It was in the year 1995 when, as a 1st grader at Gardenview elementary, I received my first pair of Air Jordans. They were a pair of grey and white Jordan 10s with the number 45 on the side. I was on cloud 9 and couldn’t nobody tell me nothin! I came alive when I put those shoes on and my confidence went through the roof. I made sure that I got up to sharpen my pencil as many times as I could that week at school. I had the privilege of growing up as a child during the Jordan era. It was in that golden era of NBA basketball that I watched Michael Jordan glide through the air in his signature shoe. His shoes were a big deal and in many ways his shoes are still a big deal. No athlete has paralleled Jordan in marketability and revenue for athletic wear. In the 80s and 90s his shoes smashed records and broke registers as the shoe stores kept processing payments for this sneaker. He was black superman and an ambassador of black culture to the world. For years, Air Jordans have made millions of dollars and offered a rival to its parent company Nike in shoe sales. Jordan became a catalyst for black entrepreneurship in the sports world.
¶ Now other black athletes such as Penny Hardaway, Tiger Woods, Lebron James and Stephen Curry have gone on to make millions of dollars with their own shoe brands. As a matter of fact non-athletes such as Kevin Hart, 50 cent and Kanye West have gotten a piece of the shoe deal pie by signing contracts with major athletic wear companies. The Air Jordan sneaker was and is still to be associated with greatness and black excellence. It made us feel good. It made us feel proud. It made us stand out. No longer were black men just wearing a designer shoe for a larger company, but a black man was the shoe. Furthermore, ever since the 1980s the Jordan sneaker has been a coveted part of an African American man’s wardrobe. In certain parts of the country if you didn’t have a pair of Jays, then your outfit was not complete. Also, if you didn’t get your Jays when they first came out then, they were not considered fresh anymore.
I remember guys skipping school if they didn’t get the pair of Jays when they first came out. I was one of those guys who got fake Jays because I couldn’t afford the real ones. I had a pair of all white Jordan 11s that fell apart while I was playing basketball. Needless to say, those only costed me $50.00 for a reason. But they accomplished my goal of adding an immediate boost to my confidence and swag to my wardrobe. At a current price tag of $220, wearing a pair of these offers an instant boost to your status. Even as a 30 year old man, I must admit that I feel good when I put on my black Jordan 13s or red Jordan 11s. Sometimes maybe even too good.
Shoes are a big deal within the African American community. As we stated earlier the shoe not only offered style but a sense of identity. Sadly, many people came to the conclusion that a pair of his shoes was worth more than a life. People have been willing to kill for a shoe that only costs Nike $16 to make. Through its marketing strategies Nike has been able to tap into the human psyche and create an insatiable desire for its product. Though Nike never set out to create a product that would leave blood on the streets, that has been the case. The narrative of black inferiority and the need to add value to oneself through consumption is an ever present issue within the African American community. Many young black men in Chicago and abroad have lost their lives over a pair of Air Jordans. People have been killed for their Jordans in a robberies. Others have killed strangers for accidentally stepping on their Jordans. There has been much bloodshed over these sneakers. But is it really about the shoes?
My wife and I currently do not have kids but when I have a son, it is my heart’s intent to assure him that he is worth more than a pair of shoes. Will I buy my son a pair of Jordans once he is born? I’m sure that I will. It is a common tradition in African American families to buy a child a pair of Jordans when they are first born. I probably will buy us matching Jordans as a matter of fact, but we will wear these shoes with a sense of freedom. These shoes do not define us.
Dear Future Son,
As a black man, many will tell you that you have to do extra in order to add value to yourself. Many will tell you that your life does not matter. I am here to tell you that those are lies. You are important. Your worth comes from something far greater than a Jordan shoe box and though your I may buy you a pair of nice shoes, always know that you are worth more than a pair of nice shoes. Though you may achieve great things, your achievements do not define you. Though you may marry a beautiful woman someday, she does not define you. Though you may do amazing work for an organization, that organization does not defined you. You are made in the image of God.