Architecture of the Sneaker

In the museum of my mind, the next big show would be titled Architecture of the Sneaker. Derrick Rose’s newest kicks, the Crazy Lights, were the marquee item in Manhattan’s Adidas store; they were the first thing you saw on your right as you stepped through the double sliding doors. Backgrounded by Chicago Bulls gear, the shoe sat glowingly on a display stand next to bold signage that read “9.8 ounces”. I picked one up and it was the lightest basketball shoe I’ve ever held, not to mention sleekly designed, a contrast to the bulky offerings this brand usually spits out. It’s refreshingly stripped down design – no straps, velcro, pumps, air pockets, or shocks. It’s a nearly one-piece high top with plenty of micro-mesh on the lower part of the shoe for ventilation. The upper ankle support area is trimmed with Adidas’ three stripes running diagonally and parallel to the top line of the shoe, wrapping all the way around. The rubber sole is a tight figure 8 with no excess material flanking the sides. Its silhouette is straightforwardly a basketball shoe, not conjuring an Audi TT (Kobe Bryant’s ill-conceived first signature shoe designed to look like a sports car) or some kind of post-apacolyptic tank (like much of the post 2000 Jordan line).

Like basketballs themselves, no leather is to be found on this shoe. It all feels like different finishes of the same space-age plastic, some areas glossy like the painted steel of a car from the 60s and other areas a patchwork of micro-fuzzed matte. As a product, this shoe may come to define Derrick Rose as an efficient kind of corporate athlete-star. Bored by his own politely spectacular feats. In my museum, I’d place this shoe next to Allen Iverson’s Reebok debacles. They are lovable tragedies of design, but fitting for a player who openly scoffs at the idea of practicing, who came up the hard way in Virginia, and was all cornrows and tattoos before anyone else on that stage rocked it. Will they ever reissue the Reebok Answer V 2001’s or the Reebok Questions, his first shoe? I like to think that “The Answer” didn’t really care enough to give input on how they looked or even felt. I like to imagine that AI didn’t even tie his laces before games. He just slipped them on and came after you.

In my show, I’d include art from David Hammons, Paul Pfeiffer, Cao Fei, Jamel Shabazz, and that guy that makes tribal-looking masks from splayed out and stitched together sneakers; TVs playing old Nike commercials; screenings of Do The Right Thing, Wild Style, Boyz N The Hood; old Slam magazine covers; rap records playing joints that reference basketball shoes; a history of sneaker print ads; critical journalistic articles about the sneaker wars, links to AAU basketball, and “street agents”; original sketches of shoe designs; TV news reports from the 90s describing armed stick-ups of kids for their new Jordan’s; a section detailing motifs and technological advances in shoe design; and examples of all the basketball shoes ever made.

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