It's 6:30 in the morning, pouring rain, and I'm standing outside Niketown with 20 other people watching a man in a shirt and tie hand out copies of The Watchtower. I'm under-caffeinated, wet, and amused by the fact that this Jehovah's Witness doesn't realize this crowd already has a god to worship—the Air Jordan.
"I never settle for anything less than Jordans. I sleep in Jordan socks; they're sexy, and I feel cute wearing 'em," says 16-year-old Vincent Perez, who tries to explain the extent of his Jordan obsession and the reason he's been waiting in line since 8 am the previous day. He's ensuring the first place in line.
Over the next 90 minutes, 40 more people will join the line to get their hands on a pair of Fire Red Jordan IIIs—reissued in the original colorways as their 1988 release. However, today there's an additional extra something special that's jacking up the excitement for shoe fans. Nike chose to release a pair of Jordan III "Flips" (all elephant gray) along with the Fire Reds—both on the same day. Please, try to contain your enthusiasm.
ASK A SNEAKERHEAD
What's the big deal about the Jordan IIIs? Ask a sneakerhead that question—especially one who's obsessed with Jordans—and the reaction you'll get will be similar to that of a level five vegan after asking them why it's wrong to eat animal products. They'll look at you like you're fucking insane.
The Jordan IIIs are one of the most sought-after pair of Jordans for the following reasons: They were the first pair of Jordans to show a built-in air pocket in the heel; they were the first pair ever designed by the now legendary shoe designer Tinker Hatfield; they were the shoes Michael Jordan wore when he won the legendary 1987-'88 slam dunk contest where he leapt from the free-throw line; and they were also the first Jordans to feature the Jumpman logo and the elephant-textured (or cement) trim.
Everyone's here for a different reason, and they all have their own story about what Jordans mean to them.
"I had a pair in 1988," says John Golden. "I think they're only $15 more in 2007 than they were back then. That's not bad for inflation, and this time around my mom doesn't have to buy them for me."
On this particular day, each customer is restricted to one pair of each style. The Fire Reds are going for $125 a pair and the Flips run $150. Two days later, after the Flips were sold out, pairs could be found on craigslist going for three times their original price tag. That's what Phil Dodson was counting on.
"I'm just here to buy a pair and sell them on eBay," says Dodson, who had been in line since 10 pm the night before. "Starting price is $300, and I won't even mention my reserve. If people want to make me an offer, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org."
Dodson knows this crowd frowns upon his actions.
"These people hate me," he says. "They think I'm somehow going to upset the shoe universe."
The shoe universe is an odd thing, if the line outside of Niketown is any indication. The lineup features an unlikely group of men who talk about Jordan styles and color schemes with the same enthusiasm as a group of 14-year-old girls discussing the new fashions at Forever 21.
For Wes Beverly (currently third in line), the front of the line is the only place to be if you want to buy sneakers.
"Let the back of the line get the Jordans in the dented boxes with glue all over 'em and creases on the tongue. We'll take the fresh pairs."
These guys are more excited about getting a pair of these shoes than I was about my first time having sex, and most of them aren't planning on ever letting the soles of their shoes touch cement.
"I've got seven pairs exactly," says Beverly. "They're all icy—all dead stock."
The terms "icy" and "dead stock" are slang in the sneakerhead world for "never been worn." And although many of the people in line never intend on wearing their shoes, Beverly has a different plan.
"I'm not camping out here to keep my sneakers in a closet till I die. I'm gonna wait till a special occasion, I'm gonna break 'em out, and then? I'm gonna get fresh."
THE JORDAN EXPERIENCE
As 8 am grows near, the group at the front of the line kills time with talk of up-and-coming release dates for the Jordan Spizikes, their favorite colorways of Jordan IVs, whether or not the Jordan XXIIIs will be the greatest Jordans of them all—and only half joked that I was posing as a journalist to get to the front of line.
When Niketown finally opens and people began to file in, I notice a late arrival standing near the door on the sidewalk.
"Aren't you going to go in?" I ask.
"I already got mine," says the man talking on his cell phone. "Finish Line opened at 6 am, I got there at 6:45 and they were already sold out and closed, so I went over to Champs at Lloyd Center and got a pair at seven. I just stopped by to see if my friends were still waiting in line."
I wanted to ask Perez, who waited in line for 24 hours, if that bothered him—that someone who slept in their own bed and didn't have to wait out in the rain, got a pair of Fire Reds and Flips before he even got in the door. I already knew his answer.
"It's all about the Jordan experience," says Perez. "It's all about socializing with people and finding out what they've got in their collection. It makes a great story."
With bags of shoes in hand, people made plans to meet up at the next release date, and left with smiles on their faces, feeling like they'd accomplished something great. As one fan tells me, "All the pairs Jordan wore in the NBA are classics," and another fan adds, "Owning a pair of these, to me, is like owning a classic car."
Soaking wet from head to toe, I turn and begin my long walk home, wishing more than anything I had a pair of warm, dry Fire Red Jordan IIIs on my feet.