Every year, different groups of people make a special journey to a hollowed ground or location to pay homage to or worship. Muslims are required by the 5 Pillars of Islam to go on Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca to unite in worship of Allah. Families of soldiers visit memorials with their lost one’s name inscribed in them, as an eternal homage to their bravery and sacrifice.
Every year, young men and women travel in packs to Foot Lockers and DTLRs across the county for the newest release of the Air Jordan Retro shoes. This year, it was the Jordan XI Concords, sold at retailers for $180. Though not a holy place, these outlets hold the Holy Grail for shoe collectors: Retro Jordans.
The Air Jordans’ phenomenon is found in their exclusiveness and their mystique. They are proud to own shoes that have been released before—and will undoubtedly be rereleased again in the future. The same Jordan XI that were released in 1995 are the same as the ones released in 2001 and 2011; only difference is the color. What doesn’t differ is the color of the people stampeding, stabbing and shooting each other for the sneakers.
Another reason for the brand’s popularity is the popularity of the name: Michael Jordan. Each Retro Jordan shoe released tells a story related to the career of Michael Jordan. Jordan wore the XI during the Chicago Bulls’ 72-win championship season of 1995-1996. He has shoes dedicated to significant moments in his career: The Shot in Cleveland, the 1984 playoffs where he scored a playoff record 63 points against Larry Bird’s Celtics, and 6 NBA Championships. Everyone wanted to be like Mike, and to be like Mike meant buying his shoes. It didn’t matter if the shoes didn’t help one jump higher or play better. You just had to have them.
It did not take long for the Air Jordan brand to gain notoriety. The Air Jordan I debuted in 1985 in a red, black and white colorway that was revolutionary for sneakers and costly for Jordan. The NBA banned the shoes and Jordan was fined $5,000 a game for wearing the shoes, but he defiantly wore them still. That controversial genesis of the brand has carried over to its future releases. People are being robbed at bus stops, mothers are leaving children behind cars—for sneakers.
Since then, the Jordan Retro shoes have become a staple in the shoe collector subculture. Collectors buy every shoe in the series to add to their collection. Some people buy the shoes on their release and sell them for twice or triple what they paid for. It is an indication of the power of the Jordan brand, and a poignant display of how materialism is still driving a wedge between African Americans and everyone else.