There are few personalities bigger than Kenny Gonzales in Instagram's sneaker scene, and that’s not just because he’s a 6’4” mountain of a man with a long, black ponytail, and a footwear collection insured up to $700,000. It’s because his account, @the_perfect_pair, currently has 668,000 followers, helping him become one of the most popular—and polarizing—people to post pictures of their shoes online.
Gonzales, 38, was born in Long Beach, Calif., and spent the first 31 years of his life in Oklahoma City before moving to Highland, Calif., seven years ago. He’s a member of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, which is connected to the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino, where he’s currently a tribal member and serves on the general council.
What makes Gonzales so divisive is his collection of sneakers. It features highlights such as the Air Jordan IIIs and Air Jordan IVs made exclusively for University of Oregon athletes—fetching around $3,500 and $4,000, respectively, on the secondary market—and Air Jordan IVs made for Eminem’s friends and family. Those were previously owned by respected sneaker connoisseur, the late DJ AM; they cost Gonzales $18,000, which he admits makes them the priciest pair in his collection.
Having such an expensive footwear display has caused many to discredit Gonzales as a rich guy with a money to blow on sneakers—which he never denies is true—but his love for shoes started in a much more humble place.
“I first got into sneakers around ‘92, ‘93. By that I mean getting two pairs of sneakers,” Gonzales says. “For me it was the ‘Bordeaux’ Air Jordan VIIs and a pair of Air Jordan VIIIs. My brother, Louis, would come in with two pairs of shoes, and, from that point forward, it was all about getting two pairs of shoes.”
His love for sneakers, like many other people from his generation, came from watching Michael Jordan play basketball in the NBA for the Chicago Bulls. But before he was able to get the shoes of his idol, he wore sneakers from Payless, or, if he was lucky, his mother might purchase him a pair of Nikes for Christmas or his birthday. Around the age of 14 or 15, Gonzales received the Air Jordans, which would ignite his fanaticism for shoes.
“I had one pair of [Air Jordan] IVs growing up, you know. I had one pair of [Air Jordan] 1s growing up. I wasn’t the rich kid that I’m portrayed to be on Instagram with all these shoes and a silver spoon in my mouth. [My] mom only made $11,000 dollars a year,” he says.
But then, his 18-year-old brother started to receive funds for being of Native American descent.
“He started getting his Indian money, his Indian inheritance, and from that point forward it was boom, boom, boom, he started getting shoes,” Gonzales says. His collection would grow to the hundreds from there.
Although the “White/Cement” Air Jordan IIIs and Air Jordan IVs are his two favorite sneakers of all time, they’re far from the most valuable sneakers in his collection. Gonzales was able to obtain Air Jordan XIIIs and Air Jordan XIVs signed by the Chicago Bulls, including Michael Jordan himself and legendary coach Phil Jackson. Both of these sneakers are currently displayed in glass cases at Gonzales’ home in Highland.
Even with his background and current sneaker assortment, Gonzales still receives criticism from more seasoned collectors in the sneaker scene, mainly because the majority of his shoes are from the past few years.
“I hadn’t been collecting shoes aggressively over the last 10 years, and people take it a certain way because I wasn’t on NikeTalk forums. I was doing real life,” he says.
The “real life” Gonzales refers to is building and raising a family, while showing and owning a kennel of American Pitbull Terriers. The Instagram thing almost happened by accident. Gonzales says that his Instagram account was started by his wife, Montana—with whom he's raising five children—as a documentation of their relationship. “The Perfect Pair” was in reference to the two of them. “My wife started this whole IG thing that I have today,” he says. “And then she started posting up my sneakers. I saw a spark; I saw the sneaker photos were getting more likes.”
From that point on, Kenny Gonzales was now The Perfect Pair, aided by an array of pricey sneakers, mainly Air Jordans and limited-edition Nikes, and a Sneak Peek episode with sneaker blog Nice Kicks. He began to get recognized in public—he’s not hard to miss—and it was an unfamiliar world to him. “I get a lot of pictures, a lot of handshakes,” Gonzales says. “It was a little bit difficult because I think I’m a regular guy. I never knew sneakers would make people act like that.”
But not everyone is a fan of Gonzales and his Instagram account. On The Sit Down, an Internet podcast hosted by The Don Drew, famed sneaker collector Mayor took the opportunity to throw jabs at Gonzales’ recent rise to “celebrity.”
Mayor said, “You know why he won’t come on [this show]? Because everybody’s going to say he bought his collection. He wore Vans five years ago and now he’s got this amazing collection. He bought his collection, he’s a rich kid, he was born into money, he owns casinos. I’m not a fan of him, because I spoke to him personally and he said something stupid. He bought his collection, does that make him not like sneakers?"
Gonzales admits to seeing the episode of the show and says, “The best way I can say it is this: What was said on The Sit Down about myself is two people talking about me who don’t know me. So, those words were just opinion. I don’t take those opinions to be facts, so I’m good with whatever they want to say about me. If I’m in their mouth, I’m obviously winning.”
He alluded to a confrontation happening between him and Mayor at Agenda, a clothing and sneaker trade show in Las Vegas, the other week. When we reached out for a comment on this piece, both Mayor and spokespeople from Agenda declined to make a statement.
Unlike most sneaker “influencers,” Gonzales has to pay for his shoes and says he doesn’t have special connections at brands that afford him a place on seeding lists for high-profile shoes. “I wish I had some type of connects like that, but I pay for my sneakers,” he says.
Purchasing sneakers for such large sums of money doesn’t come without its downfalls, either. Shoes with large secondary-market price tags also come with high-quality fake versions, too, and discerning collectors need to be able to tell the difference between the two. Even Gonzales has been caught with fake sneakers in the past—a pair of “Quai 54” Air Jordan Vs, which were made for a yearly streetball tournament in Paris. “I paid $3,750 for the shoe and it came out to be a fake after I took it to Flight Club,” Gonzales says. “They told me, straight up, the shoe was fake. I had it on my foot, and when I walked in they were like, ‘Nice shoes.’ They were looking at it and said, ‘Take it off your foot.’ I took it off and they said it was fake.”
Aside from that brief embarrassment, Gonzales was able to get his money back from the seller, who he won’t name, but still says is reputable.
It’s not just the sneakers, though, that draw people into Gonzales’ lifestyle. The allure that he makes money off of casinos and lives a high-roller life adds to the intrigue to the man behind the footwear. He says he hasn’t done any big-time gambling since 2010, but once hit a jackpot of $200,000 on one of his frequent trips to Las Vegas. “I lost $20,000 in one day,” Gonzales says.
The sneaker stuff has started to pay off, too, although Gonzales says he’s in it for the love and not the money. He currently has a deal with sneaker cleaning brand Crep Protect and released a collaboration with Stance Socks based off his favorite sneaker, the “White/Cement” Air Jordan IV, which recently saw a re-release. The socks instantly sold out over All-Star Weekend in Toronto.
Sneakers have a deep meaning to Gonzales, too. His brother, Louis, who passed away in 2013, was buried with his complete sneaker collection, except for a select couple pairs. He says there’s a misconception that people think his shoes were taken from his brother, but that’s not true.
“I openly say it on Nice Kicks that we buried my brother’s collection of shoes. I don’t know where they’re pulling that from,” Gonzales says.
There’s a shrine to Louis at Gonzales’ home, with multiple Louis Vuitton trunks stacked on top of one another, beneath a photo of him with his motorcycle. He also has a single Air Jordan XIV, in "White/Red," of his brothers on display in his home. After his brother's death, they couldn't find the matching sneaker.
It’s clear that Gonzales is misunderstood. His intentions can be misconstrued, whether it’s because other people who follow him on Instagram are jealous of his over-the-top sneaker collection or they don’t understand why someone would pay over $10,000 for a pair of shoes. As long as he’s posting sneakers that others can’t afford, there’s going to be something for someone to say, positive or negative. But one thing’s for sure: People will continue to talk about Gonzales, and he’ll keep watching as his sneaker collection—and his Instagram following—builds by the day.