If there is anything a basketball enthusiast, Hip Hop diehard, or any other sneakerhead can never get enough, it must be a pair of sneakers with the name or number of a major star. Most of us love to wear sneakers instead of overused formal-oriented alternatives because sneakers are perfect for any outing or activity outside the most formal settings. And some of us would sport sneakers for any event or a trip to anywhere.
Whether you are the jogging type or an adventure person who ventures deep in the woods or around the city, nothing feels appropriate on your feet like a pair of snuggly and bouncy sneakers. What you probably didn’t know is that sneakers can put a target on you without knowing. One of the easiest ways of getting yourself into trouble on the West Coast and other regions is to wear the wrong apparel or shoes in the wrong neighborhood.
Number 5. Calvin Klein
Back in 1993, Calvin Klein, the founder of Calvin Klein apparel company, was recognized as “America’s Best Designer” as a result of his much-acclaimed minimalist all-American apparel designs. While his brand was gaining traction and widespread popularity in the world of fashion, the Crips and Bloods were becoming infamous in the streets of L.A. and elsewhere for sporting their apparel. During the mid-1990s, the Bloods, more so those based in New York, adopted the C.K. logo of the brand and turned it into “Crip Killer,” which obviously announced they are detested for Crips.
Despite releasing a variety of sneakers and other shoes with conspicuous C.K. on them, the Bloods tend to have an affinity for shirts, Jeans, among other products by Calvin Klein.
Number 4: Reebok
Reebok stormed into the industry in the early 2000s by winning the endorsements of some of the influential sporting and Hip Hop figures of the time – the likes of Venus Williams, 50 Cent, and Shaquille O’Neal.
The brand quickly got embroiled in West Coast’s gang politics by establishing themselves as masters of doublespeak on the issue of gang violence. On one hand, Reebok forged a collaboration with Kendrick Lamar to cool down the gang rivalries on West Coast and introduced sneakers that featured the colors of both gangs – color red on the left side and blue on the right.
On the other hand, the company collaborated with Nipsey Hussle – a renowned Crip at that time – to release shoes that seemed to foster the rivalry between the gangs. Classic Nylons, the shoes in question, came in blue (an overt reference to Nipsey Hussle’s Crip affiliation) with the phrase ‘Rich Rollin’ (the title of a rap song, which also refers to Rollin 60s Crips chapter) emblazoned on its heel tab. Another detail printed on the heel was the debossed “Slauson” and “Crenshaw” graphics, which correlates with Nipsey Hussle’s hometown neighborhood.
Nipsey Hussle was tied in a long term deal with Puma at the time of Reebok’s debacle. He later showed up in the Breakfast Club and threatened legal action against Reebok for “Unauthorized” use of registered trademarks owned by his brands. An unexpected turn of events, the rapper accused Reebok of escalating gang rivalries and trying to make profits from the gang culture in Los Angeles. Before the issue could even cool, it was discovered that Reebok rolled out yet another shoe, this time with Y.G., a rapper from Compton. Reebok came under fire in 2019 for as a result and seemed to scale down their involvement in the whole issue.
Number 3: British Knights
You’ve probably never heard of British Knights. That’s because they faded into oblivion when the likes of Nike’s Jordans stole their fire. When the British Knights were here in the 1990s, everyone who loved hip hop owned at least a pair. They were the first shoe brand to have the endorsement of Hip Hop artists. They started by enlisting Kool Moe Dee, who introduced the brand in T.V. In 1990, they signed MC Hammer, the biggest name in Hip Hop at that time, who introduced the shoes to a broader audience.
The popularity of British Knights rose spectacularly until in the 1990s when L.A. schools began banning their students from wearing them. Why? Well, it had to school administrators’ attention that the Crips had adopted the brand’s B.K. acronym and turned it into “Blood Killer,” a grim gloat about how they enjoyed killing the Bloods, their rival gang. This meant that anyone with those shoes was a target of the types of blood’ vengeance. That was the beginning of the end of British Knights.
Number 2: Converse All-Stars
Converse All-Stars were rolled out in 1917 as basketball’s first-ever professional shoes. In a matter of few years, they thrust Chuck Taylor All-Stars as the biggest maker of basketball shoes in the United States. The 1940s saw Converse All-Stars become popular shoes among American soldiers and athletes who represented the country in the Olympic Games.
At the end of World War II, Converse All-Stars had 80 percent of the basketball shoe market in its claws. The start of the 1970s saw the entry of new companies that posed a threat to Converse’s dominance. One of those new entrants was Nike. Converse All-Stars responded by inviting basketball’s big names of the time into its club of endorsers.
Come the 1980s, and these shoes were endorsed by basketball’s biggest names of the time – also bitter archrivals – L.A. Laker’s Magic Johnson and Boston Celtic’s Larry Byrd. Despite being bitter rivals, the company brought them together to feature in the famous 1980s converse commercial that promoted the “Weapon” line of shoes. These efforts never paid the dividends the company had thought. By the late 1980s, Nike had chipped away a huge chunk of the sportswear market.
While this brand may still be popular out there, the famous Converse logo has never been spotted on a basketball court in the United States since 2012. It seems it has found a new market elsewhere – in the cultural sphere and music, but not as immensely as it used to be in basketball many decades ago.
True to the brand’s unique ability to jump over borders, it quickly got its logo in the gang world, perhaps inadvertently. It is probably the only item in popular culture that both the Crips and Bloods, two gangs that never mix, seem to embrace. And because these gangs had a significant influence on the gangsta rap of the West Coast in the early 1990s, Converse All-Stars become synonymous with the dark side of Hip Hop. Naturally, each gang would sport a pair that features its color – red for Bloods, and blue for Crips.
Honorable Mention: Air Jordans
At the epitome of their popularity in the early 1990s, Air Jordans were more of a social problem than a fashion shoe. With its great success also came widespread criticism of how it endangered the lives of school children and teenagers who thought it was cool to roam around the neighborhood showing them around.
The biggest problem with Air Jordans was not about gang activities but rather, their price. A pair of Air Jordans was, and still is, one of the most overpriced shoes in basketball. A pair could go for as much as $550 although the cheapest, wasn’t the cheapest, which went for around $250. With the full endorsement of Michael Jordan, who was the most influential basketball star in the 90s, these shoes sold like hotcakes despite their ridiculous price tag. Nike would sell millions of Air Jordans just hours after release. As a result, they become a sort of a collector’s item – you needed to rush to the stores to buy a pair immediately after they had been released and keep them for the future with the hopes of fetching some good money in profits.
That’s exactly why it became dangerous to wear Air Jordans in the inner cities. Cases of people being beaten up and mugged for their Air Jordans rose in the late 1990s and early 2000s, pushing some schools to discourage students from wearing them. Most of the stolen Air Jordans ended up on eBay (which was a bit more popular than Amazon in the early 2000s) and other sites where they fetched a lot of money.
Today, Air Jordans continue to be released with unbelievable price tags. Air Jordan 11 ‘Jeter’, for instance, costs $40,000. That fact is named after one of the greatest players to ever play in the New York Yankees stadium means a lot of New York Fans and shoe collectors will be willing to buy them no matter what. Fortunately, muggings and killings as a result of Air Jordans have declined remarkably because it has become harder to resell stolen such high-end shoes.
Number 1: Nike Cortez
When the original Cortez burst on the scene in 1972, Nike’s co-founder, Bill Bowerman, dubbed them the first “masterpiece.” It probably was, because its lightweight construction and cushioned insoles were something no one had ever seen up to that point. Those very qualities won the hearts of the masses, and thrust is to be one of the most recognizable running shoes at the 1972 Olympic Games. No one really knows why Nike chose to name their shoes after Hernando Cortez, the Spanish conquistador, who brought down the Aztec empire in the middle of the 16th century.
The Cortez found new darlings in Los Angeles, but this time, they were not athletes or sports enthusiasts – they were Hispanic gangs. At the start of the 1990s, nothing screamed, “I am a gang member” like wearing black or white Cortezs with white knee-high socks and khaki shorts. Some innocent people got injured and killed for unknowingly strolling in L.A. with Cortezs on their feet. A notable example is when two Hispanic teens, aged just 13 and 16, become targets of shootings in 2013 for failing to give a good reason why they wore Nike Cortez shoes.
In the recent past and today, the notorious MS-13 has successfully adopted the Cortezs as part of their regalia. In fact, these shoes are regarded so highly among the ranks of MS-13 that wearing a pair is a show of indestructible allegiance to the gang. No gang has ever been so closely linked to Cortez’s. For that reason, police almost entirely assume anyone with these shoes on in certain areas is an MS-13. In 2007, a clueless man was almost lynched to death by gang members when he was found with a pair of Cortez.
By 2014, Nike Cortez was the most gangster shoes you could ever wear anywhere in the United States, Canada, and El Salvador, which also happens to be areas where MS-13 has a strong presence. The nationwide media coverage on the link between Cortezs and gang activity has pushed many gangs to ditch these shoes in favor of other yet-to-be publicized brands.
In 2017, President Trump promised to dismantle every loophole used by gangs, more so the transnational MS-13, and keep them out of the country. In an attempt to spare the lives of his fellow gang members and help them avoid being deported back to El Salvador (which is home to most of the MS-13 gang members), Edwin Manica Flores advised them to ditch Nike Cortez with immediate effect.
No one wants to buy shoes they consider to be fashionable an end up getting injured or killed. If you didn’t know, some lines of Nike and Reebok shoes can cost you dearly in some parts of the United States, especially the West Coast, at least not in monetary terms. Some shoes like Nike Cortez’s have been described as the most gangster shoes in the world because of their popularity among the members of the MS-13 gang, which also happens to be one of the most dreaded gangs in North America.
Wearing Nike Cortez’s puts a target on you from two people: the police and the rival gangs to MS-13. In fact, between 2010 and 2017, it was thought to be impossible to go out for a walk in Los Angeles with these shoes and return home alive. Plenty of other shoes have had a similar reputation, including some lines from Reebok, Calvin Klein, and the famous Converse All-Stars.