Most of the time our memories of great things, great moments and great people fade over time.
It’s increasingly rare we can appreciate something special the first time, and then the next generation can see that same something special through their eyes with the same awe, feel the same inspiration and hold the same admiration.
What’s really crazy is, I’m not talking about Michael Jordan the basketball player…I’m talking about his eponymous sneaker the Air Jordan. At the Nike store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago there were hundreds people trying to “Be like Mike” at least when it comes to sneakers.
“I think that the sneakers went beyond Michael Jordan. I think his legacy has continued through his sneakers. It’s something that people like to collect and live through his sneakers. It’s awesome”, says Alex Catanescu about Jordans.
Catanescu is a collector from Hoffman Estates who claims to have more than 18 pairs of Jordans. That included the Jordan 7’s he had on his feet that he calls his “beaters”. That’s basically a pair that is already messed up. But Catanescu says beaters or not, he always has Jordans on his feet.
“It’s the ethic of it. Just like the Comfort, just like to know you have J’s on your feet. You feel more secure. I don’t know it’s just something in my brain. I can’t describe it”.
If you didn’t already know there is a HUGE market for Air Jordans aka ‘Jordans’ aka ‘J’s’ aka a whole lot of other akas, depending on where you are from. The release day is also an event and a party where like minded Air Jordan lovers can meet, talk, compare sneakers. It’s almost like a mini convention, complete with a DJ and all.
“I love Michael Jordan!” says Ernest Gardner from King Drive, “I’m a “Mike-head”. I got every pair of ‘Mikes’ there is. Starting from the number 1’s to the 9’s to 12’s. I’ve been buying ‘Mikes’ since I was 18 years old. Also I’m a collector”
Nino Zacharia of Skokie says, “it’s sick man. I just like the way it looks. I just fall in love with my shoes, all my Jordans. You just have them, you just love them.”
There are usually three kinds of people buying Jordans: people who plan to wear them for fashion or to actually play basketball, people who collect them and will likely never wear them unless they have two pairs of the same one and people who buy them to resell them for a profit.
Yup, expensive sneakers can be a major investment. But unlike classic cars where the original parts, the original design, the original make are coveted the biggest draw are re-issues of previous sneakers with different patterns, materials and colors, these are known as “colorways”. For example, along with the brand new Air Jordan XX8 coming out February 16th, there was a re-issue of the Air Jordan 1 with a Black/Royal colorway (the original was black/red and white) and Air Jordan 3 “Joker” colorway a black shoe with lime green accents (the original was black, red with “elephant skin” accents).
By a margin of at least 5 to 1, the people waiting in line, clamoring to get into the door, trying to find ways to get around the one sneaker per customer limit were trying to buy the retro Jordans not the brand spanking new ones.
Let’s take a step back. If you want ‘J’s’ on the first day they come out, it’s not just as simple as walking down to the Foot Locker, asking for a pair and walking out. Usually, there are lines, you get a wristband or a ticket and there is an insane amount of jockeying to get the sneakers you want in your actual size.
Here at the Michigan Avenue Nike store they use twitter to set up an RSVP system to keep things orderly and give an advantage to true “sneakerheads” who also follow @nickechicago. But…
“It’s practically impossible to get the RSVP” according to Neil Moallem from Rockford, “so we decided the only thing we could do to possibly get the shoes we really wanted was to stand in line for as long as possible because they are also first come first serve…so we stayed up all night. We left town, it’s about an hour and a half drive. We left town at about 3. We go into Chicago at about 4:30. We got around this area like around 5:15. By 5:30 we were in line…5:30am we were in line in the freezing cold before the sun was even up with a whole bunch of other people! And then at about 8 o’clock they gave us a wristband and told us with each wristband we would be able to get a pair that we wanted”.
Sounds like a lot of effort, right? Here is the thing. Moallem has no plans to wear the sneakers he bought. He’s just going to sell them. He made the trip along with two buddies because they saw dollar signs, not because they see MJ as a hero.
“We’ve each made 100 dollars today”, says Jordan Salzman who also took the trip from Rockford. The markup on a pair of Jordans really depends on how rare the shoe is and how bad the buyer really wants them. Salzman admits he likes Jordans much more than the real Mike. “I do love these sneakers because they make me a few extra dollars.”
At the Michigan Avenue store, the athletic shoe entrepenuers were the minority.
For most it was an emotional experience, not an economic opportunity.
“Through the Jordans my love of shoes evolved and it’s crazy. It’s just taken over me” says Andrew Balitaan of Morton Grove.
Michelle Baynes made the trip from Detroit to Chicago just for a chance to buy the Retro Joker 3’s.
“It’s Jordan’s 50th birthday, so I kind of wanted to come here and see what is going on and of course get a pair of Jordans”
Baynes says every time she buys a pair, she feels closer to the legendary player.
“I actually loved them from the first time he wore them. He got in trouble for wearing them on the court. The rebellion! It just has such story and legacy to it. It’s awesome just to find out things bit by bit, little pieces of his story and stuff. It makes the shoes more than shoes”.
Desmond Haramis made the drive from Milwaukee, for Jordans. For him, the whole process is a hobby.
“I just love sneakers I just collect them. I usually don’t even wear them I don’t sell them or nothing. I just collect them for over the years” Haramis says, “I wear them if I got two pairs. I got two pairs of everything. That’s the ones I wear then I put up one. That way when I get…I’m going to get like 365…and all the ones not worn. I’m going to take a picture of all of them”.
That might seem a bit obsessive. But Haramis believes it’s all justified because of one key thing.
“The quality, the quality of some of the shoes. That’s really what it is. They just better shoe than any other shoe”, Haramis says.
Retros, Re-issues, Re-Releases, whatever you call older model Air Jordans that are re-sold in different colorways, are clearly the darling of most sneaker collectors. But the new Jordan XX8’s still have a place in the hearts of Jordan fans.
“It has a new feel to it…I really like the design on them…they are really futuristic”.
Flavio Martinez from the Midway Airport area paid $250 plus tax for the Jordan XX8’s. He’s got a few fairs of the retro Jordans but feels the whole thing is getting out of hand now.
The price tag for the new sneakers may seem steep compared to $165 plus tax for Retros. But Martinez says the XX8’s are still a must have.
“I know it’ll be worth my dollar. I got the concords (a re-issue of the Air Jordan 11) last year. I got them for 150 bucks I still haven’t worn them. They are worth like 800 dollars now. I know I could sell them on eBay for like 800 bucks. It’s well worth the investment no matter what I’m getting them for”.
Another draw for Martinez, the new model is called the XX8. Every model after the XX3 (23 like Michael Jordan’s number on the Bulls) has been named for the year. A small details with big importance in world of Jordans, apparently.
While some may see Air Jordans as having a life beyond the playing days of Michael Jordan, Martinez couldn’t disagree more. He sees ever pair as a testament to the greatness of the player and the person.
“His symbol is what represents Chicago, it represents everything. It represents struggle, it represents striving for perfection. It represents working so hard for what you want to achieve. That symbol, it really, it fascinates me”.