I love this image of the original catalog of Jordan 3s from 1988. I think it’s a Nike catalog. Before internet, I saw shoes in stores or the Eastbay catalog. I read it with breakfast or dinner. I also looked at the Big 5 Sporting Goods ads for Nike Airs so I could ask my parents for them, but I never really saw any good ones on discount. Every time I showed them a Nike Air ad they would laugh and treat it like a joke because the price was ridiculous. I’d laugh along with them to act like a good boy and say “yeah that price is so crazy”.
This catalog page reminds me of how long I’ve liked Jordan 3s. I was in and out of the sneaker game and always missed the releases of the 3s. I never thought about having all four versions of the original Jordan 3s as a collector. I never noticed I was collecting sneakers. I didn’t know sneaker collecting was a thing. I just wanted them. Sneakers were jet fighters for your feet, special bionic weapons that made you better at whatever you were doing. As a teenager, I was into the design of Jordans and I knew they were the ultimate shoe, the best of the best, way too good for an amateur athlete like me. I wanted to be a reasonable kid to my parents. I thought if I asked them for something close to the best shoes, I would have a better chance at getting them than if I asked for the most expensive ones. So, I didn’t ask for Jordans for a long time. I eased them into it for years.
The first retro of the four Jordan 3 colorways I got as an adult was the Fire Red 3s. It isn’t one of those highly collectible colorways that had a high resale price, but I didn’t care. It was one of the ones I always wanted. I bought them and wore them as much as I could. When 3s first came out, I was in 6th grade. I was buying skate shoes back then. I never had a chance to get the original 3s. They were at an unattainable level back then. The only time I saw them was in Sports Illustrated or Wheaties cereal posters. I bought Wheaties just to get the Michael Jordan posters that came in them. Never liked the cereal that much. I was much more of a Cinnamon Toast Crunch kid. Sometimes, I could convince my mom to buy me a magazine with Michael Jordan pictures from the grocery store.
I remember one day at my orthodontist’s waiting room, I found a Sports Illustrated issue with Michael Jordan on the cover, a special issue with tons of MJ pictures in it. I looked through every page and picture for about 20 minutes, 6 straight pages of Michael Jordan pictures. I wanted the receptionist to see how much I liked it. I was hoping she would see me reading it and say “you can go ahead and keep that if you like it so much”, but that wasn’t happening. I needed the pictures to help me with Michael Jordan drawings. I liked drawing action shots of Michael Jordan in school, in notebooks, book covers, anything I could draw on. The detail on the sneakers and uniform in my drawings had to be accurate. I felt like I was making realistic, pencil sketches of Jordan in motion. The drawings always seemed to slowly come to life with each drag of the pencil lead.
The magazine was in pretty good shape. All the pages were there and only a few corners were bent. I was too shy to ask the receptionist if I could have it, but I really wanted it. Sports Illustrated issues were pretty expensive back then. I think they were $5.50 and at this age, I was lucky to ever have $5 in my pocket. I usually never had money unless it was my birthday. So, I asked my mom if she thought they would give it to me if I asked for it. She looked at it and told me they probably don’t care. “Just take it!” she said in a loud whisper. I couldn’t “just take it”! We thought I’d get in trouble! I thought maybe I’ll just carry it around with me and if anyone said anything, I would put it back. Next thing she did was stuff it in her hand bag. I cringed because I thought she might wrinkle the pages. I sat quiet in my seat like we just committed a crime which we did. She didn’t care and I was glad she did it. We went in for my appointment and I couldn’t wait to get out so I could see if she really kept it. As soon as I got in the car, I asked her for the magazine and held it with both hands.
It must have been around ’89 or ’90 because most of the pictures had MJ wearing the black and red Jordan 4. The Bred (black/red) 4 became my favorite shoe of all time from then on. One of my brother’s friends had a pair of them and only a couple of lids at school had them. I never even tried to buy them because they were also at unattainable level. I saw them on the shelves at Foot Locker, but I never asked my parents to buy them because the price tag was something like $100 or $120. We were spending around $30 to $40 for a normal pair of shoes at the time.
I never asked my parents to take me to shoe stores either. I didn’t want them to know I was getting hooked on sneakers. I waited until we shopped at a store with a shoe section and then I’d tell them that I’m going to look around. Every time we’d go shopping at a discount store like Ross or Marshalls, I went straight to the shoe section to look for any type of Nike Airs. I thought if I found a pair at one of the cheap department stores, they would be affordable enough to ask my parents to buy them. But Nike Airs were rarely there. They were only at the high end sneaker shops. I did find some respectable shoes, better than the Variflex and Airwalk Kmart skate shoes I had. I talked my mom into buying me Airwalks and Variflex shoes by telling her I needed high tops for ankle support. It was a safety issue. This was my strategy to upgrade from my Payless shoe store Prowings, which I actually really loved. My Prowings had a big velcro strap and no shoe laces. They looked like moon shoes. I liked the moon shoe look until I saw a couple of other friends with some nice high tops like Reebok basketball shoes. The moon shoes didn’t last long anyway.
Then, I found out that I was missing something. I didn’t know my Airwalks were only skate shoes. They weren’t good enough for basketball. No one wore Airwalks for basketball! I developed a strategy. The next time I saw some good basketball shoes at a discount store, I would use basketball as the reason for new shoes. For weeks and weeks, I kept looking but no basketball shoes were popping up. I saw a pair of British Knights aka “Blood killers” which looked decent, still not high tops, but I thought they were an upgrade from the Airwalks and the price was right. They were pretty cheap. I asked my mom for them and she said yes! I felt like I had a proper pair of decent sneakers, but they still weren’t basketball shoes. So, I kept on with the search for the next pair.
Finally, I saw a pair of white and blue Converse that could meet the requirements, a proper pair of basketball shoes! Well known brand, designed for basketball, I had to get them, the Converse ERX 200. They are far from Jordans, but Magic Johnson wore them. I was a huge Lakers fan and still am. Magic had his own signature Magic Johnson Cons, but these are the ones he wore before those. They were very cheap. I was so lucky to find them at a discount store. It was easy to convince my mom that I was lucky to find high tops so cheap. I wore them to school and told my friends that they were the shoes Magic wore before the Magic Johnson Cons. So, they were essentially the first Magic Johnsons. I essentially made up Magic Johnson’s sneaker lineage story to establish sneaker credibility and it didn’t last long. I kept looking at the marketing tags for the ERX 200 to see if there was any technology in it that was comparable to Nike Air. I imagined that it had an air cushion in it, but it didn’t. I looked under the insole and it was just hard stuff.
I thought I could customize them. I decided I could make my own padding similar to Nike Air out of them. I took out the insoles and got some cotton balls from my parents’ bathroom. I got masking tape and packaged the cotton balls inside a masking tape pocket and put them under the insoles and tried them on. Is this what Nike Air felt like? I kinda felt more padding, but the cotton didn’t have enough integrity to hold any weight. They just completely compressed down with any amount of pressure. I left them in my shoes for a few days without telling anyone what I made. When I figured out my new technology was worthless, I took out the Air cottons. I was back on the hunt for new sneakers. The ERX 200 did help on the outdoor basketball courts though. I looked a little more like a basketball player, but I was starting to realize that you can’t substitute for a real high end basketball sneaker. Eventually, I made these Cons dirty on purpose to convince my parents that I needed a new pair ASAP. I cleaned them back up to keep them in my growing line-up after my strategy of dirtying my sneakers worked out. In my 6th grade year, my sneaker curiosity bloomed into a totally irrational appetite for consumption. I was hooked. I even got one of my classroom groups to call ourselves the Electric Shoes, a name I stole from Kevin Arnold’s band in The Wonder Years tv show. From then on, I was talking and thinking about shoes all the time.
My brother was a great basketball player. He could jump really high. I wished he had really nice shoes so I could tell my parents that I should have shoes like his, but he wasn’t into shoes. He was into fixing shoes. He was very proud of his Etonic high tops. These were low end basketball shoes that he wore for years. The sole completely fell off the shoe, but he got this stuff called Shoe Goo and was able to fasten the sole right back on and it performed as good as new. This wasn’t a good example for me. I was trying to convince my parents that I needed better shoes and my brother was doing the exact opposite of what I wanted. He repaired his old shoes. I didn’t want them to say “why don’t you just fix your old shoes like Jay does”. I just ignored what he did and never talked about it. Maybe they wouldn’t notice what he was doing. He would laugh and say how great the Etonics were and how long he made them last. The worst part was that he had a best friend who followed him around like a puppy. His best friend’s parents bought their son all the sneakers he wanted. He had the black and red Jordan 4s and the white and fire red Jordan 4s. He wore them all the time and I would just look at them in awe. They wore size 10 and I wore size 6 or 7 at the time. One time they took off their shoes to go swimming and I tried on his shoes just to see what Nike Air technology felt like and they were amazing. It was the softest cushioning I had ever felt in any sneaker. I wanted them more than ever but still felt like they were unattainable. My brother didn’t really care for them. He appreciated Michael Jordan as a basketball player, but wasn’t into the shoes. His friend that had the Jordans didn’t seem to think they were a big deal either because, one day, my brother came home wearing the White Fire Red Jordan 4s! He said something like “Look”. I said “Where did you get those?!”, then I realized, they didn’t look new. I quickly figured out that they were his friend’s shoes. But I didn’t know if he gave them to him or not. My brother tried to act calm to make me think they were now his, but he later told me that he was just borrowing them. Neither my brother or I would ever be allowed to buy Jordans, but, somehow, the one of us who didn’t even care about sneakers was wearing Jordans. I wasn’t jealous. I was in awe that there was a pair of them in our house. I eventually tried them on. I will always remember that pair of shoes. I didn’t like them as much as the Bred 4s, but they were still special shoes in a close 2nd place. I still don’t have that colorway of the Jordan 4, but will get them the next time they come out.
I liked looking at all Nike Air models though. I was fascinated with the idea that an air bubble in the sole of your shoe that was pressurized and see-through was the cushion mechanism for your feet. This technology was obviously superior to any other shoes out there. So, I figured I would be lucky to have any Nike Air shoe. There were a few memorable models that I was never allowed to have. I had a mental list of Nike Air shoes from highest to lowest priority in my mind. I never wrote it down, but I knew the hierarchy in my head. This is the first time putting it on paper with some notes from lowest to highest priority.
Nike Air Pegasus: Lowest in the hierarchy. No visible air bubble, but the air technology was inside there. I never got to hold them in hand, but I knew people that had them.
Nike Air Stab: These looked like Air Max and had visible Nike Air in the soles, but had these sharp pointy looking things that blocked the view of the visible air pocket.
Nike Air Max: These had the largest air bubble. I always wondered how it would sound if the air bubble were to be popped with a pencil in the middle of class. Massive air bubble was good, but it was more of a running shoe and not a top priority for me. I never owned a pair of Max’s.
Nike Air Tech Challenge II – The Agassis, hot lava colorway: These were pretty nice. Worn by Andre Aggasi when he was the best. They were tennis shoes though. Tennis shoes weren’t a high priority for me, but they did have the visible air bubble. So, I would take them if I had a chance. A really dorky guy who played tennis got a pair and he knew I loved shoes. He bragged to me about them and I told him they were very nice, but didn’t tell him I was jealous. I have 2 different colorways of this shoe today. Still like them a lot.
Nike Air SC Trainer – The Bo Jacksons, Auburn colorway: My favorite non-basketball shoe. The Auburn colorway of this shoe had bright orange on the sides. I will never forget them. My brother’s friend that had the Jordans also had these. I still don’t have a pair to this day. I saw a homeless looking guy at a bus stop wearing a beat up pair of these one day when I was driving and I was jealous.
Nike Air Flight 89 – Any colorway: The Flights were the next best thing to Jordans back in the day. Jordans were essentially a specific type of Flights. So, Flights and Jordans were kind of related. I figured if I could never get Jordans, maybe I could just get some Flights. I have a pair of grey Flight 89s that I never wear. It’s not really a sought after model because it wasn’t a signature model for any player. I took pictures of them when I finally got them in my closet.
Nike Air Flight 1990 – Any colorway except red: These were a grail for me. We called them “the double bubbles”. All my friends knew I wanted them, but I never got them. There were cheaper versions that looked like them that were called Solo Flights. They looked exactly the same, but they didn’t have the visible air bubble. I hated the Solo Flights because they looked like a cheap imitation of the real Flights. One of my friends got the Solo Flights and was showing them off to me because he knew I wanted the double bubble Flights, but he had that cheap version. I couldn’t say that he had a weak version of the real shoe because his weak version was still better than whatever shoe I was wearing.
Any Air Jordan after Jordan 2: Any Jordan model was the top of the shoe hierarchy. They were the most expensive and least common. Whoever had them was winning the shoe game. They could be the 3s or any one after that. The Jordan 1s and 2s weren’t even a part of the conversation. No one had the 1 or 2 when I was growing up. It was all about the 3’s, 4’s, 5’s and anything after up until I graduated high school.
In 7th grade, I figured out that I could ride my bike to a shoe store in my hometown. It was a long ride on a pretty wide and busy street, Whittier Blvd. The shoe store was called Shoe City or something like that. I know there is a chain called Shoe City that exists today, but not sure if it is the same as the store in my neighborhood. The store I used to visit is gone now. It wasn’t a high end store. It looked more like an outlet store. They never had the top of the line Nike Airs or Jordans, but they had some good brands and great prices. Since I never thought it would be possible to buy top of the line shoes, this store was perfect for me. I figured I could save my money and buy the best of the mid-level sneakers which could be pretty good too. Once in a while, I would tell my parents I was going to ride my bike and I would actually ride it straight to the shoe store. Thinking back now, I think it’s totally weird for a kid in 7th grade to ride to a shoe store instead of to his friend’s house or to the park or something like that. This was the beginning of a long history of solitary sneaker missions. I didn’t know that it would develop into a weird adult hobby.
Around this time was when I was able to distract myself away from Jordans by looking at Reebok Pumps. The Pump first came out as a revolutionary basketball shoe that was very exclusive. The first model was $170 or $180 which was not affordable for most. The shoes had a pump that would inflate air bladders on the sides of the shoes. The purpose was to provide a customized fitted feeling where the air bladders would fill in any void of space so your foot would fit snug into the shoes. The sacrifice was that the Reebok Pumps were very heavy. They had a lot more material inside the upper of the shoes than a lot of other sneakers did. Eventually, Reebok released more affordable models and also added cross trainers that were even cheaper than the basketball shoes. After several hasty sneaker purchases in 6th grade, I went through a Reebok Pump phase. I must have bought these with my own birthday and Christmas money because my parents certainly would not have bought them for me. The most elite of the Reeboks I bought were the Reebok Pump Twilight Zone. It was a neon and white colored Reebok Pump now known to be the original of the whole line. My pair was awesome. I loved them and I think I eventually destroyed them in an experiment to see what the air bladder inside looked like after I wore them out of course. The Twilight Zone Pumps were worn by Michael Jordan’s rival, Dominique Wilkins who battled head to head with Jordan in the ’88 dunk contest. The Pumps had a technology called ERS which was competing with Nike’s Air bubble technology as a responsive sole technology. I opened up the shoes to find that it was nothing but a bunch of plastic tubes stuck in the middle of the heel of the sole. The only reason I bought all these Reebok Pumps was to distract myself for the best of the best. The Air Jordans.
At this point, I realized that I can’t mess around with other shoes anymore, I need the best of the best. I need Air Jordans. I think it was in 8th grade when I finally convinced my mom to buy me a pair of Jordans. I was able to squeeze my foot into a grade school size shoe which was much cheaper than the full adult size shoe. This brought the price point down under $100 for the Jordan 5. When I went to Foot Locker, I wanted to get the black metallic Jordan 5, but all they had in my size was the grape colored. It wasn’t my preference, but it was my first chance to get my foot into a Jordan and take them home. So, my mom paid for them and I had my first Jordans. I kept the box and papers and returned them into the box and put the shoe stuffing paper back into the shoes after every time I wore them. I put them next to my bed at night. I loved them, but I had a big problem. I squeezed my foot into the grade school size so I could get the cheaper version, but I was in the midst of a growth spurt.
My Jordan 5s didn’t last long. I had the best shoes in my classes for a period of time, but I knew I needed to formulate a plan to get another pair of shoes soon.
TO BE CONTINUED