In a sense, the ComplexCon “Sneaker of the Year” panel was a failure. It wasn’t that it was sparsely attended, because it wasn’t—shouts to everyone who came through—or because the conversation wasn’t useful, because it was. But if the whole point of it was to come to a consensus on what the actual sneaker of the year was, well, we didn’t do that at all.
There were six of us on that stage, representing a whole lot of years in the game even including 17-year-old Benjamin Kickz. There was Joe LaPuma and me representing Complex, DJ Clark Kent, Jon Buscemi—who runs his eponymous brand and founded Gourmet—and Wale, who, as anyone in attendance knows, is as passionate about sneakers as he is about, well, most anything else.
Preparation for the panel for me mostly consisted of going through 2016’s vast number of releases and trying to figure out which of them to even bring up. We didn’t try to decide on a “winner” beforehand, mostly because that could have messed up the conversation. But we certainly had some shoes in mind—the black/red “Banned” Jordan 1s, the Pharrell Adidas NMDs, the Acronym Nike Prestos, and of course the Kanye West adidas Yeezy 350 V2s. Those, along with 10 or so other shoes, were loaded up as images for the big screens. (Did I mention the room this was held in had the equivalent of three Jumbotron screens? Did I also mention how awkward it is to look up and see yourself up there when you’re not talking? It is.)
Then my partner in Quickstrike, DJ Clark Kent, had to mess it all up. Somehow while we were backstage getting miked up, he suddenly had a Jordan shopping bag in his hand. I have no idea where it came from or who gave it to him, but having known Clark for a long time now I am aware that he can get sneakers from literally anywhere. Onstage, in mid conversation, he pulled out the shoes—a pair of lifestyle Air Jordan XXX1s I’d never seen before. He was riding for the XXX1 as the sneaker of the year, period, but I was basically transfixed by this blacked-out leather version of it—complete with Don C style quilting on the ankle portion—that I’d never even heard of, let alone seen.
There are a few problems when it comes to a sneaker of the year consensus pick. For starters, everyone has their own tastes. And when you bring together people like me, Clark, Wale and Joe, we’re not trying to come off of whatever our picks are. Buscemi is 100 percent in his own lane as well, and Benjamin is coming at things from a whole different angle as a, how shall we say this, second-stage retailer. If I was riding for the Acronym Presto—which I was—no amount of discussion was going to make me change over to the Yeezy or the NMD, as good as they were.
So if the failure of the panel was not picking a consensus, I believe the success of it was explaining why such a consensus is so impossible to reach. Whether it was Wale’s impassioned praise of adidas’s recent successes (despite the fact that all of us save Buscemi were wearing Nikes on stage) or Clark’s emphatic rejection of the mere thought of a re-issued sneaker from 1985 being considered the best sneaker of 2016, it was a valuable conversation not only for the culture, but for all of us sitting up there as well. Because while none of us were willing to change our minds, we were still more than willing to hear other views.
And maybe that’s the key to sneakers in 2016. There are now so many choices out there, so many different styles—from evolutionary basketball shoes like the Jordan XXX1 to cozyboy simplicity like the Yeezy V2 to reimagined retro homages like the Prada-esque Supreme x Nike Air Max 98 collection—that anyone who cares about sneakers can pick their own best sneaker of the year and be absolutely correct. Even if no one else agrees.