SXSW REVIEW: Sneakerheadz

When I was a kid I wanted to be like Mike. Like Mike, if I could be like Mike. Turns out Michael Jordan is a dick – but before we knew that every kid in America and beyond wanted a pair of Air Jordan’s. Somehow my mom managed to get me a pair, which I kind of regret to this day. Nevertheless, I was so thankful. I treated those shoes like they were a living breathing thing.

The early 80’s saw the emergence of Reebok and Puma. Then in 1984 the new Air Jordan’s dropped. Jordan made an appearance on David Letterman and asked him about his new shoes and why the NBA banned them. His response, “Because they didn’t have any white in it.” Which Letterman replied “Neither does the NBA.” Nailed it.

So what is a Sneakerhead? I’m glad you asked. It is someone that appreciates the hobby as a culture and an art. Someone that appreciates as more than just an article of clothing, but a lifestyle statement.

The boom of signature kicks in this era began as a sub-culture but has become an addiction. Sports along the way become more than althetics, it became pop culture. A prime example was RUN DMC whose “My Adias” gave them the first million dollar shoe deal that wasn’t by an athlete. Hip hop, skateboarding and shoes changed the world in the 80’s and it continues to grow.

The new shoes spawned a trend that would jump by leaps and bounds with each decade to come. Sneakerheadz explores the collectors obsession to get the next fresh pair of limited edition kicks no matter what the cost is.

Some celebrity cameos include Rob Dyrdeck, Wale, Mike Epps, Frank the Butcher and Kansas City Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie who has his shoes in a basement safe called “Fort Knox.”

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But the real stars of the show are the obsessive collectors that have taken their game to the next level. Collectors often have 1000’s of pairs of shoes with price tags that rival what a used car would cost. The hordes mentality often fills up their house to the point rooms are filled with nothing but leather and laces.

Outside of dropping loads of cash on shoes, the hobby can also be a dangerous one. Midnight shoe releases and supply being lower than demand causes a toxic environment that sometimes ends in violence, possibly even murder. This is the seedy underbelly that we don’t always hear about. After all how much risk could possibly be involved in collecting shoes as a hobby? Well, with some of the re-sell value of shoes reaching into thousands of dollars people will do anything to score a quick profit. Even if it means tearing shoes off of someone walking down the street. At one point it counted for 1200 deaths per year and 20 per week all over shoes.

These type of crimes happened even more often before the internet. Back then you had to know someone to score a pair of limited sneakers. It was a contact sport in some regards. You had to search not just what was on the wall, but what was available in the back of the store. Possibility even tucked away in the basement of a shoe warehouse. Some would go as far as traveling to different cities to find new versions.

As I mentioned before the doc explores a number of stories from several collectors. Along with showcasing some very rare editions. Such as the Stapel Nike Pigeon – which caused riots at shoe stores between sneakerheadz.

Since these limited edition sneakers became so popular Nike mastered the art of limited release after the popularity of the Jordan’s. People would camp out for a night or a week for new releases. It’s a combination of hype from the media and the internet. There is an entire section of Nike’s campus that handles nothing but limited edition. There have been petitions from parents and city officials to find a better way for Nike to release these shoes to guard against violence.

The highlight of this documentary isn’t the tradgey around the hobby (which is sad) but seeing all the cool shoes and how the hobby has spread overseas to truly become a part of pop culture. One of the fun stories highlighted in the doc was that of Preston Truman. He was an assistant for the Utah Jazz in 1997 when the Chicago Bulls faced off against the Jazz for the NBA championship. He worked the infamous “flu game” and asked Jordan before the game if he could have his shoes. Jordan obliged and held up to his word after the game. Jordan went on to torch the Jazz and would eventually win yet another ring. While it would be hard for me to part with shoes like this, Preston was offer $100K for the pair. Pretty hard to turn down. He sold them and hung onto the great story for years to come.

If you are passionate about collecting anything then you will love this doc. There are a few more stories tucked away just like Preston’s that make it a fascinating look inside a hobby that is very much two sided. Elation from getting something you love and the price it takes to gain material possessions mixed with the monetary and psychical toll it can take on you when collection becomes and addiction. While I have never been a true sneakerhead myself I will always cherish my Air Jordan’s and Penny Hardaway foamposites. Like I said, even if you are not an avid collector you will still enjoy this flick for the nostalgia alone.

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