Sneaker culture has been woven into the fabric of the NBA since Michael Jordan’s Nikes first took off. They’ve become a status symbol for both fans and players, as most of the leagues best have high-priced basketball shoes. However, with the rise of sneaker culture came a darker side that confirms the lengths people will go to in order to get the shoes.
Hakeem Olajuwon acknowledged this issue 20 years. Unfortunately, he couldn’t stop the unfortunate events that unfolded.
A teen’s tragic death over sneakers
In 2014, Jawaad Jabbar was at a shoe store in Dayton, Ohio, hoping to pick up a new, limited edition pair of Air Jordan sneakers. Unfortunately, the 16-year-old had no such luck, reports The Columbus Dispatch, and the shoes sold out before he could get a pair.
Rather than accept the loss, Jabbar pulled a gun on someone who did get a pair. Unbeknownst to Jabbar, the other man had a gun, too. He shot and killed Jabbar. This was not the first nor the last time a killing occurred over basketball sneakers.
Shootings and armed robberies of Jordans and other shoes have happened since NBA stars began inking big sneaker deals. While several players have tried to combat this by releasing a more affordable shoe, the astronomical prices continue to cause issues.
Hakeem Olajuwon’s fix
Former Houston Rockets superstar Hakeem Olajuwon once tried to combat the violence surrounding high-priced shoes — and make them more affordable for working families — by releasing a cheaper shoe for $34.99. “The Dream,” a shoe put out by Spalding, was available at Payless, Wal-Mart, and K-Mart stores across America.
Olajuwon, who grew up in Nigeria, resonated with older NBA fans, especially after he came off back-to-back NBA championships. He was vocal about his thoughts on the sneaker killings, which arose around the same time as his NBA career.
“How can a poor working mother with three boys buy Nikes or Reeboks that cost $120?” Olajuwon said in a retrospective piece by The Guardian. “She can’t. So kids steal these shoes from stores and other kids. Sometimes they kill for them.”
Many problems hit Olajuwon’s shoe line, from the less-than-prestigious stores carrying them to the fact that Spalding wasn’t known for its shoes as much as its sporting equipment. According to The Guardian, his status as a Nigerian-born basketball player instead of an American may have also played a factor.
Rather than becoming a fashionable shoe like the other big-name sneakers, they were considered an off-brand joke worthy of mocking. Olajuwon’s contract with Spalding ended in 2000.
Nearly 25 years later, and the same sneaker problems persist. Shoes can cost over $200, with many going for well above that price point. The Nike Zoom LeBron III currently goes for $175 at Foot Locker, and even Under Armour currently sells Steph Curry’s latest at $130.
As seen with Jabbar’s story, violence over shoes persists years later. Some players, however, have followed Olajuwon’s lead and released cheaper shoes. Thankfully, many have been met with more success than Olajuwon’s.
Much has been made about Stephon Marbury both in the NBA and overseas. His Starbury line started at only $14.99 when he still played in the NBA. While they never took over like Jordans, they continue to sell for only $25 on his website. Shaquille O’Neal has also been the face of a successful line of affordable footwear.
Olajuwon may have meant well, but his idea never took off. Thankfully, others have tried with more success. Now, more companies are creating affordable shoes for both kids and adults. This will likely never overtake the billion-dollar shoe industry, but if it can become more common, it’s a good thing.