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It’s Gotta Be the Shoes, Or Does It?

Posted on March 05 2015

by Austin Bonds (

A week ago I was helping a man find some running shoes and noticed an older gentlemen slide into my peripheral vision. Since my head is usually turned downward as I tie laces countless times throughout the day, I glanced at his sneaks and observed that he had an older pair of shoes that were red and black with that iconic Swoosh. Though I don’t recall the model, he proceeded to tell me that his closet is full of Michael Jordan shoes. Speaking of which, The Cardboard Connection, like other websites devoted to number 23, has put together a visual history of Air Jordan shoes.

After leaving the store, I started thinking about that man’s shoes more and my mind wandered back into the days of middle school. As a burgeoning adolescent, the perception of being thought of as “cool” by my peers was constantly on my mind. We all wish to be liked and we all wish to be validated by our outward appearance. I can’t remember the shoes I wore at this time, but I do remember that the popular guys in my classes wore Air Jordan shoes, along with other emerging basketball stars at the time (e.g. Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway).

I remember pestering my mother to buy me some new shoes, shoes like my “friends” had, but like any wise mother she thought the cost was outrageously exorbitant; however, I persisted, and I even managed to earn some money by completing chores inside and outside the house. I didn’t purchase a pair of Air Jordan shoes, but I did acquire the Nike Air D.T. 4 Max worn by the talented Deion Sanders (who played professional football and baseball).

I wore Deion’s shoes to school proudly, but I still managed to receive some biting criticism from my “friends” who thought my new shoes were weird and inferior to their respective kicks. Thank God that middle school and high school are now over and comparisons like this about shoes are lost to the sands of time. And yet here I am again, surrounded by shoes anew as I work for a specialty running store. Thankfully, comparing my running shoes to others is now completely irrelevant; this is due to the fact that staying healthy and free of injury supersedes looking fashionable.

When I help people find new running shoes, I like to offer up this phrase as a guiding philosophy: “Form follows function.” In other words, how the shoe looks should always be secondary to how it feels. Unlike shoes worn by Michael Jordan or LeBron James or Stephen Curry, running shoes are usually not bought to garner comments of praise, though the designs continue to get better and more colorful. They are purchased to be beaten down on the roads and trashed on the trails. And then the process repeats again and again. Form follows function.

I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t wanted to fly like Michael at one point or another. You start to wonder if he has jet packs in those shoes of his. Spike Lee even asked the question. But as Jordan has pointed out in a very pointed ad, it was never the shoes. His success was based on many, many hours of practice. So it is with running. Practice builds strength, speed, and endurance. Practice improves form and lowers the risk of injury.

I suppose that a picture from a race is the closest that runners feel to flying. This snapshot is a reminder of a good moment in time. I’ve seen many race pictures of myself, both good and bad. The ones I like, as you may gather, are the ones with both feet off of the ground. I’m not barreling towards a rim like Michael to dunk a basketball, but I too am defying gravity for a fraction of a second as I feel fast and free.

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