Costly sneakers have become an important part of the NBA All-Star Weekend

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Call it a game in the game – a parallel show organized in the biggest sporting event to hit Charlotte since 1991. Not the dunk or the three-point contest, nor the competition of skills, the game of celebrities or the # 39, one of the many events organized in the city.

The NBA All-Star weekend offers enthusiasm in almost every direction, but look down to see some of the world's most exclusive sneakers hit on the Uptown sidewalk. No sport is more intimately connected to basketball culture than basketball, and this annual showcase brings together some of the biggest sneaker shoes in the community.

The combined Nike, Adidas and Under Armor shoes sold $ 37 billion worth of shoes in 2017, according to Statistica.com. But the All-Star Weekend can be their best lucrative business all year long.

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Boston Celtics goaltender Dee Brown pumps her Reebok Pump sneakers before playing dunk in the 1991 NBA Slam Dunk competition at the Charlotte Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina. Brown would win the contest.

Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

First versions, exclusive colors (different color combinations for each model), same reimagination and reincarnation of some classics – All-Star Weekend serves as a striking intersection between sports shoe retailers and consumers.

"It's a good idea for companies to find an excuse to launch a shoe," said Jemayne King, a professor at Johnson C. Smith University. "Everyone now has an All-Star color of their shoes, even if they do not make basketball shoes – because of the attention paid to the event. It's a global event, it's a chance to get extra exposure to your brand and your business to get even a small market share.

"At this point, it's colossal … If you can not sell a shoe at another time of the year, you can sell it to All-Star."

King is more than a member of the sneaker community. He is an expert, a historian, creator of the first English course on shoe culture, which he teaches at JCSU. The author and cultural influencer said that Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan deserved praise for strengthening the value of All-Star Weekend as a platform for the sneaker community, mainly because its sponsor, Nike , had often released new models and colors before the game.

Other companies have followed suit over the years, as it became more and more obvious that the size of the All-Star Weekend platform was great. Reebok learned this lesson by accident – and that's what happened the last time Charlotte hosted the event.

"You started a shoe war"

Dee Brown was not trying to sell shoes. He was sponsored by Reebok, but mostly because his head office shared a city with the team that had designated him – the Boston Celtics.

He was a rookie in 1991, better known for his dipping ability than for his marketability – hence his place in this year's slam dunk contest. But in a training that featured stars established in Shawn Kemp and Kenny Smith, and two Hornets in Rex Chapman and Kendall Gill, Brown was a bit of an afterthought.

He had to stand out and, before his first sunbath, he leaned over and inflated his black Omni Lite with the white laces prescribed by the Celtics. The rest belongs to the story – Brown won the contest and became an overnight icon.

Reebok had no idea before the event.

"They did not know I was going to do it with my shoes, they really did not do it," said Brown, 50. "I do not think anyone was ready for that, I only did it to attract the crowd, just to put it on my side.

"It's iconic, people talk about it … it's good that 28 years later, people still have an affinity for this dunk contest in Charlotte."

Brown said that Reebok had published a one-page ad in the Monday morning edition of United States today commemorating the victory, and the phenomenon of global marketing took off from there.

In a team of three future Hall of Fame members – Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish – the 21-year-old rookie was the most wanted autograph of the pack.

"I thought," Wow, what did I just do, "because I did not do it for any reason other than winning the contest, I did not know what it was going to change, "he said," you talk about a person who becomes a superstar marketing image overnight, it really happened. "We are now flying to the cities and all the world wants to double Larry Bird to get your autograph.People pass Kevin McHale to get your autograph.Larry Bird said: "Everyone wanted to shoot like me, now they want to dive like Dee".

"I was international. I was going on tour, I was traveling around the world just because I was wearing shoes, winning the competition and doing the dunk. "

Even after the year of Brown's rookie, Reebok has not finished making the most of his dunk crown. Even more unheard of for a player of his status, Reebok told Brown his own shoe – the Pump D-Time, with the Brown logo on the back and a picture on the bottom.

Not bad as a return for some dunks and some sneakers of his sneakers.

"It was unique because at the time, nobody had his own shoe," said Brown. "At that time, Michael obviously had his own shoe, but the other two guys who had their own shoes were (Charles) Barkley, maybe David Robinson – and me. I do not fit into this equation, do you care about me? These are three members of the Hall of Fame and the greatest of all time – and Dee Brown.

"Because I could sell shoes. I could market shoes. People identify with the guy who looks like your little brother, who is not very big and who has done something that nobody has done before. I think this part is the part that is still special. The shoe culture (I) has somehow changed the dynamics of how people start to think about shoes, how they start making shoes.

"The D-Time shoes came out with my logo on the back and a picture on the bottom – it was really unique at the time, no one did it in the early years 90. "

The marketing campaign sparked a rebirth among the titans of the industry. The All-Star weekend was Michael Jordan and Nike, until Brown instilled diversity into the game. As his popularity grew, Reebok finally signed with stars such as Kemp and Allen Iverson.

In one night, Brown establishes Reebok as a legitimate competitor of Nike.

And you know how competitive Jordan is. After the dunk contest, Jordan gave Brown a glimpse of what was going to happen.

"It was crazy, it happened so fast," Brown said. "We were at an NBA event and suddenly, the crowd came in and they mixed Michael Jordan (on the outside). In a way, I found myself in the same area as Michael Jordan.

"He just congratulated me for the contest and (said)" You did a great job – but you know you started a shoe war, and I have to kick you for you (extravagant) on the court.

"I was a recruit – it was Michael Jordan, my idol. The guy I grew up watching and had the chance to play on the pitch. … It really started (a war) with the shoes. … For people to start talking about a combination of this shoe (Reebok), it may be better than Jordans and everyone wears them, they put on their shoes, they want to try dunk. It's high time. "

Culture and hardwood

The weekend All-Star, as grandiose as it is, is ultimately a microcosm of the relationship between basketball and the culture of the sneaker. Both are symbiotic since the 1960s.

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Jemayne Lavar King, a professor at Johnson C. Smith, gives a course on shoe culture.

Matt Walsh

The legendary 73-year-old street footballer Pee Wee Kirkland, who has sadly given up a contract with the NBA for more lucrative – and more illegal – projects, deserves credit, said King.

"Pee Wee Kirkland," said King, "when asked about sneaker culture in the '60s, he said," You can not catch me in a pair of Pro Keds "when you compare Pro Keds to the Chuck Taylor All Star Converse, what he said was that if your game is at this level, you're not wearing it."

In the African-American community, at the root of the sneaker culture, what you wore on your feet has become a means of self-expression. For an audience so strongly influenced by sports and pop culture, sneakers could make a statement or even bridge the gap between perception and reality.

In theory, the quality of your shoes dictates the perception of the world of who you are or what you want to be.

"The Sneaker culture is a branch of hip-hop culture, which began as a way to give a voice to the voiceless. Individuals express themselves through sneakers, "King said. "So I could be poor, but when I put on these sneakers, I do not look mediocre. Now, I have a status or a false sense of status in my community. Many minorities see entertainment and sport as a way out of their social class.

"We know that education is a way to achieve it, but it's not promoted as much as sport – sport is second nature."

A platform for the titans of the industry

While consumers can expect other manufacturers to bring their best shoes to Queen City this weekend, these expectations are similar to those companies that are supposed to provide the best product.

New models, bold colors, limited versions – the customer is always right and, especially during the weekend All-Star, the customer wants to have many options.

Again, tip your hat to Dee Brown for that.

"The dunk Dee Brown has had an impact on the rise of basketball fashion in general," said Chris Webber, a former TNT analyst. "The dunk has also helped put technology at the forefront. Outside the Nike Air range, there was not much choice. This promotion was not only necessary, but also a refreshing break in the monotony of basketball shoes and sporting goods in general.

"I do not know if this has changed anything, apart from the fact that today, fans expect every shoe manufacturer to engage and propose a new version during the break of the star game. "

But each company does not have the same final phase this weekend. Of course, they all want to sell as many products as possible, but there are subplots for every way to success.

By their combined powers, Nike and its subsidiary Jordan are the unparalleled kings of the shoe industry in terms of sales. Given the location of the All-Star Game in the home country of Michael Jordan, in a city where he owns an NBA team, both brands have released a litany of sneakers in preparation.

Sneakerheads has appeared en masse for exclusive versions of Nike and Jordan at some of Charlotte's largest retailers. including Black Sheep x Nike SB Dunk High 'Black Hornet' at Black Sheep Skate Shop and Social Status x Air Jordan VI status. But the underestimated aspect of the weekend, according to King, is the visibility he will bring to Jordan's Hornets franchise.

"To be completely honest with you, I do not think the Jordan brand is under pressure for this all-star game," said King. "The Hornet franchise will be more exposed than Jordan Brand.

"Jordan Brand is so tied to the intellectual property of the Charlotte Hornets. As for the sneakers, everything will be fine, but they need good visibility on the Hornets. It's a chance to show the world that, "Hey, we're a first-class city and we can organize major events like this."

Under Armor is the youngest giant in the sports industry, but arguably Stephen Curry, who grew up in Charlotte, is the closest basketball superstar of all time. Due to Curry's power and his ties to North Carolina, Under Armor may have the best fan base to compete with Nike and Jordan Brand, but it does not necessarily seek to compete against each other. sale of shoes.

However, the company does not meet the challenge. He debuted with a limited Curry 6 Coy Fish color scheme – a nod to a farce from Davidson College – and created a Queen City color scheme for his Phantom SE running shoe.

But this weekend, it's more about building relationships with a state that has grown some of the biggest stars of Under Armor, such as Dennis Smith Jr., a native of Curette and Fayetteville.

"We are not trying to be anyone," said Justin Brown, marketing manager of the Under Armor brand for basketball. "We are not trying to be anything other than what we know and what we want to offer to athletes all over the world, they are the best shoes in their class to give a boost to your game. we are young, we always tell a lot about our story. Establishing these emotional connections with consumers is a priority.

"This really guides our approach, especially this weekend – it's all about our special products (All-Star Weekend) that tell deep and meaningful stories about our athletes that you'd never have." perhaps never known before, or the opportunity to go out into the community, help and inspire people, and really show people the face of Under Armor Basketball and what we stand for as a brand. We are here and take nothing for granted.

"The NBA All-Star is a great opportunity to not only support our athletes and fuel their performance on the field during the most visible moment of the game, but we are in direct contact with the culture and community of sneakers that are without any doubt passionate about the equipment we provide. "

Where to go

King has highlighted social status and Black Sheep – both located on Midwood Plaza – as two of the leading retailers in the Charlotte area. Shoe lovers can also find their happiness at Owners HQ, a Nike and Jordan brand retail center at The Mint Museum in Uptown or at Foot Locker's House of Hoops at Carolina Place Mall and Southpark. Mall.

Local retailers like R3bound, Request Charlotte and Sole Station buy, sell or trade options and post their stocks on Instagram.

Do not expect to take every shoe you covet this weekend, but there should be enough products.

"What she also creates is FOMO," said King. "They used the" fear of missing out "of marketing before we actually got that term – that's what All-Star will be like: people will suffer (losses) to get a shoe they wanted and they will leave with another shoe. "

When they're not playing, keep an eye on the floor to see NBA stars and celebrities cradle some of their most original personalized sneakers as they watch the stands.

But be careful – you may not want to look back.

"You will see a lot of custom made shoes. Especially Friday night, you'll see some of the most exotic, the most delicious and the most nutritious shoes ever seen, "said King. "You will see exotic sneakers all weekend. You may see more exotic sneakers in the stands than on the court – but if you want even a share of the market, you'll see the brands release their best work this weekend.

"A lot of retro shoes, a lot of retro silhouettes."

The sneakers range from $ 110 Nike PG 3 shoes to the rare $ 350 Nike Fear of God sneakers. It may be worth investing – on StockX, a mobile application that serves as a market for reselling sneakers, offers up to $ 935 US for Fear of Gods.

NBA All-Star Weekend is the biggest sports event of the sneaker community, a global platform for the intersection rooted between basketball and basketball culture.

And given Charlotte's past and present role in every subculture, this year's version could be the best to date.