I Snagged My Grail Sneakers

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I was 11-years-old in 1997, and Kentucky had killer squad that year. Ron Mercer, Derek Anderson, Anthony Epps, Jamaal Magloire, Wayne Turner. Rick Pitino was still doing his high energy thing on the sidelines (way more endearing back then). That team reached the title game in mildly surprising fashion, although it shouldn’t have been that surprising. We Kentucky fans were just spoiled. I’d imagine our main gripe about that team was that they weren’t the team from the year before, which was historically good. Hard to have perspective when you are on the heels of something like that.

Either way, it was starting to look like Kentucky might go back to back, and it was one of those years where all of the other great teams had been upset. Strangely enough, most of the teams that we thought (as Kentuckians, because everybody here spare the city of Louisville pulls for Kentucky in a state pride way that a lot of places wouldn’t understand) could beat us had been put out by one team: Arizona.

At this point, to be honest, my sample size for Arizona was small. I’d never really seen them play on live TV before this tournament, and other than the fact that they were incendiary-quick and could shoot the shit out of the ball, they wore killer sneakers. Like, sneaker game that you did not see in that time. Today, you’ll see dudes rocking retro Jordans and sought after models in games because all younger guys are into that. During this time, it was way less common and the sneaker game was big but it was nothing like it is now.

At any rate, it was obvious that Arizona was the sneaker team, so they drew my interest quickly. To abbreviate the story and to save myself from having to describe the heartache that would follow (we lost to Arizona and my 11-year-old ass cried on the toilet. I CRIED. TEARS.), a major take away from the game was what Mike Bibby wore on his feet against Kentucky.

“WHAT. ARE. THOSE.” [Had a different meaning then.]

You can imagine 11-year-old me, decked out in official Kentucky Converse swag sitting in rural southern America seeing those bizarre alien-like Nikes eviscerating our defense and feeling a bit overwhelmed. [Seriously I often wore a full Kentucky uniform while I watched games. Warm-ups and everything.]

This was a big moment in the sneakerhead life I would live for the next 20 years. Literally the next 20 years. I’m at the point where I can say I’ve been in some story arc that’s lasted 20 years, and that’s getting difficult to swallow.

I wasted no time falling in love with these shoes. The problem was the price tag: these muh fuhs went for $190 bucks retail. ONE HUNDRED AND NINETY DOLLARS. This was in 1997! It was as if I had gotten a glimpse of a possible soulmate in a crowd, brushed by the person and knew that there was no scenario in which I’d encounter them again.

The only human being that I knew who owned these shoes was Brandon Haines, who was three grades ahead of me and sat behind me (obviously) on the bus. My lame ass wasn’t sitting in front of a dude wearing blue foamposites. I asked him if I could see them. He obviously said no and to shut up. He was in the right. I firmly believe that.

Fast forward some years and my sneaker tastes changed. As I started to have more of my own money, I dabbled more and more in the world of Jordan, retro Nike classics and so on to fix attain some of the pairs that I coveted as a kid but missed out on, but largely keeping the dollar amounts low. That’s one thing that separates me from a lot of sneaker lovers: I am a cheap ass dude. I will wait until these goofballs wear their precious deadstock shoes once or twice, get seen wearing their “perfect” shoes that everybody knows they spent their rent check on and then sell them for way less.

That aspect of it never made any sense to me. I wear everything I buy and everything I buy, I wait until it is the lowest conceivable amount possible. I also sell/trade things I’m not wearing to get things I want. It’s a constantly moving inventory and not so much a vault.

But my path never crossed again with the royal foams. Of course, I could hop on eBay at various points and contemplate dropping 300 or more dollars on a decent pair and attain the holy grail pair of my sneakerhead life, but I never had the stomach. I applaud judge the people with the cajones and money, mainly, to drop that kind of coin on a pair, but I’ve never been among that crowd.

…until recently. 

Whispers started to grow online, like the murmurs of Mordor teasing a glorious evil reprise, that with the 20th anniversary of the shoe approaching, the royal blue foamposites — the shoe that had haunted me for years — would be returning.

For once, my Twitter obsession paid off and I happened to be online when a special promotion was announced. I pulled the trigger and reserved a pair (I have a job, screw it).

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A few days later, these came in the mail. Not only had I scored the holy grail pair, but I had somehow snagged one of the first 200 pairs and an autograph from the OG man himself?! Penny Hardaway had signed something that I would have in my possession?

Things worked out. People have asked me if I’ve worn them yet, and obviously, yes, I have. Walking to dinner with my wife, I double and triple-taked on my own feet a few different times to make sure I was actually perceiving reality. Yes, I have on the blue foams. We did it.

I guess you guys can float me out on one of those twig rafts and shoot a flaming arrow at me, because this is really all I had planned on doing. Guess I could start a family or something, I dunno.