Thursday, February 07, 2002

Air Jordans sky to $200

Nike says these shoes, which come with a briefcase and a CD-Rom, take athletic footwear to another level

By Joy Kraft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Air Jordan XVII, the latest in the Michael Jordan arsenal of basketball weaponry, likely will cause parents to cry “foul” when it debuts Saturday with a whopping $200 hang tag.

        For a pair of athletic shoes.

        Shoes of rubber compound, plastic and leather. And a slew of gee-gaws.

        But it's so much more to Nike.

        To them “it's an operating piece of art,” according to the corporate press release — a bargain in art circles.

        “We set out to create a product that would take basketball footwear to a whole new level, not just in the design of the shoe itself, but in the way it's presented to the consumer.”

        So the shoes come in a padded, silver metallic briefcase with a CD-Rom showcasing Mr. Jordan's involvement in the product, a detailed presentation of the shoes and musical performances by Mike Phillips (Hidden Beach Recordings) and Big Tigger (BET).

        Keith Underwood, a 17-year-old senior at Withrow High School in Hyde Park, plans to be near the head of the line when Air Jordan XVII athletic shoes hit the retail market Saturday.

        If you want to be a trend setter, he says, “you've got to get up pretty early in the morning.”

        He should know. He has owned 14 of the 16 Air Jordan models sold since 1985.

        This time, the Nike folks are staggering the XVII's release date by colors to keep us hungry: white/college blue on Saturday; black/black March 30; white and university red July 31, and white/black-metallic copper, November.

        Despite the jazz/art hype, it's the “rep” of the shoe and Mr. Jordan, hoops Wizard, that will sell it, moving eager buyers to attempted bribery to be the first on the street corner to lace them up.

        It “happens all the time with Jordan shoes,” says David Bond, manager of the Athlete's Foot at Kenwood Towne Centre, among the stores that will carry the new line.

        “I've been offered as much as $300 for Air Jordans before the relase date. It's a high-demand item.”

        “We've had people calling, asking to pay $400 for a $200 shoe to get it early,” says Ian Kinsley, assistant manager of Champs at Kenwood Towne Centre, which ordered 60 pairs of the XVII style.

        “Someone once offered me $550 for two pairs of Air Jordan Retros when they came out for $99 a pair,” he says,

        But stores are standing firm, not taking orders.

        “It's first come, first served,” Mr. Bond says. “It's the only fair way to handle it.”

        Very few buy the shoes to play basketball, according to the store managers. “It's more of a fashion item, like buying a Mercedes,” Mr. Bond says.

        That's a shame, considering the technical horns being tooted by Nike, including:

        • Strategically placed sticky rubber pods on the outsole to optimize traction.

        • A carbon fiber mid-foot shank plate for arch support.

        • A wraparound TPU (plastic) stabilizer for heel support, which also alleviates ankle inversion.

        • A removable lace cover to lock down the foot and tighten the fit.

        • Air cushioning in the mid-sole of the shoe and a cushioning system for impact absorption in the heel.

        • Leather uppers and a Lycra collar lining with slow-release memory foam for a custom fit.

        “With the Air Jordan XVII, the consumer should not expect just a basketball shoe. They should expect an experience,” says Larry Miller, president of Nike's Jordan division.

        One set to music.

        “The Air Jordan XVII was born from the notion of jazz, a style of music that is also typical of Michael Jordan's game,” says Wilson Smith, senior designer who collaborated with Mr. Jordan in the design.

        “With jazz, you must have the solid base of fundamentals layered with dynamic improvisation on top. Michael Jordan's high level of improvisation brings greatness to the sport of basketball, which he achieved by mastering the fundamentals.”

        “We set out to make the Air Jordan XVII an instrument for the discerning basketball player in the same style that a jazz musician would use an instrument to perform,” says Gentry Humphrey, footwear marketing director.

        To cement the connection, Nike had Spike Lee direct the ad campaign showing Team Jordan members moving through the club — or court — to the sounds of Gang Starr, the Brooklyn-based duo known for its jazz and hip-hop fusion.

        If you squint, the “N” in the Jordan logo also spells “17.” And the edge of the lace cover contains musical notes from the Mike Phillips composition that plays to the lyrics “Michael Jordan — greatest to play the game.”

        If this all sounds like a lot of empty hype, be assured that the man, Mr. Jordan, has been playing in Jordan XVIIs since his NBA return.

        But you have to wonder. With all the technical wizardry, why can't they invent a shoe that won't smell like a swamp at mid-season?

        Now that would be an “operating work of art,” and maybe worth 200 smackers, especially to a parent.

        The Air Jordan XVII retails at $200. However low-top versions will be sold for $150 without the briefcase and CD. Grade school, preschool, baby and newborn size offerings range from $20-$100. Information:


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