker-collecting community would refer to as #TeamEarly, and I was over the moon about my elite status.
A handful of Kyrie 1s had been floating around already, but those were sample models made for photo shoots and aesthetic-based reviews. A few individuals who were on hand during Nike's unveiling of Irving as their first signature athlete in six years had even had the chance to wear the shoes on-court as a test run. In Cleveland, however - where only Cavs fans in attendance had the chance to acquire the shoes in advance of the worldwide release - just oneman had them in hand.
As I made my way home, I didn't exactly skip down the avenue, but I'd be lying if I said I hadn't considered it. I'll be the first to admit that the term "sneakerhead" is silly. At its core, the social media-friendly denotation is no different than "audiophile" or "yogi" or "gamer." It represents a person who, once synthesized, is passionate about an item or activity in an era where everyone and everything has to be given a name in the way of sophomoric categorization.
Growing up on the west side of Cleveland in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I wasn't a "sneakerhead" - I was just a kid who loved basketball and the shoes worn by those who played it.
Like most of my peers, I grew up playing driveway hoops at a time when Nike unveiled what was and remains the most significant sports apparel marketing campaign in history. Michael Jordan's "It's gotta be the shoes!" and "Be Like Mike" spots were the reason why - after years of relegating me to lesser pairs of Nikes and Reeboks and LA Gears - my parents finally relented and dropped $100 on a pair of shoes they knew I would either outgrow or wear down to the nubs inside of a year.
I still remember every detail about them, my first and only childhood pair of Air Jordans - The "Carmine" VI - in all their paneled and pull-tab glory. Despite nearing the brink of no longer being part of the target demographic, and having a career in which leather dress shoes are required, that pair remains the reason why, to this day, I still dutifully and meticulously clean all my kicks with solution and a soft-haired brush after every single wear. Let's not focus on the fact that I then place them back in their respective boxes for optimal storage.
In retrospect, my Jordans fetish - if you can even call it that, I'm surely not alone - probably stems from the financial and emotional firewall that was placed between me and the footwear as a young child. While countless other classmates had the latest and greatest with pumps and straps and patent leather, I had the pair that sort of looked like the shoes Penny Hardaway wore. No one scoffed at me, necessarily, but I knew the difference, and I pined for the real deal.
In college, I stuck mostly to running shoes. My Nike hankerings were still present and still intense, mind you, but fashion was outvoted by function, as book-toting and quad-crossing required something more utilitarian. It wasn't long until I graduated, though, and my return to Cleveland signaled the rekindling of my laced-leather flame. Some years later, when I was covering the Cavaliers during one early-morning shootaround, the team's lanky, joke-cracking small forward, Jamario Moon, strolled out of the team's locker room in a standard NBA sweatsuit, a pair of original ("OG") Jordan VIs affixed to his feet. The black leather. The infared accents. The icy sole with the visible air pocket. My 9-to-5 schedule and suit and tie aside, it was as if I was transported back to the halls of North Royalton Middle School.
But instead of the reality of my parents' budget, I then had my own limitations to face. Things like electricity, water and rent meant that dropping $150 on a pair of retro Jordans was still just as inconceivable as it had been a decade earlier.
My thirst, however - that remained very, very real.
Fast forward to today. My closet is Mother Hubbard compared to some of today's most popular "influencers." In it, you'll find a few LeBrons, some Js, and a few OG suede New Balance joints. My Instagram list is only my closest friends, family and followers. My reach, being in Cleveland, doesn't compare to that of anyone who heads up Complex or used to run routes with Biggie Smalls.
But my appreciation is still there - same as it's always been.
I may not have landed the Legend Blue XIs that were the sneaker to have this holiday season, but I also didn't get pepper sprayed for trying. Earlier this summer, I managed to score a size-12 pair of Carmine VIs - the exact same shoe that started it all - a virtual miracle considering that bots and connections now rule the online purchasing roost.
For me, it's never been about the hype; it's always been about the story. The Kyrie 1s bear his late mother's name, dates of birth and death on the sole. The baritone, an instrument he played growing up, is not only on the box, but depicted on the insole, too. The letter "H"- for "Hungry and Humble"- can only be seen if you look at the shoe from the most precise of angles.
Describing myself as a "sneakerhead" - a 33-year-old one, at that - sounds silly. But it's really no different than going to a concert to hear a band you used to love, and discovering that you are not alone; that an entirely new generation of fans have affection, too, for what you find appealing.
It just so happens that on this night, I heard a new note, and I got to hear it before anyone else. And it was beautiful.
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