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Nike, Sneaker Violence and the New $315 LeBrons

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By Larry Harris, Jr. on August 23, 2012


Last week Nike announced that a special edition of its version 10 LeBron James sneakers would be sold for $315 retail. Aside from the absurdity of charging three hundred dollars for sneakers, it strikes me as profoundly irresponsible to sell basketball shoes for this price given the nation’s history of sneaker violence. While i do not agree with the National Urban League’s insistence that the shoes not be released or bought, I do think Nike should think harder about pricing in the future.

I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s when people were regularly robbed or killed for Nike sneakers. When Air Jordans rose above $100 per pair, it was like dangling steak in front of the eyes of unruly young people in the D.C. area who coveted the shoes so much that they were willing to literally kill for them.

In 1990, both Sports Illustrated and The New York Times ran articles about sneaker killings. Just as recently as five days ago, Hypebeast ran a similar story that referenced 2008 stabbings in the U.K. over Nike’s aptly named Air Stab shoe.

Nike knows all about this. What is surprising is that they do not care.

Even Spike Lee does not place blame on Nike for sneaker-related killings. Quoted several times in one New York Times op-ed, Lee believes that materialism and the breakdown of the family structure are to blame. While it may be true that materialism and a lack of solid parenting are the root causes of sneaker killings, Nike is not excused for continuing to sell a product that it knows causes such violence at such ludicrous prices.

We now live in a country peppered with not only sneaker violence but also violent flash mobbing, iPhone thefts and a tremendous amount of school bullying. Given that reality, how can Nike charge $300 for sneakers without considering the wellbeing of their consumers? While the market may bear the cost of Nike’s new and other sneakers, it must consider the reality of violence in America before releasing the next luxury sneaker.

Sure, consumers (i.e., parents and kids) also have a responsibility to practice safety when considering buying the new LeBrons. But I think it is naive for us to expect a nation rife with absent parents and violence to uphold this responsibility. If the responsibility lies solely with parents and kids, then what is to be done about flash mobbing in Philadelphia — where innocent kids are beaten ruthlessly by mobs of teenagers for no reason?

Simply put, we do not live in a utopian society where kids can safely buy $300 sneakers. Unfortunately, we should expect violence to follow the release and purchase of the LeBrons.

For those questioning the demand for $300 sneakers, I’ll say as a “sneaker head” that the LeBrons look amazing. A good friend of mine sent me the Tumblr link to pages and pages of pictures of the sneakers being posted by young people all over the country. Unlike earlier releases of LeBron James’ sneakers, Nike knows it hit a marketing and design homerun with its new release. Kids will be clamoring for these shoes and in a world where kids have jobs and expendable income, they will buy them. I even want them myself. But, I will not pay $315 for them.

As evidenced by my recent Twitter activity, this debate can be argued all day without resolution. However, the one thing I am sure of is that we should be ready for a rise in sneaker violence following the release of the LeBron X shoes. Now the question is, what can be done to curb the violence?

Nike should not sell the shoes at stores that allow midnight purchases. Furthermore, parents must take an active role in preventing their kids from being unsafe with the shoes or acting out violently to attain them. Lastly, organizations like the Urban League should talk openly about materialism in the Black community, provide financial literacy classes and work with the police to organize against potential violence at places where kids might wear the sneakers.

While we all prepare for the release of the shoes, let’s all remember that we live in a violent world. Kids are harassed, beaten and killed for much less than $300 sneakers. Hopefully, Nike will do better in the future when considering pricing for any further releases of high-value shoes.

MORE FROM LARRY HARRIS, JR.:
• NCAA: Pay Your Athletes
• How to Change Politics in 3 Not-So-Easy Steps

Larry Harris, Jr. is Black Bobby — an MC, libertarian political activist, social entrepreneur and the second most interesting man in the world. He lives in Miami but is originally from Washington, D.C. Stunt Hard, my friends: blackbobby.com. Also, read his full HV archive HERE.

Be sure to follow him on Twitter @iamblackbobby.

All of Black Bobby’s music can be found HERE or HERE.

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