In the last few weeks, millions of kids in the U.S. went back to
school. A mere 50,000 of those kids were cool. They were wearing
the sneaker of the moment, the Retro Air Jordan VI. Chances are,
right about now, somewhere in suburbs of Toledo, youths are
racing from mall to mall, trying to find the VI. Sorry, fellas,
it's not going to happen. The city kids beat you to
it--again--having bought up every Retro VI, at $120 per pair. Along
the way they proved that Michael Jordan, though finished playing,
is not done selling sneakers.
Every year Nike trots out a new Air Jordan, the latest edition
signified grandly with a Roman numeral. (The 2000 model's is XV.)
The launching of an Air Jordan was once akin to offering tickets
to a rock concert, with teenagers in sleeping bags waiting for
their neighborhood Foot Locker to open up. But for five years
now, the release of the new Air Jordan has not generated much
frenzy. That fact sent the Nike marketeers back to their
Since 1995, and with more urgency since June 1998, when Jordan
played his final game, Nike has also been selling old--Retro--Air
Jordans, making the models in quantities guaranteed not to meet
demand. One retailer estimates that by next year 20% of Nike's $3
billion annual sneaker sales will be in Retro products. The
original VI appeared in 1991, and His Airness wore a modified
version as a member of the first Dream Team, at the 1992
Nike did well with the Retro I, III and V, but the VI, according
to a half-dozen shoe-store managers, has been the best Retro
performer yet. Nike spokesperson Cheryl McCants guesses that the
Retro VI took off because of lingering happy memories of the
original Dream Team in this, an Olympic year. She also notes that
two current U.S. Olympic basketball players, Vin Baker and Ray
Allen, are wearing the Retro VI and bringing attention to it.
The kids will tell you otherwise. "I don't think anybody buying
the shoe knows anything about Michael wearing the original VI at
any Olympics," says Mike Skyers, 17, of New York City. "What they
know is that those shoes were on Michael's feet, period. And that
they're red and black, the hot colors. They go with everything."
Skyers, a 6'6" senior forward on the Martin Luther King High
basketball team, is an important voice in the basketball shoe
industry. He's an after-school salesman at Dr. Jays, a monster
sneaker shop on 125th Street in Harlem, and nobody in the store
sells basketball shoes better than Skyers. He knew something was
up with the Retro VI as kids clamored for it after 28 pairs came
off the delivery truck on Sept. 1. "I didn't have to do any
selling," he says. Instead, he did some buying, getting a pair
for himself. "The word was already out."
That was the first day the sneaker was sold anywhere in the U.S.
Six days later the shoe went on sale at the Footaction USA store
at the Eastland Mall in Detroit. That store was "allocated" 85
pairs, all of which were gone 45 minutes after the opening bell.
"People didn't care what size they were buying," says an
assistant manager, Eric Grose. "They were buying 'em and trading
'em, selling 'em in the store at a markup."
By then the September issue of The Source was out, and in the
"Sole Food" column the VI got a ringing endorsement from Big
Tigger, host of Rap City on BET. The Source, Slam, Spin--those
publications can make or break a rubber-soled shoe. "It's patent
leather," Mike Salman, style editor of The Source, says of the
VI. "It's very fashion-forward."
Footwear analyst Steve Richter has a picture of the Retro VI on
his desk at Tucker Anthony, a Boston investment bank. "The day of
every big basketball player having his own shoe is over," Richter
says. In the athletic footwear industry they say the day of the
hero shoe is done. "Kids are more individualistic now," continues
Richter. "They are not influenced as much by team icons. They
don't wear basketball shoes with the cargo pants they're wearing
now. But Michael Jordan is a standout. He can still sell."
At Dr. Jays they're waiting for the next next thing. "Nobody saw
Jordan play in the XVs," says Frank Imbrah, an assistant manager.
"They know he played in the VIs. That's what people want. I asked
my boss, 'When are we going to get more of the Retro VI shoes?'
He said, 'Never.'"
Those shoes are gone. They did their job. Next up? The Retro XI,
which Jordan wore in Space Jam, will be released in November.
People say it's going to be big, so you had better hurry if you
want a pair. As with the VI, Nike is making fewer XIs than the
public will demand.