by Russ Bengtson (@russbengtson)

Things used to be different.

That’s the way stories have began ever since there have been stories to tell, and this one is no different. There have been people lined up on Lafayette Street in downtown New York City for days now — literally through heat and dark and hail — waiting to get their hands on the latest collaboration between Nike SB and Supreme which releases today, July 19th. But there was a time when it worked differently, a time before Twitter and Instagram and Flight Club, a time when “sneaker community” was more than just a hashtag. That long-ago time was 2002.

When the first Supreme Dunks released a decade ago, word spread quickly, but it only spread so far. Niketalk was the primary source for sneaker information, and it rarely went much farther than that except via e-mails and phone calls (remember those?) between those who knew and those who were deemed worthy of knowing. There was eventually an approximate date (in early autumn), and the additional information that Supreme would be releasing them in a trickle — a few dozen pairs per day over the course of a week or so.

Aside: I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for the first person to camp out for sneakers.

Those first Supremes were one of the first “limited” shoes that I knew I had to have — specifically the black/cement pair. As a long-time Jordan (both Michael and Air) fan, I had a pair of 1994 Air Jordan III Retros, but even then they were starting to look a little ragged. And as cement-print releases were few and far between, these were a must. I was editor of SLAM magazine at the time, and despite the sneaker connections the job provided, I didn’t make any extra effort. Instead, I just went downtown and hoped.

If I remember correctly, it took three trips. Or maybe it was just two. Go up to the counter, ask for your size, hope they have it. If not, come back tomorrow. No wristbands, no RSVPs, just some diligence and a little bit of luck. And with that, a sense of anticipation that is no doubt different than the one you get from sitting in a lawn chair for three days and nights. In any case, on the third day, I got them and headed back uptown on the F with the shoes in my bag and a smile on my face. Somewhere, I still have the receipt.

 

The best sneakers have stories inherently built into them, but that is only the beginning.

 

Oh, another thing. There was never any question whether I’d wear them. Of course I would. There was also no thought of going back the following day to try and get another pair, or of, if my size wasn’t available, just getting any size to re-sell. Maybe it was naivety on my part — I remember passing on the original Zoo York SPs because they only had a size 7 — but for most people, that didn’t seem to be how it worked then. When the denim Reese Forbes came out, a complete stranger who I only knew via Niketalk offered to pick me up a pair because his local shop happened to have them in my size. I passed because they were selling for $250. Whoops.

But yes, I got back to the office, laced my shoes up, and put them on. And this wasn’t a “put them on and take a photo for WDYWT and put them back in the box forever” kind of thing. This was more of a “put them on and never take them off ever again” kind of thing. They were on through rain, through snow, through trips to the bar and trips on the bike, and, perhaps most memorably, for a Wiffle Ball game in a muddy backyard. They never made it on stage like Run’s adidas, but they surely made appearances in countless NBA locker rooms. When I wasn’t wearing them, they sat by the door, always the first choice.

The best sneakers have stories inherently built into them, but that is only the beginning. A truly great shoe should become part of YOUR story, and not just be something you take out on special occasions or own simply to be able to say “yeah, I have those.” After 10 years of hard wear, my old Supremes are MY Supremes. Just check the photos. The inner lining is torn up, the outer heels are worn way down. The original laces are long gone, replaced by a Nike(Red) “Lace Up. Save Lives.” pair. The midsoles are yellowed and curved, the toeboxes creased beyond salvation, the elephant print worn and stained. But that’s fine. They’re a pair of sneakers, not a commodity — “just leather and rubber,” as my friend Clark says.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.