(This is a flashback and reprint from a website that coincidentally also was founded by David.)
Jordan has a basketball shoe, LeBron has one, too. And, others. You know a player has made it when they place his moniker on a line of basketball shoes. Shoes or “sneakers” that cost well over a $100 and sometimes approach many hundreds of dollars. Shoes that are created with limited production runs. Shoes that only the elite of the elite can afford, or. do these so-called shoes really find the elite people that they are supposedly being marketed to?
Because let’s face it anyone who thinks that this footwear is being marketed to you, me, or, any other common schmoo, is in for a very rude awakening. Inner city youth cannot afford to purchase these shoes. Hell, most kids in the suburbs would be hard pressed to pay for these shoes if they are not from Fairfield County in Connecticut or Beverly Hills in California or some other well heeled economic geographical area.
The reason Stephon Marbury came out with his Starburys at $15.00 is because in LeBron’s, (yes, LeBron), own words: “Growing up in the inner city, you know at times a family can’t afford $120 shoes or $90.00.”
Sometimes a family can’t afford them?
Nice that LeBron does have some touch, a small vestige, with the reality of the everyday family’s economic realities and that he is sympathetic to their plight to a certain degree, but, with those few words he does two things. One, he says he is aware people can be hard pressed to pay for the status symbol of owning his sponsored shoe, and, two, that he really could care less as long as the other families do find the dollars to shell out for his footwear.
So, except for the very well connected, or, the very well financed person, who does buy these shoes?
If, a person were to go walking down a city street, they certainly would see quite a few young people wearing these shoes as well as other pieces of major league sports apparel. But, if, you look deeply into the fabric of these children that wear these shoes and, then, stop and think about where you might be and then take it another thought process further and consider that where you are, and, who lives there, then the conclusion may well be: Just how in the hell do these children actually pay for these shoes?
Reality pill number 1: American teenagers buy stuff for ego and status. They buy stuff with certain brand names or with certain star athlete sponsorships because they believe it will make them noticed and more popular.
Of course this doesn’t answer the question of where they get the money to purchase these status symbols.
Reality pill number 2: Either American teenagers have parents who give them money to purchase sneakers of status or the American teenager receives the symbols of status as gifts; the American teenager has an actual part time job that enables him to pay for the symbols of status or through a sense of entitlement the American teenager takes what is not his.
Points one and two of reality pill 2 are inconsequential for this article, and, if that were the only way that kids got these sneakers of the stars then the story could end right here.
But it isn’t.
The fact is that for the longest time now sneakers and team apparel has been hot and is getting even hotter. The fact is that kids are being mugged and sometimes killed for what they have on their feet and their backs. The fact is, especially in the inner city where the majority of sales for NBA name brand basketball shoes occur, the sales are pushed forward by people intertwined within the drug culture and other various illegal dealings.
Yes, we are talking about the gang lifestyle. We are talking about where these self important gangsters in these self appointed terrorist groups get their funds. Thus, we are talking about certain gang related rackets that are replacing the gangster structures of yester year. And, yes, we are talking about the sale of drugs. The fact is that drugs finance the purchase of these shoes that players like Jordan and LeBron encourage American youth to buy. And, this is not some new news flash.
In 1988, a gunman robbed a 17-year-old of his Mercedes Benz and Avia high tops after killing the boy’s 25-year- old friend as he pedaled away on his bicycle. (You, the reader, can speculate what 17-year-old can afford to drive around in a Mercedes and what he and his 25- year-old bicycling friend were doing together in the first place)
In 1989, a 16-year-old was shot and killed by a 17-year-old for his Air Jordans.
Jordan at the time was quoted as saying: “I thought I’d be helping out others and everything would be positive. (I will refrain from speaking to the issue of where his shoes are manufactured for another article) I thought people would try to emulate the good things I do, they’d try to achieve, to be better. Nothing bad. I never thought because of my endorsement of a shoe, a product, that people would harm each other. Everyone likes to be admired, but when it comes to kids actually killing each other then you have to reevaluate things”
So, exactly how has that reevaluation taken place and what has changed since that time? Not much if life is any indication. The massacre still rages on for athlete sponsored products and the gangsters still reign supreme in the ghetto. Style is still holding sway over substance. And, all the vendors, the purveyors of the product, are still promoting a fantasy fueled market place for people in the economically ravaged inner cities and thus tapping in on the proceeds of drug and gang revenue.
The fact is people are driven to be like others that appear well liked and successful. They want to be like Mike.
We are driven by peer pressure and kids are more driven than ever by this peer pressure. Look at the commercials on the TV. It goes from Mean Joe Green throwing his jersey to that star struck kid in the runway all the way to Jordan to Bo to LeBron, ad infinitum. The fact is, it is hip… at least according to the Media… it is cool and it is a necessity to own the shoe that allows you to be like the latest successful sports hero.
And, it is the gangs and the drug culture that are predicated upon a creation of a house of ill formed fragile straw and sticks to begin with that gives a sorry, and fake, family for many of these low esteem broken kids to run to.
They provide something that the broken societal structure cannot: A place where they can be important, they can be liked or they can just be somebody even for a fleeting vaporizing moment in their naked lives. This crime of taking what does not belong to you because of a sense of entitlement still rages supreme.
And, the companies that produce the products that symbolize high status helps to create an underclass that somehow has lost respect for the very society they are supposed to be a part of. The shoe companies and apparel makers force feed these low esteem youth to strive to own their overpriced pieces of instant status to feed into the esteem void of America ’s youth.
A principal of Chicago’s Simeon High, a perennial basketball power, says: “No one person is responsible for this type of violence ….. It is about values and training. Society’s values are out of sync, which is why these things, (basketball shoes, etc…), have become important.”
A respected New Haven , CT retailer once said “… spend 10 minutes in any city store. When an 18-year-old kid pulls up in a BMW, walks down the aisle saying, ‘I want this, this , this and this and then peels off 50’s from a stack of bills three inches thick, maybe doesn’t even wait for the change, then comes back a couple of weeks later and does the same thing…”
The point is, (just like the young man with the Mercedes earlier), where did that BMW come from? Where does that three inch wad of fifties come from? How many 17-year-olds are known for having that ability to drive up to a retail store and then get to pay cash for whatever he wants and then return a week later and do it all over again? How many young people actually have either that resource availability from their personal family life or have jobs that would pay enough to enable them to make these types of purchases?
This is not a very difficult extrapolation to make here.
Reality pill number three: A young man in the inner city can get a job at the local MacDonald’s or Footlocker paying minimum wage or something slightly over that wage. Then the government takes its cut in the form of taxes and social security. And, what is left for the pocket after all is said and done? Assuming this is a part time job after school, not very much.
OR, another young man in a nice new shiny high performance vehicle is willing to give him a cell phone or walkie talkie and tells him to stand on the local street corner down from where he is parked. He tells what type of things he wants his new spotter to look for, how to spot narks and undercover cars and then call him with that information so that he can close down shop from his car. And, for this effortless work the pay is about $100 dollars…. A day! Now, given these two scenarios is it any wonder that some kids will opt for door number two?
Now, with cash in the pocket and with no deductions made by any government agencies he can go out and buy his way into status land and now the hook is in. He is a part and parcel of the gang culture and all that goes with it. No more do they see their lives as being nothing but a futile struggle for themselves. No more do they have to see their moms struggling to make ends meet by laboring at low paying labor or with the measly welfare check. And, no more do they have to accept the fact that they need to be destined to a life of working for chump change flipping burgers or at some other low paying job, IF, they can even get that job to begin with… the unemployment rate for inner city youths and especially minorities is over 35% and growing in this economic climate of today.
They can start as spotters, and, if, as in any business, they show an aptitude to be a money maker then they can rise within the hierarchal system of the gang.
So, they start out in the entry level position of spotter at the age of nine or ten. They make $100 plus and sometimes, if, the day has been an especially profitable one for all concerned the young apprentice gets a bonus of the latest sneaker.
That is the upside.
The down side is that the competition is really intense and unforgiving.
The newest entry level worker bee can get caught up being users themselves, or, not very good at the trade and constantly in and out of jail or youth court and detention homes.
The fact is that once these kids become part of this culture they also become part of the customs of the culture which includes those damn basketball shoes that go for hundreds of dollars.
Spike Lee, (yes, the Spike Lee), recognizes the problem and he also recognizes that as a promoter of Nike shoes and Air Jordans he must rationalize his own personal involvements in the revenue streaming into his own personal coffers. He says: “The Nike commercials Michael Jordan and I do have never gotten anyone killed…The deal is this: Let’s try to effectively deal with the conditions that make a kid put so much importance in a pair of sneakers, a jacket and gold. These kids feel they have no options, no opportunities.”
And, who is really at liberty to say this is not the truth? It is, in fact, a very astute and real assessment of the reality of a very grave situation. It feeds into and it fits into the low esteem theory, the gang as a replacement for the family, as a vehicle for a personal belonging and, then, if that is the given situation it follows that the person who now belongs to this social structure will strive and succumb to the internal peer pressure of the system and want to be like the upper echelons of the system. Rank after all has privilege and all its beneficial benefits.
So, is it a stretch to say that whether through their complicit or implicit actions of sponsoring an athletic shoe, primarily a basketball sneaker, that star athletes like Jordan and LeBron are actually promoting the drug culture in American inner cities?
Jordan: “I’d rather eliminate the product than know drug dealers are providing funds that pay me.”
Really? Then why hasn’t he ended his association with the high end market shoe that his name is attached?
And, go right down the line and either similar phoniness will be pontificated from the lips of these stars or an equal amount of apathy by these men will be maintained as it isn’t my responsibility, etc…
Because, it is a fact that drug money supports these products, and, it is a fact, kids, children, are dying because of these products.
So, where does the responsibility lie?
Does it become the truth that puts to rest the phony words of these athletes and makes it known it is really all about the money and it makes no difference where that money comes from as long as it goes into their pockets?
And, is the solution in the Marbury approach? Provide a decent sneaker at an affordable price and say screw the market?
But what of the Marbury approach? No matter what the present attitude to this ego driven man is, no matter whether you believe him to be right or wrong in the current New York Knick debacle, the fact is that Marbury has said from the beginning he is selling his sneaker at the original price of $14.98 because he wanted to do the right thing. Marbury as a black man in NYC understands the historical and sociological reality that basketball holds for inner city youth. He understands that these kids want the latest and the greatest when they are out on the court styling and moving and shaking and baking. And he understands the fact that these basketball shoes in today’s market are damn expensive.
He knows because he had six other siblings and his mom said she couldn’t spend the $120 he wanted on basketball shoes because that money was needed to buy groceries for the month. Marbury says there is no real difference between his shoes and the other shoes on the market.
Why the big difference in price?
One reason, and it is a big reason, is that the Marbury shoe is not endorsed by the NBA.
Another reason is the cost of marketing and advertising are not included in the price of the shoe. Marbury relies on word of mouth.
And, finally Marbury realizes his cut of the sales for his endorsement only from the profits and not any upfront money.
Marbury has at least attempted to create a viable alternative and the real problem is the Marbury reputation and the Marbury success rate right now does nothing to make people want to run out, buy and then wear his shoe as the latest status symbol. It isn’t chic to wear them 15 dollar shoes when the glitz of the new LeBron shoe is on everyone else’s foot these days. Style not substance sells in today’s youth market and the so-called easy money of the gangs that sell the drugs, that wave the 100 dollar bills under the noses of the kids today, makes the choice almost too easy for these kids. They hear just say no but they say and if I do what are you offering me in return? Right, thought so. No style, no ego gratification, no nothing.
But the real miracle is that there are kids who do say no and it is a relatively small segment that needs to be reached if in fact they can be reached. But, it is important to reach this segment because of the drain it places upon our social, health, welfare and thus, our economical systems. And, in my opinion, it should start with these stars that lend their names to the shoe and apparel companies in the drive to receive untold wealth for the selling of their name.
I have nothing against making money.
I have a lot against how that money is made at the cost of one of the most valuable resources that America has today: our kids.
LeBron: “Me, being with Nike, we hold our standards high.”
Marbury: “I’d rather own than be owned.”
And, I’d rather have a clear conscience when all is said and done.
Originally submitted to Informative Sports, 2/2009
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