By NICK CHILES
After the Wall Street Journal initially reported that the new LeBron James sneaker was going to come with a ridiculous $315 pricetag, Nike apparently reconsidered. Now the shoe-making giant has announced that the new sneaks, called LeBron X, will cost $270.
Glad Nike came to its senses. Just $270, huh? So for the equivalent of a decent car payment, you will be able to outfit the little sneaker-obsessed tyke in your home with the top-of-the-line shoe, endorsed by the best basketball player in the world.
Aren’t you pleased?
Am I the only one who feels that this whole sneaker business has reached a level of insanity? I’m sure I run the risk here of sounding like some old-school has-been complaining about the good old days, but doesn’t the timing of this new sneaker, in the midst of the worst economy this nation has seen in 70 years, smell like a bad marketing move? As black (and white) communities are being devastated across the land, is this what a black parent needs—their little boy harassing them about the latest object of his desire, a conspicuously over-the-top sneaker that his foot will outgrow in three months? Or worse, that will be so enticing to some thieving bullies in the neighborhood that wearing them may even endanger his life?
I’m not going to tell Nike how to sell its shoes—clearly, with 95 percent of the U.S. basketball shoe market, Nike doesn’t need any advice from me. But I would suggest that this giant sports conglomerate—and the world’s best basketball player whose name will be on the shoes—just take a step back for a second and consider the big picture.
We have been down this road before, every time a shoe passes the next century mark in its pricetag. It began with Air Jordans and has continued unabated for several decades. The competition intensifies to create the latest sneaker product to tantalize kids whose parents are struggling to keep food on the table. And many parents, unable or unwilling to summon the strength and logic to say “No” to the child, will go ahead and buy these shoes even though they know they shouldn’t. That’s the way parenting often works in this consumer-driven age we live in.
Nike brags about all the extra stuff in the shoes: The Nike+ enabled version of the shoe, which allows for technology to be embedded in the mid-sole, will be sold with the sensors, the adapter and charger — together called the Sport Kit — for $270. The technology allows the athlete to measure various metrics, including vertical leap, and sync it with the Nike+ basketball app.
Without the kit, the shoe will cost $180.
As a parent who has raised a little boy to manhood, there are a few things I’ve learned: One, buying the shoe without the kit for a little boy intent on impressing his friends is like buying a new xBox without any game cartridges. A gaming console with no Madden. In his mind, the shoes will be useless without the technology. It will be an announcement to the world that his family couldn’t swing the extra $90. It will actually be worse than not buying the shoes at all. Can you imagine the conversation:
“Yo, man, you got the new LeBrons, with the sensors?! That’s crazy! Go ahead, let me check out your vertical leap!”
Your child: “Uh, nah. I didn’t get the sensor.”
Long pause. “Oh.”
Two, if your boy is anything like mine was, he has never met a new toy, gadget or electronic device that he couldn’t either lose, damage or render inoperable within hours. Did they subject all of that fancy technology to the aggressively destructive antics of a 13- or 14-year-old boy for a couple of days?
I remember walking down the street in Atlanta in the early morning a year or so ago and seeing a whole bunch of early twenty-something aged black men, waiting on line outside a store that hadn’t opened yet. This was an extremely unusual sight for me—what in the world was so desirable that this particular demographic of young black men would rouse themselves pre-dawn and wait outside of a store? So I asked them what was up. The answer? Nike had released some special, vintage edition of Jordans. Only a limited number would be available. Thus the line at 7:30 am.
So even after they leave their teens, the obsession doesn’t really go away. I’m sure Nike is aware of this.
Again, I’m not telling Nike how to do their business, but a $270 sneaker is not the business. We parents just pray for a little help from the rest of society. We don’t ask for much: Just do no harm, like they teach the doctors.
Nike, with these super-high-tech, super expensive LeBron X sneakers, you are potentially doing a great deal of harm. If that day comes when we read a story about a little boy being hurt because somebody tried to take his shoes, I’m not going to come back here saying I told you so, cause I’ve already said it.
The day when a teenage boy’s sneakers cost about the same price as Kimora Lee Simmons’ new shoes? Houston, we have a problem.