October 2, 2012 BY John Kim
The Sneaker News staff teamed up with Sneakerpedia to give you, our loyal readers, a taste of the type of kicks that got the Sneaker News staff in the game. We’re a behind-the-scenes kind of group, but after seeing Aaron’s Top 20 stash yesterday, we hope you’ve got a better idea of who and what runs the Sneaker News machine. Moving forward with this week-long exploration of Sneaker News staff kicks, we’ll take a look at my Top 20 with a backstory behind each selection – some sentimental, others a bit embarrassing. Summarizing nearly three decades of sneakers into 20 selections is a tougher task than it seems, but I’m confident the sneakers I chose will give you a better idea of who I am and why Sneaker News and the culture is important to me. Check out my Sneakerpedia Top 20 below and make sure you start your own personal Sneakerpedia Crate now!
I’m a collector at heart. I’m not sure when it started, but Matchbox/Hot Wheels, Marvel comics, basketball cards – pretty much every hobby in the late 80’s-mid 90’s that kids loved, I was knee deep in the game. I’m not sure if it’s the rush of obtaining that rare piece or the pride of owning a coveted item, but the general thought of owning a library of anything was pretty darn awesome to me. I can guess where sneakers got into it, because I always had a visual fixation to things and often compared sneakers to cars, or cars to superheroes, or superheroes to my favorite NBA players. One reminded me of another, and it made me like it – or hate it – more.
Throughout the 90’s, sneakers were incredibly important to me, and the fact that so many brands were offering up great products made sneaker buying a process rather than a simple purchase. Considering my parents did my sneaker buying for me and I had saved up enough to buy maybe one pair of shoes a year with my own money (the ‘rents wouldn’t allow more than that), most of the stuff that I loved never made their way onto my feet. I rocked a lot of the less expensive varieties – particularly Reebok Classics and Airwalks – while having that one sick pair of Nikes to anchor my rotation for a half-year of school, and I think that’s how most kids had it. I was taught to appreciate what I had, and as a natural ‘collector’ of things, I did what I could to keep them pristine.
College was a fun time for sneaker collecting because outside of schoolwork and hanging out with friends, surfing Niketalk/eBay was one of my biggest hobbies. I’d religiously search for Air Max 1 and SB Dunk steals on eBay while looking through the latest leaked images of the Air Jordan XV and XVI on Niketalk or reading Kicksology.net like it was of biblical importance (and it totally was). I attended college in an area with a budding sneaker scene that didn’t really establish itself until 2004, which meant any big-time release that hit the area was easy pickings and any decent release from before 2004 went on sale. Whenever I was back home in NYC during vacations and such, I’d trek around to all the great spots downtown, but I never did find deals as great as I did in college. I’m fortunate to have experienced that era of the ‘sneaker game’ at a time in my life where I had so much freedom.
Below is a mix of the sneakers I loved in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the sneakers I saved up for in the mid-late 90’s, the sneakers I hunted around for and e-researched for in the early 2000’s, and even one I fell in love with from the 2010’s. You’ll find a common theme with the occasional surprise here and there, so I hope you get an idea of what gets my sneaker juices flowing after flipping through my entire list. It’s not the 20 ‘sexiest’ or ‘most valuable’ of my collection, but easily the 20 shoes that I’d remember before taking my final step. Enjoy!
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20. Asics Gel Saga II
True story – the Asics Gel Saga II is a great running shoe. And a basketball shoe. And a dodgeball shoe. And a ‘steal the bacon’ shoe. And a Super Soaker street-war shoe. Truth be told, this wasn’t my first choice of sneakers, but my family was outfitted in Asics for free and I wore the Saga EVERYWHERE. No, we weren’t under an endorsement contract, but my uncle used to own a urban sportswear store on Knickerbocker Ave. in Brooklyn and whatever didn’t sell well was ours to keep (my NBA jersey collection used to be pretty insane, as in only an insane person would have Shawn Bradley and Chris Gatling replicas).
I didn’t like them at first because I just had a thing against Asics (because their basketball/training shoes like the Gel Infusion looked weird to me), but these are probably one of the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. I really liked the Phoenix Suns so the purple was okay with me, but my dad had the white/purple GT Exult that were pretty awesome too. These Saga re-released in 2011 and at $80 shipped, it was a no brainer. Great shoe. Not my favorite Asics though – that would be the Asics Gel Viper, but I haven’t even seen a pair in years.
19. HTM x Nike Lunar Flyknit
It’s a bit weird putting a sneaker that was released in 2012 in my Top 20, but everything about this shoe spoke directly to me instantaneously. It coerced a response just like all the other ones on this list had done, so excluding them for being too ‘young’ would be foolish because I try to experience life open-hearted and vulnerable to life-changing experiences. I’m a nut for Woven and fabric-built uppers, so the whole concept of Flyknit already had the appeal that had been missing with Nike Running for several years. On top of Flyknit, the shoe was Lunar-based – and my Sneaker News compatriots know how much I love Lunar.
The final cherry on top was that this was the first release of the Flyknit – a 1-of-100 that like any other one of the super-limited releases, stumbled into my hands in a complete stroke of good fortune. An amazing colorway on an amazing shoe, with both Hiroshi Fujiwara and Mark Parker in the building? As much of a no-brainer purchase as I’ve ever come across. Flyknit didn’t stop with the HTMs either; I purchased four different colorways during the last wide release and the ‘Volt’ Flyknit Racer sees heavy use in my rotation. Function and style rolled into one. Completely deserving of this spot.
18. Nike Air Max Plus
The Air Max ’99, aka the Air Max Plus, aka the Air Max TN, was the last great Air Max sneaker. Disagree all you want, but most of what came out after that was an easy pass and opened the door for Nike Shox to take rule of Nike Running. It was sad, really, because Air Max was such a visual stunner and Shox was clearly better fit for basketball than for running, but that was just how things unfolded for Nike Running – I guess it was time for something new and Shox seemed like the way to go.
The Nike Air Max Plus featured the funky Tuned Air, but honestly, I was in it completely for the aesthetic appeal; the multi-compartment Air unit, the hard plate at the midfoot, the lava lamp-like upper with the gradient – it was just a jaw-dropping Air Max design that honestly deserves more recognition than it has. This was the last OG Air Max sneaker I owned until Nike unleashed Air Max 360 in 2006; everything else that fell in-between was bland.
17. Nike Zoom Flight 95
I’ll just say it – the Zoom Flight 95 is my favorite basketball sneaker of all-time. There are a few that are right on its heels, like the Zoom GP II, the Air Flightposite III, the Command Force, and the Converse Aero Jam, but the ZF95 takes the cake. 1995 was an amazing year for sneakers, and this shoe deserves a lot of credit for that heralded role because it marks the point where Nike Basketball sorta completely ditched that high-top look and experimented with some funky designs like the Air Go LWP and Air Unlimited. The eerie way the shoe sorta just stares at you with the slanted bug-eye pods on the side with the carbon-fiber inlay and the roped trail-shoe laces pulled me in – it was stunning from the get-go and to me, the Zoom Flight 95 kinda saved Nike Basketball after a few years of boring designs (save the surprise hit and the Barkley line).
I wanted this sneaker so badly, it hurt. I sold off some of my basketball cards to save up for these, but I never got close because parting ways with some of my prized trading cards was too tough to bear. Would you have been able to sell a Michael Jordan Fleer Ultra Scoring King ’93-’94 or a Shaq/Penny ‘Thunder and Lightning’? Didn’t think so. Christmas came and my Air Max 95s were suffering from uncontrollable flatulence, so my parents hooked it up with the ZF95s a few weeks after Christmas (anything to save a dollar, I was cool with it though). Ended up trading those basketball cards for some video game – I think Street Fighter II for Sega Genesis. Anyway, when these came back out in 2008 (during a time when I admittedly paid little attention to sneakers, as I busy working for ‘the man’) I saw them at Foot Locker and bought them on the spot.
16. Nike Air Tech Challenge II
I don’t think anyone will disagree with me when I say that the ‘Hot Lava’ is one of the best Nike colorways in history. As Aaron alluded to yesterday, the Air Tech Challenge line was like re-hash of the excitement surrounding the young Michael Jordan and his controversial Air Jordan 1, bringing in unprecedented flavor and attitude to ‘tennis shoes’. When one thinks ‘tennis shoes’, on thinks the exact opposite of the Air Tech Challenge, and instead a clean, white, and unrelentingly boring pair of Stan Smiths – not Hot Lava spewing upwards from the midsole. The Retro release of a few years back is easily one of the Top 5 re-issues ever.
I played tennis a lot, but I was terrible at it. Like, really bad. Maybe it was the shoes (I probably wore #20 ranked Asics Gel Saga II during whatever sport I was involved in), but the only reason why I attempted the sport was because Agassi was cool and his gear was cooler, and I needed a way to convince my parents to let me buy these. A lot of great sneakers came out in ’91/’92 and I simply didn’t have the money – or the back-hand – to warrant a pair of Agassis. I never forgot the shoe and quickly copped the Retro release.