There’s a special place in Mary Berdo’s heart for each pair of Air Jordan shoes she owns.
“Every shoe has a story,” she said with a laugh.
For instance, there’s a pair of patent leather Jordan 11s Berdo had shipped from Dallas, Texas, to her hometown in Washington, Iowa, so she could wear them for opening night her senior year of high school – “Even the referees were like, ‘Woah, what are those?’” she said.
That same exact pair of Jordans eventually got signed by Michael Jordan himself years later, when Berdo worked at one of his basketball camps at Elmhurst College in Chicago.
There are plenty more, too — Berdo has at least one pair of each Jordan shoe 1 through 34, and she isn’t finished.
“There’s nothing like (getting a new pair),” Berdo said. “It’s why Michael Jordan wore a new pair every game. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
Berdo’s collection stems before her current days as the deputy director of athletics for Yale and prior to her playing days for the Iowa women’s basketball team.
Berdo’s parents bought her a pair of fire red Air Jordan 4s in the late 80s, and from there she fell in love. Back then, Berdo would wear every pair she acquired. She transitioned to a “rock-and-stock” mindset (wear one pair, store another pair) as time went on, but the sneakers began piling up as she left for Iowa City.
“The next thing you know, you have 10, you have 20,” Berdo said. “When I went off to college, I probably had 10 to 15 pair. We weren’t a Nike school, so I couldn’t wear those. I would just buy the Jordan shoes to keep.”
While at Iowa, Berdo put together a quality playing career, scoring 457 points in three seasons with the program. After her freshman season with Iowa, Berdo stepped away from the program, but returned for two final seasons. During her senior year – Lisa Bluder’s first season with the Iowa program – she averaged more than eight points per game and helped lead Iowa to a Big Ten title and NCAA tournament appearance.
But it wasn’t always easy to get Jordans, especially in the middle of a season.
“I remember many years in college, I’d have friends go to the mall for me because I’d have practice,” Berdo said. “The release would be at 10 a.m. when the mall would open. I’d give them my cash, tell them the shoe I want.”
Now, it’s a bit of a different story.
Berdo said she uses apps like Nike’s SNKRS, GOAT, and StockX to buy shoes and keep up with release dates – a major change from the days of camping in line.
“I certainly miss those days,” she said. “That was part of the hunt, to really get those when everybody else was in line. You’d hope when your number came up, they’d still have your size, or they were close.”
Berdo is still adding to her collection. She’s on the hunt for some Air Jordan 8 originals and also looks to replace some of her older pairs.
“What I’ve found is that if I stop the collection now, it actually loses quite a bit of value because the collection is only as good as the last shoe that you got,” she said.
Berdo won’t say just how much her collection is, but you can believe it’s worth a pretty penny, since she has an insurance policy on the shoes, as well as other Jordan memorabilia.
“My father got wind of how much Jordan memorabilia was sitting in his house five years ago and realized I should probably get a policy,” Berdo joked.
Now, her collection remains in an undisclosed location. Berdo doesn’t always take the shoes out, as she doesn’t want to damage them, but she has hopes of displaying some eventually.
Until then, though, her collection continues to grow, and so does the appreciation for Jordan and his shoes.
“But I think (Jordans) changed the way people looked at shoes and the way people wore the shoes,” Berdo said. “Up until that point, Jordans were really looked at as just basketball shoes. When that shoe came out, it was looked at as culture. People were wearing them without basketball clothing. People would wear them in their weddings, people would wear them with suits. It really changed the perception of what the Air Jordans were.”
You can follow Adam Hensley on Twitter @A_Hens83.