A love letter to LaVar Ball, Lonzo Ball and lovers of criminally-priced kicks everywhere:
In 1965, when I was 7, I scored my first pair of P.F. Flyers. White, low-cut, a blue, rectangular “PF’’ on the heel. They were cool. I was cool.
A few years later, no 10-year-old would be caught dead wearing anything but Keds. Keds were the scene. I had a pair of Navy blue Keds. I was cool.
Alas, the Keds Cool Factor dimmed quickly. I mean, they were Keds. Get with the program, kid. This is 1971.
I had to have a pair of Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Black, low-cut canvas, star on the heel. We called them Chucks. Others called them Cons. Whatever. They were cool. I was cool.Chuck and I went through several phases together, spanning all the basic styles, low and high, black and white, canvas and suede. We didn’t have all the colors they have now. It was OK. I was cool.
By 8th grade, Chuck and I parted ways. I switched to Adidas lows which was like Tiger Woods dropping Nike. White, with green stripes. Adidas were for cool people. Unlike Pumas and – sigh – Chucks. Adidas was the first sneaker brand that came with a certain cache. If you wore them, you were popular. I wore them. I was popular. And cool.
Along about then, Nike took over the world. I resisted the Evil Sneaker Empire then. I resist it still. I disliked the in-your-face marketing, the shameless sweat-shopping, the whole brazen, Swoosh thing. I disliked the price. Not surprising, since my friends call me Johnny. Johnny Thinwallet.
By the time I was in college, everyone wore Nikes. Everyone but me. I liked Vans. I had no time for shoes with laces. I wore slip-on moccasins and Vans. In 1982, the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High came out. Sean Penn wore checkered Vans. No shirt, no shoes. . . no dice! I got mine in 1978. I had attained a level beyond cool. I was avant garde.
After that I got married, bought a couple houses and some cars. Being cool became less important than solvency. Solvency was the key. It wasn’t attained worrying about what sneakers to buy. I went to discount places and bought what was on sale. I didn’t worry about what was cool. Which, of course, was very cool.
We had a few kids, my wife and I. Kid The First was a boy. He took after his dad. He was cool. It came naturally.
By the time he was 12 or so, in about 1998, the child who’d become known as The Kid Down The Hall – owing to his absolute disdain for anything favored by his dumb parents, and who thus preferred to be a stranger in his own house unless he needed something – demanded cool sneakers. He’d sniffed around the periphery before that, until he took a liking to the NBA and All Things Jordan. Including sneakers. Obviously. He requested a pair of Airs that ran for something like $159.
“OK," he said. “I’ll settle for some Pennys." That’d be Penny Hardaway, whose kicks at the time cost $149. That, too, was beyond J. Thinwallet’s concept of solvency. So, no.
We bought him some builder’s-grade Nikes, which had him moping for weeks and plotting a move from his bedroom to the basement.
This was also the time when kids were killing one another over shoes and Starter jackets. Remember Starter jackets?
I was still cool, in my own, cool way, but sneakers were no longer a required accoutrement. Then this happened: Everything old was new again! What went around, came around! Chucks first, then Vans. I should have never Goodwill-ed the flannel shirts from high school.
A few months ago, I ventured onto the worldwide web. I knew exactly what I wanted. I’m long into my career now. Tunnel, meet light. I can resume working on what’s most important:
I purchased a pair of Adidas Stan Smiths. White, green heel, Stan’s mug on the top of the tongue. Fifty-five bucks. Big in about 1966. Cool doesn’t scratch the surface. I put them in the sauna when I’m not wearing them, just so they don’t freeze to death.
This week, we heard that LaVar Ball, father of Lonzo and logical heir to P.T. Barnum, launched a sneaker line. Big Baller Shoes, an offshoot of Big Baller Enterprises Ltd., Inc., LLC, ESPN, NBA, WTF. He priced them at $495 a pair and compared buying them to buying a Rolls Royce.
Well, good for him. He’s cool. In his own mind.
Vans and Stans and Chucks, pros of cool, might use a different word.
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