Written by GeraLd Flores (@ImGeraLd)
David Stern, who officially hung it up as commissioner of the NBA last week, impacted the sport in all sorts of ways. He was arguably one of the best executives in all of professional sports and in his 30-year tenure, he brought the league to prime-time TV, helped make basketball a global sport, and got players to wear suits on days other than draft day.
But what has he done for sneaker culture? The short answer is: a lot.
Despite Stern’s issues with black and red kicks, his decision shook things up in the world of sneakers.
A decision he made on Oct. 18, 1985 changed everything for Nike, and helped kickstart one of the most important basketball brands in the world. For the uninitiated, Michael Jordan was banned from wearing the black and red colorway of the Air Jordan because it didn’t match the shoes and color scheme of the Chicago Bulls uniforms. As the story goes, MJ was fined $5,000 a game for wearing the shoes and the rest is history.
Despite Stern’s issues with black and red kicks, his decision shook things up in the world of sneakers. Every revolution needs a foil, and Stern played the role of villain perfectly. It was his strict adherence to the rules (and disdain for Nike's bid to be different) that helped make the Air Jordan 1 so iconic and spawned a new generation of sneaker enthusiasts.
It was great for advertising too. Just ask Jordan Brand president Larry Miller.
“Some controversies have actually helped to build the sneaker culture,” he said. “David has been a great part of that. What he was doing at the NBA directly impacted us in terms of making sneakers cool.”
Since then, Stern grew to change his tune on NBA players’ sneaker choices. And who wouldn’t after seeing kicks fluctuate to become a billion-dollar business since he started in the NBA 30 years ago. All of a sudden, conformity wasn't so important.
Just look at the number of special sneaker options each NBA season. The NBA All-Star Game used to be the only time you’d see players break code and wear something different on their feet. But now there’s Halloween, Christmas, Black History Month, Veteran’s Day, Awards Season (What does that even mean, anyway?), and everything else in between.
The point is David Stern is one of the main reasons we have such a diverse world of sneakers in the NBA today. If it wasn’t for his sternness (no pun intended) on the Air Jordan 1 and his mellow attitude toward letting players wear whatever they want to on any given holiday, there wouldn’t be such an infusion of colorways from brands every month.
David Stern is one of the main reasons we have such a diverse world of sneakers in the NBA today.
Not only that, there's a new tier of players in the league who aren't just known for their prowess on the court, but the stash of sneakers they have in their lockers. And these new NBA sneaker personalities, like Nate Robinson, Nick Young, and Derrick Williams get covered by the sneakerati because of the freedom they now have to wear whatever they want on court.
“I’m a big fan of David Stern,” Miller said. “I think he’s done a great job with the NBA and working with Nike and the other shoe companies of the world, he's really helped build the culture that exists around sneakers today.”
It's because of moves that the old commissioner made that this new framework for sneakers in the NBA exists. Fans want to watch watch Ray Allen shoot three-pointers and see his Air Jordan PEs. Now, the look of Kobe Bryant's new signature sneaker is just as big of a story as his injury.
Whether he created this culture inadvertently or not, David Stern helped make sneakers a part of NBA culture forever. Keep it up, Adam Silver—you've got big shoes to fill. At least you can wear whatever you want.