Friday, August 22, 2008

SwaggerJack: All About the Shoes?

Holly MacKenzie is a contributing writer for SLAM and Hardwood Paroxysm. Her SwaggerJack column runs Fridays here at HP, and looks at the more personal side of being an NBA fanatic. This week's topic? Shoes, of course.

Shoes. Kicks. Sneakers. Whatever you want to call them, when you watch enough ball you start to take notice. For me, I’d look only on TV, to check what my guys were wearing, at least at first. Before long however, I was checking out footwear in class, on opposing teams and even on the street. Immediately after height and eyes, my own eyes began to dart to the feet and sometimes, those shoes could make up for a multitude of other shortcomings.

One thing that makes me a little bit different than most sneakerheads is the fact that I can’t wear the shoes. I’ve also never played a game of basketball in my life. Nope, thanks, I’ll just watch. This almost always surprises people when they ask me how I got started with basketball, but it’s true. I fell in love with Magic, like I mentioned last week and then I started coaching with the guys team in my high school, worked with teams in university and here I am today. Having never played in even so much as a pick up game before, I have never had to have a pair of shoes that I needed to slip on. Having size six feet and being under 5’2”, I’ve got little use for shoes that have anything less than a four inch heel. Still, I fell victim to the spell. Jordans. Pennys. Old school Reebok pumps. Kobe’s space shoes. Huaraches. Iversons. I loved them all.

In addition to loving the game, like so many I also grew up loving Scoop. Instead of crushing on players, I crushed on Scoop Jackson’s words. Even when he gave me a headache by writing an entire piece on Ricky Davis in one word sentences. That’s my guy. So as I found out that Scoop was the hardest of hardcore shoe fanatics and shoes became more and more popular in SLAM, I began to feel as though I was missing something. I wasn’t a part of the movement, I didn’t even own a pair of basketball shoes.

As I got older this began to be an issue because all of my friends were collecting and buying and obsessing as well. I didn’t want to be left out, but I also needed to start out small. Some offcourt shoes that I could wear as I dipped my toes into this sneaker world seemed like go. As I’m sure you can imagine, it didn’t really work out for me. Kob was with Adidas at that point and the space shoes were too much, even for me, one of the biggest Kobe fans you'll meet. I remember how excited I was when I finally did buy my first pair of forces, white with pink on the toes. I even bought pink laces to switch it up a bit. Then, with those still sitting on the floor in my closet, I went and bought white Iversons, because I liked him and they looked pretty simple. Neither pair ever got to be worn in. I’ve still got the forces, I guess as a reminder of my first foray into the shoe world. I’ve learned quickly that I’m not a sneaker-wearing girl. I also learned that I like low dunks better than forces, if anyone is keeping score.

Since I am not a collector myself, I’ve become concerned with the shoes that my friends wear to live and play in. I think it just happens when you watch as much ball as I do. Every season, sitting down to flip through a Nike catalogue and helping to pick out the basketball shoes that would be worn by my university team became one of my favorite “end of summer” moments. If I can’t wear them, I’ll choose them.

The biggest part of this thing that annoys me is that I don’t have those fond memories of specific shoes that most of you do. I don’t have that pair(s) that I obsessed over keeping clean. There isn’t a shoe that was worn while I hit my first game winner, or one that I was convinced gave me those extra seconds on defense, or that I kept until they fell apart. Not a pair that I had on when I had my first kiss, first block or first detention. No memories interwoven within the threads of my kicks. When guys smile and think back to the first time they found “their” shoe, I keep it moving because I never had that moment.

Over time, instead of just noticing shoes, I began to fall in love with what players would write on them. Whether it was for a loved one, a bible verse or even just a reminder to themselves to keep focused, I love seeing guys with inked up shoes. Or ankle tape, like “All Alone, 33” Steph. Earlier this season when Ivy wrote “Thanx Phila” on his shoes for his return to Philadelphia, I was done.

Shoe wise, nothing will compare to when I was in the Lakers locker room this past February. Pregame. Lamar Odom is sitting in his locker, takes his shoe off and uncaps a silver marker. He’s wearing black shoes in the game so while there is chaos surrounding him, media members swirling, players joking around and people constantly coming in and out of the room, he slips into the background until he’s got his shoes finished. I watch him as he first writes his mothers name, then his grandma’s name and then, "Baby J". Three loves of his life who had left too soon, etched on his heart and now also on his shoe.

Since that moment, shoes have changed to me. I know I’m never going to wear them and that’s okay. My heart may as well be sewn into the tongues of those shoes, because the game certainly owns it. As I stand a few inches taller thanks to my own heels, I don’t need to prove my place through shoe collections or anything else. It really isn’t all about the shoes, at least not to me. Still, every time I go to a mall with my guy friends, I am happy to sit and smile while they choose a new pair. And, when I go shopping with my girls, my eyes gaze wistfully at store windows, looking for the shoes that I hope the man of my dreams will be wearing when I look down to the floor and fall in love.

Since I've shared my "non-memories", please, please feel free to share with me your favorite shoes, your first shoes, etc. Now that I'm okay with not having a collection of my own, I love hearing shoe stories from everyone else. Someday though, I'll have a pair of Kobe's game shoes hanging on the wall in a shadow box. Count on that.

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