Last week, 19-year-old Montre T. Bradley, was killed after stick-up kids robbed him while he stood in line to get a pair of Nike Foamposites. Relatives told a local newspaper that he worked as a kitchen porter in an upstate New York hospital and saved the $220 for the sneakers. The paper also reported that Bradley was in line the night before the 9:30 a.m. release so that he would be the first to get the new metallic silver and crimson colorway.
He would die hours later in same hospital where he worked.
I know Bradley’s obsession well. I am a recovering sneaker fiend and it started way back to when I was a boy. On my parents’ nickel I would cop sneakers that made me look cleaner than the Board of Health. So would my best friend Ian. He was everything I wasn’t: tall, funny and tough. I was short, had buckteeth and liked reading more than boxing. Life moves in and we lose touch, but whenever I run into him he’s the same Ian, still tall, still skinny and still fresh to death.
Then I get a call.
Ian has been shot and killed. He wasn’t killed for his sneakers but for wanting to cop high-priced fashions pushed him further from the right side of working. I stopped by to see his mom and she walked me to Ian’s old room. All of his clothes were laid on the bed, and his sneakers pulled from the closest. “Take what you want,” she said. “Ian died for this stuff and I don’t want you to.”
I can still see the rows of Nike Jordans.
Hearing about Bradley’s death reminded me of how someone so close got caught up in the sneaker chase and lost his life because of it. And it leads me to write this: I’m tired of kids dying to be fresh. A week ago I wrote a piece comparing Nike to the notoriously cold-blooded and equally business savvy drug kingpin Stringer Bell from HBO’s “The Wire.” In it, I asked Nike to own up to the violence that comes with dangling limited amounts of sneaker dope to sneaker fiends. And I wanted them to see what this is doing to kids and parents in a recession. For a day, a Nike public relations specialist followed my Twitter account, which meant they listened, so maybe they will hear this: Montre T. Bradley didn’t need to die waiting in line to buy some Nikes.
But whether it’s Nike pushing these products, sneakerheads like me buying them or the athletes promoting them, boys are dying because of the American dream that the sneaker company is selling and we’re believing.
How’s it like the American dream? Because Bradley wanted badly to be the first to own these shoes, which weren’t even a new shoe but a shoe that Nike keeps re-releasing in different colors, and he isn’t the only one. For those living on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, buying sneakers is like owning your first car.
It says you have money even if you don’t. It means something. Even the new in-box smell of the leather brings with it the road to a different place. There is a dream inside those shoes and a legacy that Nike packages and markets..
Kids in the ’hood don’t want to be LeBron James on the basketball court, they want to be LeBron James in life, because the irony is, these sneakers are not for playing ball. They want to make it out, make money and be loved.
Nike realized they were on to something with people like me and Ian and Bradley after the release of those red-and-black Jordan’s nearly 30 years ago, and since then they’ve produced and we’ve consumed, and in the Pac-Man culture that is buy more and feel better, we got high. We fell for the idea that these shoes were something more than devices to keep our socks from getting dirty.
It’s time to stop falling.
But Nike couldn’t have sold us on the dream alone. They had to have frontmen, and for that Nike enlisted the modern day superheroes of street cred; and since these kids are dying in your name: LeBron James and Michael Jordan, the basketball court ask what say you? You allow your name, your smile, your face to reach the community that once raised you. The same community that still cheers for you and that waits to see you cross over and rise up and flush it down.
Because lesser ballplayers have done better by their community. For as checkered a career as Stephon Marbury had, he had one thing right that I will always respect him for. In 2006, at the height of his popularity, he tried to get us off the dope. He teamed up with Steve & Barry’s and released the Starbury, which was only $14.98. He wanted kids from his old neighborhood to be able to save their money to buy them. He wanted the dream to be real. But then Steph lost it, started doing crazy videos and eventually got shipped over to China. It’s hard to sell the Starbury when then namesake isn’t a star, but they are still available at Starbury.com.
So I say again: Something has got to change.
So, as an adult and reformed sneaker addict I am issuing a call to arms. Actually, Scott Jacobs, a Twitter follower, echoed this challenge to me through a tweet after my first story: “We need to stop valuing shoes over savings, providing for family, investing. That’s up to us not Nike.” I didn’t respond because I agreed, but I wasn’t sure how to feel about this. It seemed utopian and unrealistic.
But that was before Montre T. Bradley was killed while waiting to buy a piece of the dream. So Scott, I am all in. The question is, who else is with me? If Nike is going to keep running limited-edition Nikes to kids willing to stand in line all night to buy them, then help me shut it down. Help me, Lebron James and Michael Jordan. Is it your fault? No. But your voices carry weight and your silence speaks volumes.
Nike listens to you way more then they will ever listen to me or Scott, so please ask them to stop. As a wing-tipped shoe-wearing adult I sold off most of my collection, but I still have a pair that I covet, and this is my challenge: in the coming days I will design a contest to any youngster who can write in and tell me how he is willing to change his sneaker obsession. The prize will be a pair of black Jordan Retro 3s, size 10 1/2, brand new in the box. Stay tuned.
I am not rich. In fact, I am freelancing my way through bills, but I’m tired. Like Ian’s mom, like Scott, like the Bradley family — I’m tired.
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is a regular contributor to TheRootDC. Follow him on Twitter @SACrockettJr.
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