A friend, a certified sneaker “junkie” who’s been in rehab, was speechless. He had just returned from a chain sneaker store the other day and was still in shock. He called me and said, “Unbelievable! $275 and you hear nobody complaining about the cost of shoes.”
He is right. Nobody has complained about the skyrocketing cost of Nike sneakers, despite an urban economy that remains unsettled. No one made a sound as the price inched over $200 a pair, but as shoes crossed the $250 mark, you almost expected someone to yell, “What the … !”
But attach the right name to sneakers and people will line up and make a run on them. And the right name is LeBron James, whose brand outsells any of his contemporaries’ shoes.
That’s what puzzles me. I’ve seen those shoes on boys in Cleveland’s schools. I’ve noticed how garish, almost clownish they look, but I never thought about price until my friend, a schoolteacher in Fort Wayne, Indiana, said something about it. I was as stunned as he was.
Now, I understand that boys and girls like cool, colorful gear. What person doesn’t as he or she is going from teenager to adult? But I find it hard to balance cool and $300 kicks in cities like Fort Wayne, Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans or Cleveland, a down-on-its-luck city where all the students in its school district are on free lunches.
Yet their fascination with overpriced sneakers isn’t of a recent vintage. In the late 1990s, I watched my nephew run through Air Jordans as if they were flip-flops. Each time Nike produced a new version, he had to have it. He would try to badger me into springing for a pair even as they crossed the $125 mark. He saw anything wrong with sneakers at that price. I did.
I still do. They are the kind of excess that too many of our youngsters seek. They can’t just have a cell phone; no, they must have an iPhone 5. They don’t realize putting $300 sneakers, which cost pocket change to make, on somebody’s feet when he doesn’t have a pair of dress shoes or decent slacks to wear doesn't make any sense.
Their obsession shows a warped view of what matters. It also reminds me that style trumps substance.
OK, you can call me a codger who’s out of step with today’s boys and girls. Though I’m deep into my life, I do listen to some of their music and I deal with youth throughout the year in my job with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. So my life touches theirs in meaningful ways. I think I understand what they’re going through, even as I struggle to accept some of it.
All of this is textbook madness, the sort of lunacy you see when material things carry more value than the necessities of life, With an unemployment rate still at 7.4 percent, $300 sneakers are a luxury.
But in an economy like this one, in an economy that can collapse overnight if the jobless rate or the winds of U.S. fiscal policy blow too hard in the wrong direction, I must insist that sneakers, no matter whose name is attached, show how much our youth (and their parents who buy their clothes) understand about economics and how detached they are from reality.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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