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Killing over kicks: How did we get here?

  • Last December, a teen was killed over his shoes
  • Teacher, mentor explains the origins of the 'shoe game'

Shoes driving big business, risk for teens

Shoes driving big business, risk for teens

Editor's note: Perry Williams teaches high school English to students in Georgia. He is a sneaker enthusiast and mentors students who are interested in buying and selling sneakers.  

"Give up ya J’s and ya Starter" was a common phrase many young people heard about 20 years ago while being held up at gunpoint for their expensive shoes and jackets. During that time, people were getting robbed for their Air Jordan sneakers and their NFL Starter Jackets.

With the recent news reports of young people being slain for tennis shoes, some people may feel that this is a new epidemic bleeding from the urban areas into the suburbs. Unfortunately, young people getting robbed and -- in the worst case -- getting killed over a pair of sneakers is not a new trend.

In the late 80’s and early 90’s, when basketball shoes crossed over the $100 mark, death over gym shoes began. A small shoe company decided on a new marketing strategy of focusing on one player instead of hundreds of lesser-known athletes. A shoe deal between Nike and a rookie from the University of North Carolina named Michael Jordan grew into a global, multi-billion dollar conglomeration with the best basketball player ever to play the game.

During this era, many of these highly sought-after shoes became popularized on the small screen with NBC’s “A Different World” and on the big screen with classic flicks such as “White Men Can’t Jump” and Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing.” Sneakers of that time were in demand then and today.

As a result, you have a consumer-based, sub-culture market that dictates what shoes are sold opposed to what shoe designers feel will be the next big thing. Many “sneaker heads” drive the market by selling shoes online and shoe companies try to capitalize on what is trending and selling on the web. What is so astonishing is that many of today’s young shoe collectors who are standing in line for days or making unsafe deals were not old enough to even see Michael Jordan play. Surprisingly, many of the shoes that carry these high price tags and garner the most attention are not newly designed shoes. They are mainly all re-released shoes or hybrids from years ago.

However, we have now entered an era where many shoes today have surpassed the $3,000 - $4,000 threshold. With the release of the Nike Marty McFly’s, LeBron’s, Foamposites and Air Yeezy, shoe prices have reached all-time highs. With these types of prices, many collectors are doing anything to get their hands on them. Some people do it for the actual culture and love of the shoe game and some are strictly in it for the money.

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