DeAntae Prince: Michael Jordan’s impact on sneaker culture is far-reaching — but it’s most affecting on Chicagoans

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CHICAGO — One of the things I miss most about childhood is expecting — and receiving — free things.

The best gift I ever received was a pair of black and white Air Jordan 12 “Playoffs” shoes from my grandmother, Beatrice Prince, who turned 83 this year.

In 1997, when we were both a little younger, I visited my grandmother and spotted a Footlocker bag. As children are wont to do, I assumed the gift was for me. It wasn’t.

But the next time I stopped by there was a second pair and my face lit up. It’s a moment I still hold dear, one that likely fueled my career choice and sparked a sneaker addiction. It also heavily influenced my decision to buy the rerelease of the sneaker in 2017.

Most people who love sneakers — Michael Jordan’s specifically — have a similar story. As was the goal of Jordan, designer Tinker Hatfield and Nike from the beginning, every new Jordan shoe tells a story. We will learn more about the shoe that launched a million memories Sunday night during Episodes 5 and 6 of “The Last Dance.”

Representation of the Jordan sneaker line has been on display during the first four episodes of the 10-part ESPN documentary on the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls.

In previous episodes, we watched Jordan play out the 1985 season in the “Banned” Jordan 1 and we saw him hit “The Shot” against the Cavaliers in 1989 wearing the Jordan IV. And the “Bred” Jordan 11 and “Flu Game” Jordan 12 are sure to be featured in coming weeks.

Jordan’s legend grew with every season, and so did the sneaker market. The original Air Jordan 1 sold for $65 in 1985. Prices rose almost immediately for the Air Jordan II ($100) in 1986 and have now reached the $200 mark, meeting the demand of rabid Jordan fans and sneaker collectors. This much was on display when Nike staged a limited release of the Jordan V “Fire Red” and sold out in minutes.

Following the Magic Johnson and Larry Bird campaigns with Converse, Jordan helped set the stage for basketball players to become synonymous with sneaker releases. Jordan also invented the concept of appointment purchases, first creating long lines at retail stores and later crashing websites online. Players still benefit from the steps Nike took to capitalize on Jordan’s celebrity.

Jordan’s face and silhouette have been recognizable all over the world for decades, but they’ve always held a special place with Chicagoans. Jordans have become more than sneakers — they serve as a status symbol and marker of memories.

The direct impact in Chicago becomes obvious from one look around the sneaker landscape. Kanye West (Yeezy), Virgil Abloh (Off-White) and Don C (Just Don) — all Chicago natives — hold high perches as sought-after designers. Jerry Lorenzo, the Fear of God creator and Nike collaborator, also has Chicago ties. “Our culture is embedded in sports culture,” Don C said in “Sole Origins,” a documentary on Jordan’s impact on sneaker culture in Chicago.

The same could be said about Jordan’s effect on the court. Chicagoans who make the jump to the NBA revere Jordan, including Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose. Both have discussed how Jordan inspired them since the release of “The Last Dance,” and current and former players also have dressed the part during Sunday broadcasts.

The integration into that rich sneaker culture starts early in Chicago. I laced up a pair of Jordan’s for the first time in 1989 — or so I am told — at the tender age of 3 and never looked back. While I can’t remember the first sneaker, many seminal moments of my childhood were made on local basketball courts with Jordans on my feet.

The obsession has carried over into adulthood, and at this stage of my life sneakers are far from free.


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