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Some women view sneakers as just another item to be tossed in the bottom of a gym bag. For WNBA stars Essence Carson, Alex Montgomery, Tina Charles and Cappie Pondexter, sneakers are a way of life. These self-proclaimed "sneakerheads" -- collectors of high-end athletic footwear -- seek out the finest rubber soles the world has to offer.
From Reebok to Nike to Louis Vuitton, these ladies consider sneakers an extension of their personality. With more than 200 pairs of sneakers combined, they are bucking societal trends and putting sneakers first when it comes to finding the "it" shoe.
"It's expected for guys to be into sneakers and have a collection," said Carson, the New York Liberty's All-Star forward. "But when you're a girl who collects sneakers, and you know your stuff and you look good in them, you have the best of both worlds."
And the manufacturers are paying attention. Companies such as Jordan fuel the sneaker-collecting nation by releasing limited editions, prompting a frenzy for the coveted and unique shoe lines. In the summer of 2011, collectors waited in line at the Wrentham Village Premium Outlets in Wrentham, Mass., for up to 10 hours just to grab a pair of the limited-edition Air Jordan 1 "Banned" sneakers.
"It's hard work to be a sneakerhead," said Montgomery, who also plays for the Liberty. "You have to save a lot of money to get the things that you want. When they come out, you have to make sure you are the first to sport them."
Montgomery has 55 pairs of sneakers, the stacks of boxes flowing out of her closet and into her living room. She says her favorite pair are the Nike Air Max 2011, a versitile running sneaker that comes in a variety of colors with the classic air bubble through the length of the shoe.
"They're comfortable, fit my style and match all my basketball shorts," Montgomery said.
Carson, also a self-proclaimed sneakerhead, has lost track of her collection.
"I have boxes stacked up on top of bins and bags," she said. "My favorites are the Jordans and Nikes."
Carson loves Nikes and Jordans because she feels the sneaker craze orignated with these brands.
Female sneakerheads are often overlooked by athletic-shoe companies, which cater mostly to men's sizes. When collector's items are released, women are forced to purchase children's or men's versions because of the limited availablity in women's sizes.
"When I was younger I had big feet and couldn't find Jordans in my size so I had to pay the adult price, which was about $150," said Carson, who wears a size 12.
Along with quantity and quality, price is another major factor that separates the average sneaker wearer from a sneaker connoisseur. Sneakerheads spend large sums of money to grab the most sought-after pairs.
Two-time WNBA champion Pondexter recently spent $500 on a custom pair of NikeiD sneakers. She was surpassed by her teammate Carson, who owns a $700 pair of Louis Vuitton sneakers. At these prices, it isn't uncommon for one pair of shoes to cost about 1 percent of the average WNBA salary. Whether the price is worth it comes down to personal perspective.
Connecticut Sun All-Star Tina Charles summed up the reason behind the sneaker craze, citing individuality as the main motivation for purchasing expensive rubber-soled footwear. "How I carry myself with my sneakers on makes me unique," she said. "I wouldn't have it any other way."