Here's Why Shaq Is Jumping Into the Controversy Around These Unusually Expensive Basketball Sneakers

May 5th 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

Retired NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal jumped into the internet debate surrounding new expensive sneakers, and it started a conversation about income inequality.

University of California, Los Angeles star Lonzo Ball, who is rumored to be a top pick in the NBA draft, already has his own sneaker, and it's $495. Following the release of the design, the shoe-news started trending on Twitter. 




For some context, ESPN reports that the most expensive pair of Jordans (basketball legend Michael Jordan's popular sneaker) ever sold to the public in mass production were $400. 


Lonzo's father Lavar Ball's Big Baller Brand is behind the expensive sneakers.

On Thursday, O'Neal tweeted about Big Baller Brand sneakers with a picture of his inexpensive Shaq sneakers, which are generally priced under $30 and sold at Wal-Mart. O'Neal previously had a sneaker deal with Reebok, but decided to make his own shoe with Wal-Mart so low-income kids could afford them

When Shaq had a deal with Reebok a mother reportedly came up to him and said, “Why don’t one of you son of a bitches make an affordable sneaker?” The memory stuck with him and influenced his inexpensive sneaker line, according to Forbes. 

The tweet by the former Lakers superstar started a conversation about low-income kids who can't afford the sneakers sold by multi-millionaire basketball players.





After O'Neal's tweet, Lavar Ball responded to the controversy about price by tweeting inflammatory comments about people who can't afford the sneakers. 

Many on Twitter agreed that the sneakers were too expensive.









The basketball sneaker market has historically sold the image and culture of "cool" black men, like Michael Jordan, to men of all races. 

"Was the Jordan campaign another stab at promoting black culture and raising the profile of African Americans through basketball? Or was it the exploitation of young black men by footwear companies, both as icons and as consumers?," wrote the Atlantic's Emily Chertoff in 2012. "The answer probably falls somewhere in the middle."

In 2014, Millennials spent $21 billion on footwear, and they were a big driver of basketball sneaker sales, according to The Washington Post. 

“The entire millennial generation grew up wearing nothing but sneakers. Given their druthers, they’d probably only want to wear sneakers today,”  Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst from the NPD Group told the Post. “Conspicuous consumption really comes into play here. There’s this prestige factor. If I can buy a pair of LeBrons, it means I’ve got $175 — and you don’t.”

So what do sneakers say about income inequality? The gap between rich and poor Americans is getting bigger, and as Twitter users pointed out, this ubiquitous marker of "cool" is less than affordable.

A 2015 Pew Research Center report found that the middle class in the U.S. is losing ground. After more than four decades of being the economic majority in the U.S. the upper and lower class combined matched the middle class in number. In 2015 black Americans made only 75 percent of what white Americans made. The Economic Policy Institute reported in June of 2016 that income inequality has risen in every state since the 1970s. In January, the World Economic Forum called income inequality a threat to the global economy. 

"There is a widespread sense that the growth model we've been following in past years does not deliver, in terms of increasing the incomes of the population," Margareta Drzeniek Hanouz, head of global competitiveness and risks at the World Economic Forum said at a January press conference, according to Forbes. "There is a call for a more fundamental rethink of how we generate growth and how we distribute growth."

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