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Sneakerheads Love to Show Off Shoes

Shoe companies regularly rerelease old favorites and also market updated styles and limited edition shoes.

Adidas released 30 NBA Superstar shoes _ one for each team in the NBA _ in December. Shoes flew off the shelves.

In February the company will offer several player-specific shoes, like a Tim Duncan pair that incorporates his tattoos into the design and will only be available at the NBA All-Star weekend in Las Vegas.

Nike celebrated the 25th anniversary of its Air Force 1 last month with a huge party in New York where there were 1,040 different versions of the shoe on display.

One attendee described it as "awesome, out of control awesome."

The rest of us can catch a replay on Jan. 13 on MTV, which is airing highlights of the party as part of a special on the culture surrounding Air Force 1.

Some sneaker designers have become celebrities themselves, such as Tinker Hatfield, Nike's legendary leader of the Innovation Kitchen, who is the star of sneakerhead events.

Adidas has heard from university equipment managers who get calls from sneakerheads looking for shoes that aren't available to the public.

"It's absolutely amazing. Even if it's the smallest niche, they'll buy all of them," said Terrell Clark, a spokesman for Adidas USA, based in Portland.

NPD Group, a market research firm, estimates total U.S. footwear sales were nearly $42 billion in 2005, up 9 percent from the year before. But of that, athletic shoes only grew 3 percent.

Industry analysts say sneakerheads make up a small but crucial part of the shoe industry.

"There is incredible value for how it exists for the company as a tool for them to take a pulse for what kids will see as hip and relevant," said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. "You are always trying to find the Pied Piper for the industry."

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© 2007 The Associated Press