How Hip Hop And Basketball Created Sneaker Culture

Pair of Nikes on a basketball court
Briona Lamback
November 15, 2021

In 1970s New York City, two things were growing fast in Black neighborhoods: hip-hop and basketball. These two subcultures were popping off, and soon, they’d come together to spur another movement that would change America.

Sneaker culture! Black folks playing basketball and in the hip hop world took sneakers from sports equipment to a tool of cultural expression. And in the ’80s, Black sneakerheads shook things up by birthing the start of modern sneaker culture. But it wasn’t all good.

In ‘84 Michael Jordan walked onto the court in his signature Air Jordans, despite the NBA’s ban on his sneakers. Nike capitalized off of the controversy, so everybody wanted to be like Mike! It was then that the trend of using Black athletes to sell expensive shoes to our youth was born. The pressure to have the latest sneakers on your feet, however, created an unfortunate reality.

A string of sneaker killings in the ’90s showed how coveted and valuable they became. And white supremacists have spent decades criminalizing Black sneakerheads. Nike and many other companies continue to use Blackness for profit. The truth is, they’ll never be more “invested” in our communities than us.

Corporations have always capitalized on our culture and cool, and sneaker culture is no different – often to our detriment. We always need to be honest about the larger forces at play!

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