September 25, 2012

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Basketball Sneakers: A Brief History

By: Anson Whaley

LeBron James’ newest basketball sneakers (courtesy of Nike) were released last week. Unless you’re a teenager obsessed with having the latest and greatest kicks, that might not ordinarily seem like a big deal. But what was significant was the price tag. James’ sneakers will command nearly $200.00 a pair. No, they won’t automatically slide onto your feet or tie themselves, but if you ‘upgrade’ and opt for the souped-up version (nearly $300.00), the shoes are equipped with special gear to track your vertical leap and other ‘important’ metrics that consumers obviously couldn’t live without.

Are LeBron's new sneakers the next iconic shoe?

The shoes got me to thinking back to some other landmark pairs of footwear in recent memory:

“Dunkman”

There’s a legitimate chance that you’ve never heard of this shoe. The Dunkman was one of the first economy sneakers backed by a star – Shaquille O’Neal, to be exact. The product came out in 2002 and was an attempt by Payless to produce a quality sneaker that most parents could, you know, actually afford for a change. At around $30.00, the shoe gave kids the opportunity to wear something fashionable at a bargain price. Whether you like the shoe or not, O’Neal deserves serious props for being one of the first athletes to try to come up with an affordable alternative for kids. The brand underwent a rebuilding of sorts last year, but is still hanging on.

“The Pump”

How can you think of The Pump and not instantly flash back to Dee Brown winning the 1991 NBA Slam Dunk championship? The Reebok Pump featured a unique component that allowed buyers to inject the shoe with air by pressing a button installed on the sneaker’s tongue. In his winning performance, Brown threw down one of the most famous dunks in the event’s history, covering his eyes with his arm. But he also made news for previously pumping up his sneakers before another dunk. Brown helped put the shoe on the map with that dunk contest.

“Converse Weapon”

I know, I get it – these shoes aren’t all that iconic. But worn by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the 1986 NBA Finals, they were promoted by the two biggest stars in the game at the time. Other players wore them, but to most of us, they were ‘Magic and Larry’s’ shoes. There are flashier sneakers, of course. But with the way shoe deals work today, when will you again see the two biggest stars in all of basketball wearing the exact same pair?

“Air Jordan”

For most, these are the gold standard. Air Jordan is, with little question, the most significant brand in the history of sneakers. Things started back in the mid-1980s when Michael Jordan was just getting his start in the NBA throwing down dunks over unsuspecting defenders and the sneakers are still around these days with more models than ever. Jordan and Nike helped use the shoes and the Jordan logo to create an entire brand of apparel coined ‘Jumpman.’ Jordan is without a doubt the ambassador when it comes to basketball sneakers and helped pave the way for athletes to receive the multi-million dollar shoe deals now commonplace throughout the sport.

“Chuck Taylor”

The Chuck Taylors were for many kids what Jordans are to today’s generation. An earlier version of the shoe actually came out in 1917 and then was rebranded as the Chuck Taylor when the basketball player became a spokesperson for Converse in the 1920s. Taylor suited up for a team that was sponsored by Converse at the time and the brand was born. The ‘All-Stars’, as they later became known, were worn by numerous professional basketball players and even by American soldiers in training during World War II … talk about having a global reach.

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