There is the older gentleman who plays pick-up every Saturday, always with a different pair of basketball sneakers and the gear from the shoes’ matching college basketball team. It’s like clockwork. No allegiance to any particular school. As long as they match his Nikes on that particular day, they are his school of choice. He isn’t very good, but everyone knows when he comes in. It’s a gift and a curse because it also means people on the sidelines will try to avoid having him on their team.
He’s made a living on Saturday morning’s sacrificing comfort and possible effectiveness on the court for flair and acknowledgement. And this particular Saturday, he and I are the same. Today, my personal style intertwines with my on-court aesthetic so much they could trip from the utter entanglement. Strapping on a pair of Rick Owens Island Dunks for anything other than walking the streets of New York or Paris seems uncouth.
I was fully expecting the ridicule and shaming that would come with wearing a pair of hypothetical moon boots.
But, for the sake of historic reverence, these particular Rick Owens will see the hardwood for possibly the first time ever. Rick Owens once mentioned that he hated sneakers, but bought a pair out of necessity for working out. So he decided to design some that fit his look, which really exaggerated the details of a performance-type sneaker. So, it’s time for these overly exaggerated basketball shoes to finally go and do as they were originally intended prior to Owens going full turbo on its design.
I wasn’t expecting this to go over lightly with the pick-up crowd. I was fully expecting the ridicule and shaming that would come with wearing a pair of hypothetical moon boots. Everything about them is extravagant and gauche, from the midsoles to the side-zipper to the brushed leather to the friggin’ pony hair on the back. I knew they weren’t gonna let me get away with this shit. That’s not even taking into account if someone asked me what they retailed for, which was around $1,200. At that point, I would expect the ridicule to turn into a good ol’ fashion robbery attempt.
So stepping onto the court with them for the first time was nerve-racking, to say the least. And then, it happened: nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not one “boots with the fur” joke. No one asking how much they weighed, in which I would've said, "As much as my first born child." It was as if these shoes, dare I say, belonged on the court. Of course, most of the guys don’t take their performance sneakers seriously, so I forgot to take that into consideration.
What I almost forgot to take into consideration, due to the distraction caused by my self-deprecating thoughts, was that I was actually going to have to play basketball in these things that could pass as the shoes the Monstars wore in Space Jam. If the look of these is an exaggerated version of a basketball, the details you can’t necessarily see at first glance would surely crush the fathomability of Nick Young rocking these in 2016.
I’m factoring in all of the positive style & fashion details-turned-negative attributes on the court, assumably, and try to brace myself for the worst. But none of those things ever played a part in my demise. If you’ve ever owned or tried on a pair of Owens sneakers, you know they are a bitch to get on. So, had I not already broken these bad boys in on the mean streets of Des Moines, it would’ve taken me three pick-up games just to slide them on. Also, these shoes are laceless. If you thought I was even going to consider playing in these without throwing some laces in them, please leave your name and address in the comments section so I can come and slap you. I was not trying to have my ankles turn up like a 21-year old on their birthday because the lack of support is evident.
I could see myself going for one of my patented okie-doke crosses and end up like a Life Alert patient because of a slight misstep. But every move I made, every step I took, someone was watching over me and my precious ankles. Because had one of them turned, the twistage would’ve been amplified by the weight of the shoe, which is probably double that of a normal basketball sneaker.
Lastly, the premium leather insoles are as soft and slick as a wet seal, so sliding is inevitable. This would never be a negative in the world of fashion because, for all intents and purpose, that premium, supple leather keeps your feet comfortable as hell. But any quick movements would surely end in excruciating pain banging up against the steel-like toe box if these weren’t snug as a bug on my foot.
So, no crushing of my soul from the peanut gallery and no crushing of my big toe or ankles from the non-basketball details of the shoe. How is this possible? Could a shoe modeled off of a fairly bare-bones high top that debuted 30 years ago and updated with amplified, almost cartoon-ish characteristics actually feel this normal?
Can a shoe with features no performance brand would ever consider for a sneaker actually perform...better? There was no post-game discomfort. No issues other than a few slippage concenrs due to the ripple sole. All I got out of the experience was a shoe that performs well for the “power guard” archetype. Able to keep you moving fast and protect you in traffic. Dare I even say that thick rubber midsole gave me a little more bounce than normal? I don’t know, but the positive experience I had in these really made me re-think the need for all the zooms and full-length this-and-that.
I got to thinking about this older gentleman, who was now on my team doing God knows what whenever he came down the court, just knowing he felt like a million bucks. Even if he didn’t take certain things into consideration for the shoes he was going to ball in on this day. This week in highs, next week in lows. From bulky to slim. Who’s to say that’s wrong? Who’s to say exactly what determines “performance” attributes?
Could Rick Owens lead some sort of athletic shoe revolution, crossing over to the light side?
Nick Grant is a contributing writer for Complex. You can follow him on Twitter here.