FORTVILLE — Basketball was an ugly game in 1891. And so were the shoes.
With peach baskets and stringed-leather balls, the game looked almost nothing like it does today. And what were those thin-soled, flimsy looking shoes players wore?
Much like the game itself, basketball shoes have evolved dramatically since the sport was created 125 years ago. Who really wanted to collect dozens of old black and white Converse Chuck Taylors — the first official shoe to dominate basketball?
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However, with new, flashy colors and sleek designs, basketball sneakers are becoming one of the easiest and more popular items to collect, according to Mt. Vernon senior Frankie Turner.
His collection, which entails mostly Air Jordan brand basketball shoes, is nearing 55 pairs. Although just two years ago, Turner, 17, admitted he had around 75 total pairs of shoes.
Learning the trait from his older brother Joey, 23, Turner found an immediate passion for shoe collecting. An avid baseball fan, Turner decided to hang up his bat and cleats approximately seven years ago to focus solely on collecting.
“I wanted to be like him (Joey),” Turner said. “I love the history behind everything. I like that some Jordan shoes have a story behind them. The Flu Game 12 shoes are actually the same shoes Jordan wore when he had the flu (scored 38 points).”
Like most shoe collections, Turner’s lot is dominated by all sorts of basketball sneakers — although he does have a few pair of running shoes, too.
His favorite pair? The Air Jordan 3 Mochas, which were released in a limited supply Sept. 11, 2001. And his most expensive pair? They cost $1,800, and he only wore them four times. Turner even has collected every single version (22 pairs) of the Jordan Retro 3.
Even the names and prices have evolved.
The first Converse shoes, which have been worn on the court since 1907 according to epicsports.com, represent basketball at its simplest form. In today’s game, the shoes — mixed with added compression sleeves, arm bands and other attire — are an extension of the athlete’s personality.
Made out of more stable material with thicker soles, today’s shoes look like they might come from Mars — if one played when the game was first created. Compressed air bubbles and blinking lights are just a few unique characteristics installed in sneakers within the last decade.
In Turner’s opinion, though, it wasn’t a particular brand, type or color of a shoe that made the industry explode. It was one player.
“It was from what (Michael) Jordan put out there; he kind of set the standard for everyone,” Turner said. “The very first pair did not release. Nike banned it, because it had too much black on the shoe. It didn’t go with the Bulls’ color scheme.
“People were all hyped about that and knew it (the banned shoe) was going to be worth something (later on). Others brands caught on and collaborated with big athletes like LeBron (James) and Kobe (Bryant).”
The first Air Jordan brand shoe, which was a part of Michael Jordan’s contract, was released in 1984. Now the Jordan series has hundreds — possibly even thousands — of different options with several spin off and retro versions.
Turner isn’t the only one in the business, either. He said he has met one collector who owns over 250 shoes. And most are terribly expensive. Sneaker Con, the Comic Con of sneaker conventions, travels throughout the United States and allows gurus like Turner to see the vast world of shoe collecting.
“It’s a huge thing in Indy (Indianapolis), too,” Turner said, who has also traveled to Atlanta and Chicago, to name a few, for conventions.
Nike, which now owns both Air Jordan and Converse, is the current premier shoe brand. The ever-popular Chuck Taylors can still be purchased, though, at around 50 dollars. According to Finish Line, Inc., new Air Jordan or Lebron brand shoes range anywhere from $100 to $200.
But for Frankie, the prices aren’t important. It’s about doing what he loves.
“I became a sneaker head; I wanted to know my facts,” Turner said. “I want to take this as far as I can. As a 17-year-old, I have had some of the craziest experiences and seen some stuff I’ll never forget.
“I know there really isn’t a profession for it, but hopefully one day in the future I will open up my own shoe store.”
How has the basketball shoe changed for athletes? Sportswriter Kris Mills talks to local coaches and athletes for their perspective in the second part of the Evolution of the Basketball Shoe on Wednesday.