The loss of life over a pair of gym shoes?

I just read about Jawaad Jabbar, a 16 year old boy from Ohio who was shot and killed after allegedly trying to steal a pair of Nike Air Jordan basketball shoes.  Apparently, the new limited edition Air Jordan’s were sold out, so Jawaad tried to steal the shoes from someone who had just purchased a pair.


Expensive Gym Shoes & Ghetto Economics

I was in the fifth grade when leather gym shoes became popular in Detroit; that was 1978. Prior to this time, if you were cool, you had a pair of white canvas high-tops. Converse All-Star “Chuck Taylor’s” were the most popular brand. If you weren’t cool, you had a pair of non-brand-name gym shoes your mother bought from the grocery store. The “no-name” shoes sucked — they had a plastic sole and couldn’t grip the basketball floor, or any floor, for that matter. When I came to school wearing a pair of cheap gym shoes one day, the other kids laughed at me.

“Greg has on slip & slides,” they yelled as I slid down the hallways. It was as if I were wearing roller skates. Teasing by other kids is what one had to endure if not wearing the most popular styles of shoes and clothes. Little did I know the chaos children in the future would have to endure for the sake of style.

I was one of the worst players on my fifth and sixth grade basketball team, but since we dominated most of our opponents, I usually played all of the third or fourth quarter of games. I needed some cool gym shoes so I could be part of the in-crowd; slip & slides just wouldn’t suffice.

I convinced my mother to buy me a pair of leather basketball shoes. The pair I wanted were white high-tops, with a baby blue leather stripe. I was ecstatic when I got them. Now I’d be just like the professional basketball players, wearing the latest and greatest gear. The girls would look at me in my skin tight, low-cut basketball shorts, and they would see my shoes — I’d be popular. The guys would see my shoes and say, “Dog, your shoes are sweet.” I would be “The Man!” Life was good.

Just as important, I had the coolest of the cool new hairstyles, a shag. Not to be confused with women’s hairstyles that shared the name, in the late 1970s, the shag was a popular hair style among urban black males. To create a shag, long hair was cut low, while leaving a rounded section of long hair near the bottom of one’s hairline. A shag typically spanned two to three inches in vertical height, and stretched the horizontal length of one’s hairline.

Soon we were about to play our archrival. I probably wouldn’t get to play in the game because they always played us close. They had this tall dude named Norton, and he was good. But we had guys on the second string who could start for most teams, so they never beat us. Yet, it didn’t matter if I played or not; I’d look sweet during warm ups and on the bench in my leather gym shoes.

But when I unveiled my leather gym shoes with the smooth baby blue stripe, Aaron, one of the best players on our team, called me a biter (i.e. a copycat). He already had a pair of the same brand of leather gym shoes, baby blue stripe and all. Damn, I could have been a trendsetter, but instead was labeled a biter. Oh the shame!

If you had a “cool” hair style and wore the latest fashions, you were “The Man.”

I wished my mother had been willing to spend more money; I would have bought a more expensive pair of leather gym shoes — ones with a white suede stripe. Then I’d be “The Man.” The only other dudes with white suede stripes on their shoes were Todd, who had a different brand, and Tony on the seventh and eighth grade team; he had some low-tops with a white suede stripe.

The next year, I bought some leather high-top gym shoes with a white suede stripe, but once again I was labeled a “biter.” Aaron beat me to the punch again. He had already upgraded to the same brand of shoes — white suede stripe and all. (The next time I try to set a trend, I’m going to call Aaron to make sure I don’t copy his style inadvertently.)

My first pair of leather gym shoes cost around $30; my second pair cost around $35. This was the late 1970s, so when adjusted for inflation, $30 shoes easily equate to a pair of $100 shoes in 2012 dollars. I broke the $40 cost barrier in the eighth grade by buying the most popular brand of leather high-top basketball shoes. They had a black leather stripe and gripped the basketball floor better than any pair of shoes I’d ever worn. They had a terry cloth insole which absorbed sweat. Because I sweat a lot, this caused my shoes to stink beyond belief.

I wore the shoes so much the stench of my feet could be smelled from across a large room. That’s when my mother threw them away, figuring such a smell couldn’t be removed merely by replacing the insoles. The era of expensive sneakers was in full swing. Today, the athletic shoe industry is a multi-billion dollar cash cow, along with various types of clothing brands.

But what’s the big deal about shoes and clothes? My father grew up wearing plain canvas Converse All Stars — fancy athletic shoes didn’t exist back then. To this day, my father has never had any problems with his feet. This, despite countless hours of playing basketball on the New York City hard courts. And if one dresses neatly, does it really matter if the clothes are made by a particular designer?

As time progressed, many popular brands of shoes and clothes emerged — a reason to spend money to keep up to date with the latest fashion trends. Or, as I like to say, a reason to spend money for the sake of spending money. And the prices of gym shoes continue to increase. It’s not uncommon now to see some sneakers priced above $300.

I remember visiting the home of a successful businessman in Detroit. His seventeen-year-old son had just returned from a sporting goods store with a new pair of expensive gym shoes. In the young man’s room, he had five stacks of shoeboxes, each seven feet high.

When the young man’s father questioned him on why he had purchased another pair of gym shoes, he said, “These are collector edition — a rare pair of shoes. They’ll be worth a lot of money someday. I’m only going to wear them a few times; then, I’ll save them for the future.”

The young man had an abundance of shoes, CDs, and DVDs in his room, but no books. It’s no wonder he was a poor student. The bigger question is why the young man’s father had not intervened earlier and prevented the purchase of so many shoes. Another question is why their home had multiple high-tech entertainment centers, but no library.

It’s not a crime to own a pair of nice athletic shoes, or an expensive pair. However, to own a portfolio of expensive shoes, if nothing else, is a poor financial decision. And to purchase shoes in hope of price appreciation is a speculative transaction at best. Sure, some rare gym shoes might sell for thousands of dollars today. However, money can be utilized more prudently on things that can provide a greater return with more certainty.

Young men have even been mugged for their gym shoes, and in some cases killed.[1] Such is the world today and a reminder to me of why young people must have priorities beyond owning material possessions, especially ones that earn no financial return. Money wasted is a potential impediment to one’s future financial success.

Rather than spend large sums of money on fashion, would it not be wiser to save and invest for one’s future? All children should learn the “Rule of 72.” This approximates how long it will take money to double at a particular rate of interest. Here’s how it works:

The number 72 divided by an interest rate, equals the approximate number of years it takes money to double at that interest rate.

Example: 72 divided by 6 equals 12 (72 ÷ 6 = 12).

Thus, it will take approximately 12 years for $100 to turn into $200 at 6% interest. Note: this does not account for inflation or tax implications (which will impact the real return).

Excerpt from The Janitor’s Sons: A True Story of Hope, Shattered Dreams, and Winning Despite Adversity (Chapter 8: Expensive Gym Shoes & Ghetto Economics) © 2012 by Gregory Collier. All Rights Reserved.

[1] See Paul Duggans, “Sneakers apparently led to killing,” The Washington Post, (January 9, 2012).


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Filed under Education, Race, Sports

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