While scrolling through Instagram many weeks ago, a photo of the popular fragment design x Air Jordan 1 Retro Hi caught my attention. As I routinely do, I jumped straight to the comments to see what people were saying about Hiroshi Fujiwara’s rendition of the retro basketball sneaker. After sifting through all the emojis, I came across one that nearly sucked the life out of me: “Only Nike Lab release. Extra hard to get. Good luck kids. Someone will lose their life for this unfortunately.” It's ludicrous that there is this stigma of expected violence around Air Jordan sneakers. It's time for Michael Jordan to say something.
Over the course of Jordan’s professional career, there was no doubt that he was the greatest basketball player ever. But over the duration of his time as a professional athlete, one of the biggest knocks Jordan faced was his unwillingness to take a stand on important political and social issues such as the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the growing impoverishment of Chicago’s inner cities. Though it wasn’t necessarily in Jordan’s job description for him to be a social warrior, many could not comprehend why he continued to avoid controversy when it came to issues that were directly affecting his community and the ones his brand appealed to.
In today’s NBA, we see megastars like Derrick Rose and LeBron James use their stage to support the “Black Lives Matter” movement by wearing “I CAN’T BREATHE” T-shirts in solidarity of the protests against the non-indictment of officers involved in the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. We also saw Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony publicly express their sympathy and support for Trayvon Martin’s family after his death. These athletes expressing their opinion about the current state of affairs influenced people across the country, and also encouraged other entertainers and celebrities to speak up.
acts of violence that COME WITH obtaining a pair of Air Jordans ARE not new.
Could you imagine if Jordan used his platform to do the same?
As one of the NBA's most prolific businessmen ever, Jordan is, and has always been, a highly regarded public figure. He has the power to influence and brings awareness to communities worldwide. He’s the first former player to ever become the primary owner of an NBA franchise and, most importantly, the only black majority owner. As of last year Jordan Brand, a subsidiary of Nike, had a 55-percent market share in basketball in the U.S. while raking in $2.25 billion alone in 2013.
Those numbers are staggering. But the acts of violence that come with obtaining a pair of Air Jordans are not new. The sneaker-related murder of teenager Michael Eugene Thomas on May 15, 1989 garnered national media coverage in an issue of Sports Illustrated. The May 14, 1990 issue featured the Air Jordan V and a gunman on the cover, with the stark line "YOUR SNEAKERS OR YOUR LIFE." That same year, 16-year-old Johnny Bates was killed in Houston after deciding not to give up his Air Jordans at a local bus stop. Most recently, with the release of the “Legend Blue” Air Jordan XI, multiple news stories broke that included everything from a Toledo, Ohio crowd getting pepper sprayed to an altercation in Cincinnati that ended with a young man losing his life in a failed robbery attempt. That Sports Illustrated cover was 24 years ago, but the same things are still happening.
With Jordan Brand poised to have one of its biggest years yet, this is the perfect time for Michael Jordan himself to address the continuing violence surrounding new sneaker releases. Jordan Brand used 2014 as a platform to tease the “Remastered” retro sneaker campaign that will go into effect this year. With an emphasis on using premium materials that are closer to the originals, the average cost for the sneakers will see a spike in price. With that comes the possibility of consumers putting an even higher value on these shoes, which could create more tension and irrational thinking in efforts to obtain them.
Over the past few years, we've seen Nike adjust its methods of releasing highly anticipated shoes to combat violence, and provide a safer channel for consumers to purchase sneakers by implementing the RSVP and raffle ticket systems. But Jordan himself has yet to publicly confront the issue.
I get it. Michael Jordan is not a political activist. It’s not his job to police what happens after a sneaker is released. But what will it take for him to realize that his products are becoming not only detrimental to the sneaker community as a whole, but more specifically to the African American community? I am not Michael Jordan, so I cannot say what he should do. But as a consumer who has been collecting sneakers for over a decade, I can say that it’s disappointing that he hasn’t, at the very least, addressed the issue. Standing in line for Jordans used to serve as a time to connect with people who shared that same passion for the culture. Now I can’t tell if the guy behind me places a higher value on his sneakers than my life.
Jordan’s silence about the dangers that have become associated with his sneakers conveys—rightly or wrongly—that he places greater importance on his financial welfare than the safety of the communities that it’s damaging. An acknowledgement from His Airness could communicate the opposite. It would also provide him a platform to propose solutions for the risk of buying a pair of Air Jordans. A message like this could truly resonate not only with the kids who faithfully buy his shoes, but also to the parents who fund their sneakerhead habits.
Jordan is still the idol that he was at the height of his professional career. With his platform, cultural impact, and business savvy, he can help spearhead a stop to sneaker violence while continuing his dominance within the industry.
My generation is the beneficiary of the information age, where the prevalence of social media bolsters insecurities and the desperate longing for material items. With that comes a colossal amount of people who can’t formulate their own opinions and follow trends that their favorite entertainers are dabbling in. After reading the jarring Instagram comment, I wasn’t mad that someone had the audacity to predict a death over a pair of sneakers. But I should have been. The sad truth is that it’s rare when a limited release Jordan drops and the news doesn’t broadcast a story about barbarity associated with the release. The rise of violence surrounding Air Jordans goes hand-in-hand with the brand, and the man behind the brand needs to step up to the plate. I've recognized that it is time for a change. It’s time for Michael Jordan to do the same.
Joe Sherman has been collecting Jordans since he was 13 and is disappointed at what the sneaker game has become. You can follow his shenanigans here.