I had written this for another sports site but I figured the NBAO readers might enjoy my take on the stupidity that is the outrage over $300 shoes and what the real implications might be for Nike and amateur athletes everywhere.
$300 LeBron X shoes and Nike’s evolution as a company
$300 basketball shoes. That little notion is driving the entire sports world insane this week.
Some people are shocked about the price, as if no one has ever seen the price of a nice pair of Salvatore Ferragamos or any other finely crafted shoe with less than 10% the research and technology of the LeBron Xs. Some are questioning LeBron’s character, as if he twisted Nike’s arm and forced them to overprice his signature show in some sort of evil genius plan to make every single person on the planet buy his shoes by making them incredibly unaffordable. And there are those who are trying to defend the whole ordeal. Good luck to the latter; people still hate LeBron for no real conceivable reason.
For the purposes of my own sanity, let’s look past the LeBron vitriol and let’s just concentrate on these cutting edge shoes and their wallet-slicing price tag. The real issue here is a question of “want” vs. “need,” and more specifically, who “wants” and who “needs” these shoes.
We live in a relatively free world where no one is forced to buy anything. For everything you can buy there is always an alternative that is more affordable (or more expensive, if you desire). So why is everyone worked up over the price of these shoes? Nike isn’t forcing you to spend $300 — which by the way is only a rumored price and not Nike’s set price — and there is no prerequisite saying you need to own a pair to cheer for LeBron and the Heat. You don’t even need a pair of $300 LeBron Xs to get some run in a pick up game. You can buy brand new basketball shoes for under $50 and have just as much fun at the local courts as the guy in a pair of new Kobes. And if you shop diligently, you might even be able to pick up a pair of new Kobes for under $100.
Like I said: the choices are there, no one needs to own a pair of LeBron Xs. And if you’re still angry at Nike and LeBron, vote with your dollar and don’t buy the shoe.
But all of this simply applies to us, the regular Joes. Everyday “consumers,” if you will. For us, there is only really a “want” factor when it comes to these shoes. Whether we are doing it for a fashion statement or because we want to have the slightest little edge when we play our friends in a game of 21, these shoes have little utility to us. The reality is that 99% of us who will buy these shoes will see marginal gains, if any. Most of us would be better served paying a personal trainer $300 to get us in shape or to teach us how to make a left handed layup. So our need of this shoe is certainly outweighed by the wantof this shoe.
The morality of why we want these shoes is a completely different question that LZ Granderson hits out of the park in his column. As LZ mentions, there is no fault in Nike for creating these shoes or pricing these shoes and there is no fault in LeBron for endorsing Nike and the shoes they provide him with. If anything, the real issue starts and ends with each of us individually.
So, does anyone actually need Nike’s newest signature shoe? Certainly someone does — that’s why Nike created them. Who is that someone? Well, it’s at least LeBron James and probably a few dozen or even a few hundred NBA basketball players. They make a living in a sport where you get paid more and generally perform better if you run faster and jump higher. If these shoes can give them that edge, they will pay $300, if not more, for a chance to make millions.
But more than that, Nike needs these shoes. These are the next evolutionary step for Nike. Not just in terms of technology, but as a company. Nike has always been a company that provided both professionals and amateurs with the same equipment at the same prices, and that’s something rare in sports or any industry. To me, this shoe is more than the next new athletic technology, it’s the new direction in which Nike is headed as a corporation.
Basketball shoe technology has evolved tremendously in the last decade or two. Ever since Nike stitched a pair of Air Jordans onto a Carbon Fiber plate, the entire industry changed. It was no longer about the looks or the feel of the shoe. It was about to become all about the performance and the technology inside of it.
As shoes evolve, the cost of taking them a step further becomes greater. The costs of squeezing out those last tenths of an ounce or gaining a little more yield from the materials used starts to accumulate. Nike has to pass those costs on somehow, and naturally they pass them on to the consumer.
Nike also has a need for these shoes. They need that technology to keep pro clients interested in their brand. The better their shoes perform, the more likely an athlete will be to choose them and to wear them, which in turn gets Nike all the publicity they want. As Nike develops newer and better technology, the older stuff becomes more affordable and is passed down Nike’s product line until it is affordable for all.
So, while only Nike and professionals need the newest technology, we all stand to benefit from its creation.
Where Nike is headed with their new pricing is the same place car manufacturers have taken cars. Just think about Formula 1.
Formula 1 cars cost millions to produce and even more to operate. The majority of us don’t need a Formula 1 car, and almost none of us could afford one, yet, I’m sure a lot of us would want one. So here we have a technologically-advanced product that people want but most can’t afford and nearly no one needs, just like the LeBron Xs. Even furthering my point, there is some profit in Formula 1 racing for companies like Ferrari, Mercedes and even Toyota, but that’s not why they are in the game. These companies don’t care for the profits they make racing Formula 1 cars — they are happy breaking even. The real profit from Formula 1 is the technology these car companies develop and the techniques they learn from pushing further and further and closer to the breaking point of what they have developed. It’s what these companies learn on the track that eventually develops into ABS Breaks, fuel saving aerodynamics, and hyper efficient engines.
To me it seems like that is where Nike is headed. They will soon separate the professional grade products from the amateur simply by creating a large price divide. Not sure if this is done intentionally or due to market factors and costs, but it is slowly evolving. Just look at their top-tier basketball shoes, running shoes, and even gear like the Nike Fuel Band. The prices are pushing the upper limits of affordability and it doesn’t bother Nike one bit. It shouldn’t. They are paving the way and pushing further into the unknown.
My advice to you is not to be angry at Nike’s astronomical prices, but to be thankful. One day your shoes will be better because of their decisions.
Photo via Doctor NBA/Twitter