By Megan Card
For a “sneakerhead,” the release of an Air Jordan Retro 11 can mean waiting in line for days, even in below freezing temperatures, for a pair.
“(The shoe) is the pinnacle level of basketball, it is the greatest, it was worn by the greatest player ever,” said Sports Page Owner Phil Hemming.
At the release of the Air Jordan Retro 11 “Gamma Blue” Saturday, the scene outside of the Pella Sports Page did feature a camp out after the store closed Friday (Dec. 20), as a group of eight men who had traveled from Des Moines grilled out in front of the store and took turns in their cars to stay warm through the night.
By 9 a.m. the following day, the 14 pairs of Air Jordans were sold almost immediately as the doors opened.
“I’d say everybody who wanted a pair, got a pair,” said Terrance Martz, manager of the Pella Sports Page.
This result is not always the case, Hemming said. Just the week before, another Air Jordan release ended with only 12 pairs for 24 people in line, which left some customers disgruntled.
“We can’t do a lot about the amount we have to sell, that is up to the company,” he said.
Air Jordan became its own separate brand from Nike in 1997, but the same company owns both. The one significant difference in design was the Nike “swoosh” was replaced by the “jump man” insignia.
While the craze over its 40 to 50 shoe releases increases each year, so does the notoriety and range of the Air Jordan brand, Hemming said.
“It is clothing, it is apparel, it is a lifestyle,” Hemming said.
And the demand for the brand is apparent. Across the five Sports Page stores he owns with Todd Thimesch, Hemming said their businesses fielded 500 to 1,000 phone calls last week leading up to the Air Jordan release.
By the actual release date, there are typically three types of people who line up for the Air Jordans, said Hemming: the passionate collectors, the young athletes wanting to dazzle on the court and the hustlers.
“Unfortunately, I wish we could just give tickets to the first two, because the resell — I’m not saying I don’t resell, but I don’t buy shoes to resell,” Hemming said. “I buy shoes, because I am passionate about it.”
While the price tag on the Gamma Blues was just under $185 in town, Hemming said he has seen people turn around with their purchase in the past and sell the shoes for a marked-up price reaching $400 or more.
“We’ll have 50 percent of the line usually that will buy them to resell, some will do it right in front of our store,” he said.
Hemming owns hundreds of Air Jordans himself, with multiple color ways, but he said he is a traditionalist and prefers releases that stick to what Michael Jordan — “the greatest player ever” — wore on court.
“My dad talks about what he remembers about the death of JFK, and I remember what Michael Jordan wore in what game, what championship he won a shoe in,” Hemming said.
He calls himself a “sneakerhead” from 16, when Hemming started working for Sports Page so he could get a discount on Air Jordans. He said he typically buys “a pair to wear and a pair to stare” for his collection, which is showcased in displays at his home, along with a traveling Sports Page display that contains the original Air Jordans 1 through 28.
Martz is also a resident “sneakerhead” at Sports Page, with his collection at about 150 pairs. He said he much prefers buying online, but he is such a fan that his 6-month-old daughter has almost 25 pairs of infant-sized Air Jordans.
For Ken Thomas, who was apart of the group that stayed overnight for the release, he started his collection in his early 20s. He said his mom had not been able to buy him a pair when he was young, so the chance to own multiple pairs was an addicting thought.
As he waited outside the store among friends Saturday morning, listening to rap music and joking with one another, Thomas said the past 12 hours were about free food, a good time and, of course, the sneakers.
“This is like a Christmas tradition for us,” he said.