Commentary

Don't blame expensive shoes

LeBron, Nike won't be at fault if people fight over expensive footwear

Updated: August 23, 2012, 2:59 PM ET
By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com

I've purchased a lot of basketball shoes in my life but I've never bought a pair of Jordans. I'm from Detroit … Bad Boys for life.

I don't buy white because they show scuff marks … and blood. As I said, Bad Boys for life.

And I've never bought a pair that costs anywhere near $200, because that doesn't make any sense to me. It's basketball, not "Project Runway." Suffice to say, the only way you catch me balling in a pair of the new LeBron X -- at a suggested retail price of $180 -- is when the price comes down, or if my mama buys me a pair for Christmas. The chances of me buying a pair of the LeBron X with the Nike+ technology -- which the Wall Street Journal reported will go for $315 -- is nonexistent.

[+] EnlargeMarc Morial
Tasos Katopodis/Getty ImagesMarc H. Morial and the National Urban League are concerned about the price of the new shoes.

I'd rather pay my mortgage.

But that's me and I do not begrudge anyone who wants a pair. Nor do I harbor any ill feelings toward LeBron or Nike for offering a pair of shoes at that price point, though Nike says the WSJ report is false because the apparel company has yet to set a price for the souped-up shoe.

Nevertheless, the rumored price tag drew criticism from the National Urban League and its CEO, Marc H. Morial. The NUL is a civil rights organization founded in the early 1900s and dedicated to fighting economic disadvantages in urban communities. Not surprisingly, many of the people it serves are black. Morial is a former mayor of New Orleans. President Obama spoke at the organization's annual national conference earlier this summer.

"To release such an outrageously overpriced product while the nation is struggling to overcome an unemployment crisis is insensitive at best," Morial said in a release. "It represents twisted priorities and confused values."

Morial then said, "The economic crisis has escalated violence and crime in many urban communities," adding that, "Tragically, overpriced sneakers have become a false symbol of status, often sparking violence."

Now I'm sure Morial had good intentions when he made his remarks, but the concept of "personal responsibility" was the last thing brought up in the release on the NUL website, and I have a big problem with that. I feel personal responsibility should have been the only thing talked about.

I made attempts to contact Morial for clarification but never heard back from the organization. I also contacted Nike for comment and all I got was an official statement about the WSJ story being wrong and that I could buy the LeBron Zoom Soldier basketball shoe for $120.

I won't because I think the name is ridiculous, but that's another story.

Besides, the real issue isn't Nike or LeBron but rather people who act a damn fool over a pair of basketball shoes.

[+] EnlargeLeBron James
Issac Baldizon/Getty ImagesIf LeBron James is wearing or endorsing a pair of shoes, there will certainly be interest from the public.

Earlier this year, police in riot gear were needed to control mobs desperate for the Foamposite Galaxy shoes that went for $220. Nike made only 1,200 pairs of the shoes and released them in late February to coincide with the NBA All-Star Game.

Last December, police had to pepper spray and even arrest unruly folks who were trying to get their hands on a $180 pair of Air Jordan XI Retro Concords. One mother in Lithonia, Ga., was arrested after leaving her two toddlers in the car to get in line for the shoes.

Now mind you, Hugo Boss, Varvatos, Ferragamo and many others have been selling high-priced footwear for decades and I don't recall police showing up in riot gear outside their showrooms. Apple has been drawing long lines, with people sleeping outside of stores overnight, for years without police pepper spraying would-be customers.

So Morial is right, priorities are misplaced, but it's not about the price of LeBron Xs.

Our culture has long been burdened with this desperate pursuit of "things" for status, making us believe what we have is greater than who we are. And when you compound that misguided pursuit with economic hardship, you end up with people being arrested while trying to get a pair of Jordans. But that's not Nike's problem. It's ours.

And again, it's not even about the shoes.

I can remember kids getting shot and killed over Starter jackets and sheepskin coats in the 1980s. I remember kids getting beaten up and robbed for their KangaROOS, which were just a pair of black polyester boots with a big, white kangaroo printed on the side. We were poor and couldn't afford them, so my mom went to Kmart and bought me a pair of Polar Bears. It was not the same thing and the kids at school let me know about it. In retrospect, that experience was part of the reason I got tempted into selling drugs. As a teen I wanted to get the most desirable "things," so I get where Morial is coming from. But the flaw was in my character, not in capitalism.

There was a teachable moment for young black kids in this brouhaha but I believe the Urban League missed it. You see, when you learn what's on the inside is more valuable than what's on the outside, you realize your self-worth is not tied to a pair of boots or shoes or a jacket. What disturbs me about Morial's statements is that the Urban League's mission is to economically empower people living in disadvantage communities -- but you don't empower people by blaming Nike for making expensive shoes. You empower them by teaching them they don't need expensive shoes.

If enough people learn to walk away from a $315 or a $220 or even a $180 pair of basketball shoes, Nike will get the message. Even if the company continues to offer high-end shoes, that shouldn't impact how kids feel about themselves. That's not to say money isn't important or there's something inherently wrong with wanting nice things. But want and need are not the same thing; the sooner kids learn that, the less ridiculous behavior we'll see at the mall. Because of previous stupidity, the WSJ is reporting Nike has instructed retailers to call off midnight releases of the LeBron X and is barring stores from displaying photos of new products ahead of their launch dates.

Yet another sign the apocalypse is upon us.

The last paragraph of the Urban League release stated: "I ask … the parents whose children are targeted in this misdirected campaign to join us in our efforts to empower young people to value their own talents -- athletic and otherwise -- above material tokens."

As far as I'm concerned, that's all Morial needed to say. After all, true empowerment doesn't come simply by having others remove temptation but by learning how to walk away from it of your own accord.

LZ Granderson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine

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