Last summer, I watched the NBA Awards dinner as Kemba Walker of the Charlotte Hornets won the NBA Sportsmanship Award, given to the player who best “exemplifies the ideals of sportsmanship on the court — ethical behavior, fair play, and integrity.”
Walker wore a fitted gray suit with light checkers bordered by a slight baby-blue stitch and a black polo shirt buttoned to the top. On his feet were a pair of low-top bone-white sneakers. I thought he looked fresh as fuck.
Walker’s freshness solved two intersecting dilemmas I had. Months earlier, I’d bought a Lazio gray herringbone suit from Suitsupply similar in cut and fit to Walker’s, and I’d been curious how it would look with sneakers. Also, I’d been looking for a pair of sneakers that I could wear with a style of dress — trendy and practical airport/on a college panel/at a happy hour after the panel — that I’ve deemed “nigga casual,” something I could slip off when passing through airport security.
The next weekend, I drove to Ross Park Mall, a few miles north of Pittsburgh (where I live), in search of the right shoe. I parked outside Nordstrom, intending to pass through it before stopping at Foot Locker, maybe Macy’s. And then, well, remember in The Godfather, when Michael first saw Apollonia and was so captivated by her that his bodyguards claimed he was hit by a thunderbolt? That’s what happened when I laid eyes on the Balenciaga Race Runner at Nordstrom. It looked like something from the future. But not a Mad Max future. More like a Minority Report future. A future where Tom Cruise is still running.
I inspected the shoes like a butcher vetting a porterhouse. I even sniffed them, as if that fucking mattered. After the shoes had met my arbitrary olfactory standards, I asked a salesman if he had my size (11). Once I put them on, I officially moved from merely “captivated” to “Holy fucking shit, where have you been my entire life, you devil sneaker with a name I can’t even pronounce?” I hadn’t looked at the price yet. I hadn’t even heard of Balenciaga until that day, but I knew that the Venn diagram of “brands I’ve never heard of” and “sold at Nordstrom” and “roughly the price of a kidney” is a perfect circle, and I just didn’t want to scare myself away. But I had to look. So I did: $695.
You know how, on some sitcoms — let’s just say Roc or The King of Queens — the penny-pinching dad/husband will hear the extravagant cost of a thing and then start naming all the things he can buy with that money? (“A $17 burger?! At Jonny’s on the Ave., I can get two burgers, a steak, some tater tots, and an oil change for $12.99!”) That was me seeing that price tag. But they just felt and looked so damn good. “And,” I attempted to sway myself, “these would be my fancy airport/panel nigga-casual sneakers. Not my Pittsburgh sneakers. It’s a mature and appropriate investment, Damon.”
I bought the shoes and don’t have any regrets. They’ve been a welcome addition to my wardrobe, and I’ve lost count of how many people ask me about them when I’m wearing them. They look good with the gray suit, with jeans, with sweats, with the above-the-knee shorts I wear to cookouts and rib fests, with hoop shorts when I’m going to CVS and pretending to get captured by paparazzi. I even have a guy I go to who specializes in kidney-priced sneakers and cleans them. I’ve always wanted to have a “guy,” though I think I enjoy saying “I have a guy” more than actually having a guy.
Still, I’m urged sometimes — particularly when watching the Hornets — to invoice Kemba Walker. This is all his fault. And I’m sure he can afford it.