There are red Nikes with illustrations of the Thundercats. White-and-blue-trimmed high-top Nikes autographed by Patrick Ewing that are so thickly cushioned they look like moon boots. And corn silk–blue Nike Air Force 1’s painted with red flowers by the graphic-design firm Rebel Aire. (On official ISB scoring sheets, one footnote reminds critics: “Always take into consideration shock value, crowd reaction, and fan favorites.”)
Brian Spar, a 31-year-old Connecticut-based contestant, is displaying a collection of Nike Dunks worth thousands of dollars. A bald former mortgage broker who now resells sneakers for a living, Spar maintains a sneaker Web site called Gourmet Kickz. Not only does he insist on being called “Chef,” but his ISB station is restaurant-themed, complete with two heavily made-up waitresses in itty-bitty black skirts, aprons, and high-heels serving up shoes on trays. Asked how much this is all worth, Chef sighs. “It’s a house that fits into a closet. Or two.”
With hardcore collectors, Nike is still the hottest, most coveted brand. Executive organizer Daurio knows this, which is why he’s deliberately rocking a pair of shiny blue-and-black Adidas with red stripes. “Flex has told me, ‘Anybody can make a [Nike] Air Force 1 hot. But if you take [a brand] that’s not as official and make them hot, you’ll get so much more respect.’ ”
Peter Fahey, owner of that $5000 Futura shoe, says that in his experience touring with Sneaker Pimps — the three-and-a-half-year-old exhibition of rare shoes tied to a chain-link fence that’s been shown 70 times around the globe in cities such as Boston, Jakarta, and Hong Kong —Nike worship is even stronger overseas. “They don’t really care about Adidas in places like China, they only care about Nike. Here they care about everything.”
By six o’clock, the judges have determined the victors, so Daurio gathers everyone together on the far stage. Samuel’s baby kicks win Best Jordans. The Thundercats land Best Custom-Themed Pair. Chef wins Best Display, which gets him $200. And Mark Johnson, a/k/a Malicious, gets Best Overall Collection, which is tantamount to first prize, earning him $400.
Daurio seems pleasantly surprised that he’s pulled off the curious feat of christening sneaker champions. As he said earlier in the afternoon, “If I came home with an eight-foot-high trophy, my mom would be like, ‘That’s so cool: an eight-foot trophy for sneakers!’ Where the hell else you gonna get that?”
Camille Dodero, who once called Vans “toenail stinkers” on the Weeklydrop, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the Web
International Sneaker Battle: http://www.internationalsneakerbattle.com/
Weekly Drop: http://www.weeklydrop.com/
Female Sneaker Fiend: http://femalesneakerfiend.com/