Less than an hour ago, I was in the middle of the Poughkeepsie Galleria Finish Line, determined to pay $340.20 for the new LeBron “Kang” James X sneakers. My decision to pay $50.20 more for a pair of sneakers than the minimum wage employee in Mississippi makes in a week wasn’t at all impulsive. Skip Bayless, the hating members of my family and hate-ish friends on Facebook made my decision to buy the Kang X’s less of a trek in excess and more of a quest fueled by the hate that hate produced.
“These the LeBrons?” I asked the tiny saleswoman helping me at Finish Line and held up a $150.00, blood red size 13 with a black swoosh and a glowing green bottom.
I learned that the X’s hadn’t come out yet, that I was holding a special Liverpool edition IX. “The X’s won’t be nearly as expensive as people think,” the saleswoman told me. “The most expensive pair will probably be around $290.” She looked down at my ashy ankles and my dusty green suede Pumas. “You’re buying these IX’s for someone else, huh?”
“Yep,” I lied and paid $169.75 for the shoes and two pairs of green and black shoelaces. “My little cousin loves him some Bron-Bron.” I fake laughed and walked out of Finish Line having paid $170.45 less than I had hoped to.
By the time I made it to the parking lot of the Galleria, I was bubbling in guilt. I made the wrong decision. I figured that paying $169.75 for sneakers that probably cost less than $15.67 to make in China should be shameful. I also wondered what special outhouse in hell awaited those of us who made it possible for Nike to make more of its popular “Lazy But Talented” t-shirts. As I drove into the parking lot of my building, I actually pondered organizing a boycott of overpriced Nikes on Facebook called “Living Beyond the Swoosh.”
Organizing a boycott felt like the right thing to do, but how could I “live beyond the swoosh” and still rock these dope red, black and green customized Dunks I got a while ago?
The boycott ain’t happening.
I’m home now and the IX’s are so much more beautiful under the soft light of my apartment than they were at Finish Line. Plus, the soles literally smell like bleeding birch trees. When I put the shoes on my sockless feet, not only do I feel like a certified member of the Kangdom; but I feel, even just for a second, like I’m capable of occupying that space beyond greatness, too. Instead of organizing a boycott of Nike, I decide to take a picture or video of myself rocking the red Nike IX’s, baggy black shorts and a black hoodie from Wal-Mart. I’m determined to place the photo or video on Facebook with a caption that reads, “I’ma let all y’all hating-ass Kang-haters finish hating, but the LeBron ‘Kang’ James shoe, like LeBron ‘Kang’ James, has a chance to be the greatest of all time. All time!”
I’m rehearsing what else I’m going to write to the haters on Facebook. I convince myself that it doesn’t make any sense to pinpoint the ways that LeBron James or his Nikes might be complicit in urban decay when the net worth of black families in the U.S. is only $5000.00. If we really wanted to find ways to stop young brothers from hitting other young brothers upside the head for Jordans and LeBrons, we would find a way to increase black familial net worth to more than 15 pairs of LeBron X’s, wouldn’t we? Plus, when the best players in the world design and brand $100.00, $200.00 and $300.00 shoes, why wouldn’t a kid who comes from a similarly maligned place, who listens to similarly maligned music and speaks a similarly maligned language, want to literally walk to and from in those similarly maligned shoes? Hell, there’s very little maligned about the typical hipster’s life or style, and even they’ve made the $69.99 Nike Dunk a veritable part of their uniform.
“Don’t hate the player,” I say for the first time in my life, looking down at my blood red LeBron James Nikes. “Hate the game.”
I’m so 2002.
I walk in front of the long mirror next to the bathroom with clunky self-righteousness swinging from my neck like cubic zirconia. I’m bouncing in front of the mirror trying to do the dance LeBron did near the end of Game 5 against the Thunder.
We have a problem.
I want the slimming mirror to emphatically state that, “Fuck them haters! Fuck them h—!” Instead, it contorts and whispers, “Uncle Roscoe, you need to sit yo down somewhere.”
Somehow, some way, I have eaten and aged my way out of looking like a baller and now I resemble a baller’s overweight Uncle Roscoe. Uncle Roscoe does not bounce. Uncle Roscoe quakes. A quaking Uncle Roscoe in new blood red LeBron James IX’s is not a good look at all.
Now I have another problem. How does Uncle Roscoe responsibly get rid of a pair of brand new, blood red LeBron James sneakers in a city with mounds of violence and a bruising fascination with the color red?
I’m thinking about throwing my new shoes in the dumpster, but I respect the Kang and my $169.75 too much to do that. I could take the shoes back to Finish Line, but that would feel like a victory for Skip Bayless and the millions of Kang haters. I start to wonder for the first time if LeBron James feels any anxiety at all, not simply about branding shoes that could lead to even slightly more violence in American cities that resemble Akron, but also about not branding dope t-shirts and Armstrong-style bracelets that read “Our people over your profits” or “National Defense = Championships, but Public Education = Saved Lives.”
Seems like the right thing to do, the right decision to make, but would anything change?
I think about all the work LeBron has done with the Boys and Girls Club of America and how he’s made a number of his friends from Akron millionaires. I think about the way he rocked the hoodie after Trayvon Martin was murdered. Those decisions, like his decision to take a pay-cut while moving his talents to South Beach, seem like the right thing to do. It’s only a matter of time, I tell myself, before every LeBron Nike is less than $99.99 and comes with a note saying, “Thanks for wanting to walk in my shoes. Do something great to help people in them. Be imaginative. Be careful. Kang.”
After an hour of going through my phone, I narrow the possible recipients of my new red LeBron IX’s to Prescott Saunders, a 48 year-old He-Man who can still shoot 30 foot 3’s and catch 360’s with ease or my boy, “Air Dave,” a Baron Davis lookalike with audacious defense and equally audacious experiences in the penitentiary.
Before calling Prescott or Air, I write on Facebook, “Anybody in the Poughkeepsie area want a brand new pair of size 13 Lebron James sneakers? Not sure I can be held responsible if u get hit upside the head for them though.”
Six comments in, Kang-hater extraordinaire, Maurice “Mo” Elrod, my smooth, college teammate and creator of highschoolhopeful.com, writes, “Send them to a real hooper.” I’m reading Mo’s comment and thinking about how he spent the last two years refusing to admit that the Kang did more with less in Cleveland than even Jordan could have.
Three comments later, I write “… It would be poetic justice for me to offer you the Kang’s sneakers, given your hate … uh, I mean, potent criticism of his game.”
Seven comments later, Mo writes, “Never hate. Just the truth! I’ll send you my address. Good looking, homie!”
Mo and the rest of the Kang-haters haven’t said much about LeBron’s overpriced X’s this Summer and Fall, but I’m sure they’ll continue to critique LeBron James this season as a decidedly “talented” freak with a teeny clutch gene. And of course, they’ll create opportunities to tell the world that the Kang has no chance at catching Jordan, that KD is on his heels, that the Kang is the most mentally fragile superstar in history, and that rings are the only measure of greatness. And of course they’ll neglect the fact that no other player in the modern NBA era has led an undersized team with an injured third option, a gimpy second option and a 41 year-old coach to an NBA title.
But deep in the darkness of their homes, after Skip and them have tossed their powder in the air and hopped into their LBJ pajama sets, they’ll readily admit to their partners or the LBJ bobblehead under their pillow that LeBron James worked himself into becoming the only basketball player in the world for whom the word “greatness” is too small. They might even admit that Skip Bayless telling LeBron James that, “Now you can call yourself King,” is as loony as someone thirty cents away from a quarter telling Oprah Winfrey, “Now you can call yourself the queen of a media empire.”
Uncle Roscoe’s quest for the $340.20 LeBron James X reveals that we Americans will do any and everything with our money, our hate, our bodies and our adulation to form a relationship with that space beyond greatness. Shamefully, it also reveals that we have more in common with the few human beings occupying those spaces than I thought.
Far more extraordinaire than a 6’8, 260 pound point guard/small forward/power forward, defensive center, who eviscerated a healthy Thunder team while only making seven shots outside the paint, is the American who routinely puts a passionate concern for the future of young people over profit. I have met a few of those Americans, too, in Mississippi, Ohio and New York, and no one was asking for their autograph.
Right now, I am not one of those Americans. Are you? Seriously. If Nike offered you between $93,000,000 to sell shiny overpriced shoes to young black and brown kids, what would you do? How right would you make your decision?
It’s complicated, right? It always is.
The truth is that most of the young brothers who acquire the new LeBron X’s will get them the same way I acquired my red IX’s; some how, some way, they will buy them. This doesn’t stop me from neatly placing a scribbled note inside the Nike box I send to Maurice Elrod. “I’m glad you’re becoming a member of the Kangdom,” I write. “Seriously though, be careful, homie. Folks are doing anything to walk in these shoes. Be careful.”
It won’t make much of a difference at all, for reasons far bigger than the NBA or this essay, but it feels like the right thing to do.