A confession: I prefer shoes from Costco. The all-white ones. Size 12. I’m not sure whether they are meant for tennis or running or walking or cheating at badminton, but they were durable enough to last one week before splitting at the top while I covered the Olympics in London. I consider that a great success.
I wasn’t sure about the price tag, so I asked the wife.
“They’re about $15,” she said, “but I get them at Wal-Mart now. Don’t tell anyone. They’ll think we’re cheap.”
Yeah. I’m pretty sure our preferred buyer status and personal parking space at Savers outed us on that whole angle long ago.
Nike also makes shoes and is a tad more successful at it than Wal-Mart, so much so that it soon will offer the latest LeBron James edition for about as much as some car payments.
The LeBron X could fetch near $290 a pair if you opt for the high-tech version, which reportedly will transform your vertical leap, hustle and quickness into something called Nike Fuel, which I assume will be inserted through the heel via a hose and allow you to run 36 miles per gallon.
If you prefer the necessities in life, such as eating and making rent, you will be able to buy a regular ‘ol pair of X’s for around $180, but those are the boring ones that only protect your feet.
They’re so 2011.
Here’s the insane part: The X’s will sell like crazy.
For decades, basketball shoes have been as much a part of claiming status as any automobile or fancy home or job title, a symbol to make a prohibitive statement about worth. They can be as addictive for some as drugs or alcohol.
It’s different from those who obsess over iPhones or iPods or iPads or iWhatchamacallits. Those are mere fancy gadgets compared to the social rank that is thought to be depicted by what hoop kicks you might be wearing.
People riot over them. Kids kill over them. Nothing, certainly not the harsh reality of a recession, will stop those who desire the latest and greatest models from getting them, be it through legal channels or otherwise.
It’s the same as it was 20 years ago. The violence associated with shoes is just as rampant and disturbing as ever because too many still believe a person’s value depends on what’s on his feet.
I won’t pretend to know why or understand how my 14-year-old son, who cares as much about basketball as he does the cost of iron, dutifully checks discount shelves at the off chance a used pair of Air Jordans were mistakenly put among the shoes meant for paupers, which are usually labeled KOBE.
But the fact that an athlete’s shoe is flirting with the once unimaginable price of $300 shouldn’t send shock waves through anyone’s wallet.
If it knows anything, Nike understands the math on this stuff.
It owns 95 percent of the basketball shoe market in the United States, and retail for its hoop shoes costing more than $100 is up 50 percent.
Nike continues to pass rising costs of materials to the consumer with little chance a majority will ignore the almighty swoosh. It does this because it can.
I suppose this is what happens when you finally win an NBA championship and are the regular-season and Finals Most Valuable Player, when you are the best player in London as your team rolls to a gold medal, when your Olympic coach says you are the most unique player in the game’s history.
Your shoe gets really expensive.
I blame James for the ridiculous price and I don’t. I get it. The power of capitalism. The basic supply-and-demand strategy. It’s the same with astronomical salaries of professional athletes. If the market bears and supports them, we are a society taught to get ours when we can. I have no problem with any of that.
But when I watch James explain to an ESPN reporter that he understands the plight of those poor children his foundation now seeks to help and educate, that he once knew their level of poverty, I can’t help but think a word or two from the king himself would force Nike into keeping its prices within reasonable limits.
LeBron James as a kid could have never afforded his shoes as an NBA superstar.
There is something wrong and, mostly, sad about that.
I’m not suggesting it’s his fault. I’m suggesting he could have more influence in the bottom line.
I’m also suggesting the all-whites at Wal-Mart.
It will be the best week of walking in your life, and you also won’t starve.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 AM and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.