Sneakers are big, and sometimes violent, business

Billion-dollar basketball shoe industry puts safeguards in place to keep customers safe

You can’t just walk up and buy a pair of the new Air Jordans today at an area mall. You need a winning raffle ticket.

That’s how popular the multi-billion dollar sneaker industry has become in 30 years. It reaches its high point this weekend as dozens of coveted designer basketball shoes priced around $200 are released. They’ll bring out the crowds and — at times — violence.

Kyle Dodson can attest to that. He bought a pair of Air Jordan “Legend Blue” shoes in December at the Dayton Mall Foot Locker. As he was getting into his car, he heard the gun shot that killed Middletown teenager Jawaad Jabbar, who was fatally shot when tried to steal a pair of Jordans from another man.

The Centerville High School basketball star said he wasn’t aware of the botched robbery at the time, “but I knew I wasn’t going to stay there to find out.”

Dayton Mall general manager David Duebber said there will be increased security today as Foot Locker and Finish Line launch different Jordan shoes at 8 a.m. A lottery-type raffle system is designed to cut down on crowds and help protect the anonymity of customers.

“This is actually a nationwide-type system that the shoe retailers, manufacturers and mall developers have discussed over the past couple of years,” Duebber said. “While we will still have lines for people waiting to get their shoes; the idea is to eliminate problems with people not being able to get shoes.”

One of the most highly anticipated releases on this NBA All-Star weekend is the adidas Yeezy 750 Boost, a collaboration between shoe giant adidas and entertainer Kanye West. Nine-thousand pairs will be produced and they’ll go for $350.

There likely won’t be any riots at stores, however. Lucky buyers in select markets across the county have pre-purchased their Yeezys by using a special app on their smartphones.

“I just want everyone to be safe and be patient,” West said this week on Ryan Seacrest’s national radio show. “I know you can run up on this kid and take his Yeezys, but just be patient because we’ll make more Yeezys.”

Huge weekend

There are nearly 100 shoe releases this month, according to Sneaker News. In addition to 18 styles of Air Jordans, there are offerings from companies such as Nike, Under Armour and adidas.

The Air Jordan “Bulls Over Broadway” shoe retails for $190, a bargain when compared to the $275 Nike Air Foamposite One All-Star, which looks like it’s made from melted Terminators. If you’re into baseball, the Nike Air Griffey Max 2 debuts Thursday for $150.

There are dozens of colorful styles, but manufacturers often hold back on deliveries to create a buzz. That can create chaos.

“I blame the manufacturers,” Stivers High School basketball coach Shawn McCullough said. “If they just made enough shoes for everybody to purchase them, you wouldn’t run into that problem.”

These works of art are sometimes worn on a basketball court, but often are resold after sitting in someone’s closet. A man in Beijing recently sold his entire Nike and Air Jordan collections for $160,000.

Dodson said gently worn shoes are most in demand and that events such as Flyin’ to the Hoop serve as fashion shows for sneaker aficionados.

“If you have a pair and wear them, people would be surprised to know how many people ask how much you’d sell them for right now,” he said.

The Centerville senior isn’t thinking about parting with his “Legend Blue” shoes just yet. After all, he had to work for them.

“We stood in line for about three hours and finally got in there,” he said. “I got one of the last pairs in my size. Not everyone got them, either.”

Works of art

Athletic shoes are big business. The NPD Group reported last summer that sales of basketball footwear were up 21 percent in the preceding year, while the overall athletic footwear market was down 4 percent.

Nike reported worldwide revenues of $27.8 billion in its most recent annual report, with more than $3 billion coming from basketball shoes.

Retail giant Foot Locker, Inc. finished 2013 with $6.5 billion in sales. The Finish Line recorded net sales of $1.67 billion in fiscal year 2014, with 88 percent of sales coming from footgear.

Top-line designers often work with star athletes to come up with flashy, sophisticated designs.

“A lot of the designers hired by adidas and Nike have an industrial design and architecture background,” said John Kim, managing editor for New York based-Sneaker News. “Comfortable shoes were perfected decades ago. Now it’s their job to make them look contemporary. It’s not about the comfort anymore, it’s about the look.”

Art Jipson, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Dayton, attended a invitation-only launch of rare Air Jordans in Chicago more than a decade ago. He said the artistry of basketball shoes makes them attractive to consumers, criminals included.

“They’re beautiful,” he said. “The folks who design them are legitimate artists. That adds to the allure.”

The designs also have moved the needle for the sneaker culture, which has exploded since the first Air Jordans were introduced in 1985 — and since Sports Illustrated put a spotlight on the industry’s dark side with its famous 1990 cover that read, “Your Sneakers or Your Life.”

“Over the last three years the sneaker movement went from a subculture to mainstream,” said Kim, who was mulling over what launches he would attend this weekend. “The violence has been going on for decades. Because sneakers are getting more and more popular in the mainstream, people are reacting more to it.”

And people will be reaching for their wallets this weekend as Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game provides a backdrop to the industry’s biggest feeding frenzy.

“All-Star weekend is the biggest platform,” Kim said. “It’s the fourth quarter for a lot of these brands.”

‘Just be careful’

Dayton police do not keep statistics on shoe thefts, but through the years there have been several high-profile instances of such crimes, both nationally and locally.

Dayton teen Danita Gullette was murdered by the so-called Thrill Killers in 1992 when they spotted her shoes while she was making a call at a pay phone. Her killer, Marvallous Keene, was executed in 2009.

“She had nothing else of value on her but those gym shoes,” said her sister, Rhonda Gullette. “Everybody wants something of value, but the problem is we have lost the value of a life.”

Police in German Twp. say 21-year-old Joshua Young attacked an employee of the Upper Valley Mall in January with a baseball bat and took a pair of Nike shoes from the man.

“The more attention we give to some of these objects, the more coveted they are by people in society, which includes criminals,” Jipson said.

Sometimes, a feel-good story evolves from a crime. Detroit teen Anthony Cupp was robbed of his new Kevin Durant shoes in December while walking home in the snow. The NBA superstar heard about the incident and spent some time with the 13-year-old. Cupp came away with an autographed pair of KD 7 sneakers.

To deter shoe theft, Shoe Warehouse owner Chris Burns now locks his Harrison Twp. store every day. Customers have to knock to get in.

“They’ll act like they’re trying on a pair of shoes and just walk out of the store,” Burns said.

Burns said the stories of violence don’t surprise him.

“This is something that’s happened a lot over the years,” Burns said. “Fashion’s always been a really big deal, especially name-brand shoes.”

Despite the risks, fans of basketball shoes will keep buying.

“Every one of my kids on my team owns a pair of those Jordans,” Stivers’ McCullough said. “The parents allow them to camp out (to be at the front of the line). I tell them ‘just be careful.’ ”

After his brush with tragedy outside the Dayton Mall, Dodson was told by his parents “you’re never doing that again.” But he’s thinking about a pair of Bugs Bunny-inspired Air Jordan “Marvin the Martian” shoes, which will be released next month.

“It could’ve happened to me but it didn’t it,” he said. “You just have to be careful. It’s not worth getting shot over.”

Staff writer Marc Pendleton contributed to this report.

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