Monday, December 10, 2012
The Shoe Revolution- From Air Jordan's to Air Penny's
Recently the new Air Jordan's shoe was released. An interesting design to be sure but as they have been in the past they are more about fashion then as a 'Basketball Shoe". The picture (shown) makes the shoes look a little out there but actually look better when you see them in action on the court.
There is little doubt that the basketball shoe revolution began with Michael Jordan and his custom personalized shoe. Shoes were shoes before the Nike Air Jordans hit the market. Michael was such a powerful marketing and advertising force that he not only helped make Nike the powerhouse that they have become but also with the popularity that his 'Jumpman' brand has become managed to break away from its own maker to form its own brand, logo, marketing and style. From that grew the 'shoe deal'. This was primarily made for the basketball players and the sport of basketball. That has now spread to other sports and was what has lead to the Mega Deal that Tiger Woods got when he broke into the PGA.
The sport lends its self well for this as 1 superstar player can make a huge difference on what happens on the court and you can see the players up close and can recognize them, form a bond with them. Football and hockey players wear helmets that hide their faces and de-humanizes them a bit. Baseball is more methodical and cerebral. Basketball, Basketball is high paced, played with flow and just the sounds of the game...the squeaking of shoes on the hardwood just fits with footwear. After the success of the Air Jordan line Nike and other companies have been in competition to sign these high profile players of various sports for their celebrity endorsement and marketing needs. The real marketable ones get their own line. Some are more successful then others. 'Kemps' were big back in the day, Shaq had his own brand. Kobe for one reason or another was great at marketing but never had that specific shoe that set him apart. Odd for probably the best player post Jordan. But make no mistake Air Jordan's were the true Pioneer success story. This was the the evolution of the new shoe culture, and this is where my shoe story begins.
In 1994 I entered High School and thus began my 'sporting career'. I was very competitive when I played any sport, I wanted to win, I wanted to be a leader, I wanted the ball in my hands. I knew that if I had the ball good things were going to happen. I like to be the facilitator in whatever sport it was at the time. I was the point guard in basketball, the setter in volleyball, the shortstop in baseball and fastball...positions that were the captain/general of the game. Sure I was cocky, I was full of confidence I made no apologies for that. I was probably more confident then I should have been because I know I was not always the best player on the court at any given time but I never let that affect my mindset. Off the court, I was insecure and did not have near the same level of confidence. (The difference was like the kid Archie "Moonlight' Graham transforming into something completely different when crossing over the foul line in Field of Dreams and turning into old Archibald 'Doc' Graham). It is strange looking back at that now on how much different I was when I stepped across the lines in either direction. The difference was night and day. With all that said my choice of shoe needed to reflect that mentality so I always wanted to have the kicks that were flashy, that said...'yep, I am better then you', shoes that would talk the talk as well as walk the walk.
Each summer when kids set out with their parents for back to school clothes, my trips would include getting a new pair of kicks for a year of a variety of sports and gym classes. I was lucky and my parents felt that having a good pair of footwear was important and were willing to let me get quality shoes. At the time, even back then shoes were not cheap, especially the ones that I wanted, needed and required. If nothing else I wanted the nice new shoe on the market...not last years model. I can't stress this enough, I was very lucky and had the freedom to procure these each year.
Year 1 Grade 9 - I started with a aumage to the shoes from back in the day. Everyone back in the 80's were wearing Con's! You always hear about people who were wearing the Chuck Taylors from the All-Star of American Footwear. So, with that in mind I opted for the Cons React. They had a little bit of flash a Velcro strap over conventional laces. In the sole were round gel pads that were visible in the heal of the shoe. They had a tight look, a good fit, decent weight and squeaked on the hardwood! Not a bad beginning to a high school athletic career that was somewhat successful. Nothing that earned any athletic scholarships but moderate team success, moderate individual success and a whole lot of fun at whatever sport was played at the time.
Year 2 Grade 10 - This is where the 'Streak' began and there will be a pattern from here-on out in terms of the choice of footwear that seemed to follow me throughout high school. Lets call it comfort with the product, the quality and the brand loyalty that I had during that time period. Next up were the Nike Zoom Rookie. These were the debut of the Air Penny. Anfernee 'Penny' Hardaway was a at the time one of the bright spots of the NBA and was a new hybrid guard that was taking hold of the league. While in Orlando he was paired with a young Shaquille O'Neal and was the floor general on teams that went to the finals only to lose to the Houston Rockets in the time that Michael Jordan had 'decided' to go try his hand at baseball. Penny was a 6'8'' point guard that had great court vision, was a great passer a high flyer and shot maker. He was one of those special players that was a real team leader. It is too bad that his knees caught up to him but a great player in his own right for the time that he was at his peak. He was one of my favorite players during that time period and as a result was one of my first jerseys as well. In addition to that Nike created a huge marketing campaign with Penny and his little buddy L'il Penny! This was a joint venture with Nike and Weiden & Amp; Kennedy on their unforgettable Lil' Penny commercial series. L'il Penny was voiced by Chris Rock and that just added credibility and comedy to each spot and to the character in general.
Year 3 Grade 11 - This was phase II in the progression to the growing line of me wearing the Penny brand shoes. This time around I opted for the Olympic version of the Air Zoom Flight Custom from Nike. These were released for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and Penny's participation as a member of the Dream Team 2. Penny had to wear the number 6 on that team so the shoes. It had had the number 6 on the back heal. These shoes were awesome. They were the first shoe I had that sported the in-sewn sock as well. They were flashy white an blue and the solid reflective blue on the sides shimmered. A sweet follow-up to the Original Zoom Air's I stared with.
Year 4 Grade 12 - Phase III of the line of Penny's that I rode in on. These bad boys were the BEST and probably my favorite of them all and that was the Nike Air Penny 2 (Atlantic blue / black / white / metallic silver) . Loved these shoes. They were probably the best combination of flash and comfort I have ever had the pleasure of wearing on my feet. These are so good that if I come across them again I will likely pick up a pair. If nothing else but for the nostalgic and sentimental value. These were some of the most resilient and well made shoes I ever owned, they were flashy to the end and durable for years! Just thinking bout them makes me happy.
Like my favorite team, The Braves, the Penny line was on a championship run for me. I was loyal to them and they treated me well. I hear there are talks of Penny and Chris Rock bringing back L'il Penny in a retro Penny V shoe and series of commercials. If this happens I may be forced to nab a pair for old time sake! L'il Penny was, at the time a hugely successful marketing character and starred in many commercials. Like this one with Tyra Banks L'il Penny also was reported to have gone to high school with Kevin Garnett (just tell him L'il Penny from Science Club says hallo)