Monday, July 28, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Are Adidas' new basketball shoes racist, or just ugly?

Reverend Run of Run-D.M.C. once bragged that his Adidas sneakers were so desirable that "a sucker tried to steal 'em, so I caught 'em and I fought 'em".

Are Adidas' new basketball shoes racist, or just ugly?

The JS Roundhouse Mids by Adidas Originals and Jeremy Scott will be available in August. (Photo courtesy of Adidas)
The JS Roundhouse Mids by Adidas Originals and Jeremy Scott will be available in August. (Photo courtesy of Adidas)

Reverend Run of Run-D.M.C. once bragged that his Adidas sneakers were so desirable that "a sucker tried to steal 'em, so I caught 'em and I fought 'em".

Now, 26 years later, Adidas has unveiled a controversial shoe that may cause some to revisit Rev. Run's words. The JS Roundhouse Mid, a joint venture between Adidas Originals and designer Jeremy Scott, prominently features a cuff that fastens around the wearer's ankle and is secured to the shoe with chain links.

On Adidas' Facebook page, the company calls the shoe 'so hot you [will need to] lock your kicks to your ankles'. Critics, however, say the shoe represents an uncomfortable allusion to the slave trade or the prison system.

It's not exactly a stretch to see how one could feel that way. Shackles and chains have long been used in the media as iconographic shorthand for the American slave trade, notably in advertising for the classic television mini-series "Roots" and the upcoming Quentin Tarantino revenge-flick Django Unchained.

On his blog Your Black World, Dr. Boyce Watkins of Syracuse University calls the shoes reminiscent of "the stuff that our ancestors wore for 400 years while experiencing the most horrific atrocities imaginable."

Adidas, which sponsors African-American athletes in every major professional sport, says the shoe "is nothing more than the designer Jeremy Scott's outrageous and unique take on fashion, and has nothing to do with slavery."

The statement adds: "Jeremy Scott is renowned as a designer whose style is quirky and lighthearted and his previous shoe designs for Adidas Originals have, for example, included panda heads and Mickey Mouse."

Philadelphia-area sneaker enthusiast Mike Meech describes the shoes as part of a niche market of eccentric kicks.

"Jeremy Scott designed a pair of Adidas with gorillas where the tongue is - are those racist?" Meech said. "The fact is, this 'controversy' will probably just make the sneakers more popular. I'm sure Adidas is thrilled with the free promotion."

Another local sneaker enthusiast, Kofi Biney, said he wasn't offended by the shoe "in the slightest."

"It's manufactured outrage," Biney said. "The designer even said that [the shoe] was based off a 90s cartoon called My Pet Monster."  

Although Scott hasn't said it outright, Biney is correct that the designer has made allusions to the purple-and-orange plush doll that comes with a pair of orange handcuffs.

Let's set aside the controversy for a moment and consider the rest of the shoe. It's not all that great to look at: a mess of purple and gray suede and rubber with orange accents on the tops, sides, tongue, and eyelets. And then there's the orange rubber cuff.

Oh, and when released, it will retail for $350.

So ignoring the controversy, ignoring the inspiration, and ignoring the price, Meech was asked if he would buy the shoe.


"No," he quickly replied, "It's hideous."

For other takes on Adidas' new shoe, check out Daily News columnist Jenice Armstrong's blog post on Hey Jen and Philly.com style producer Esther Lee's blog post on Hautehouse Row.

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