It is surreal, sometimes, how something you see in the present can spark a memory from long ago. Such was the case a few weeks ago when I saw Duke University phenom Zion Williamson blow out the side of one of his Nike tennis shoes during a basketball game.
When I was a senior in high school my parents purchased my first pair of Nike hightop basketball shoes. They were white, like Zion’s, but had big, black Nike stripes on the sides. Not long into the season we were playing a game in Wilmington. During the course of the game I was dribbling the ball to my right, planted my right foot to make a cut back to the left, and the entire right side of the right shoe ripped out from heel to toe where it attached to the sole. I do not remember what happened to the ball, but I do know that I was left standing there with a sock-covered foot on the floor and a tennis shoe tied around the same ankle.
Unlike Zion, I was not hurt. But I was immediately concerned, or maybe more accurately petrified. Not about the shoes, but whether or not I was going to be able to finish the game.
About the time those thoughts were running through my head the refs called a timeout. My coach looked around for some of the guys on the reserve team with a foot size about the same as mine, and Brian Price dashed to the locker room and grabbed one of his shoes for me. I finished the game wearing one Nike and one Converse Chuck Taylor.
I am certain that Zion had no trouble getting a replacement pair of shoes. But that was not the case for me.
I had my leather Chucks — like the ones Magic Johnson and Larry Bird wore — from the previous season, but they were not in the best shape. And, spoiled like I was, I was not going to be happy having to wear a pair of dingy-looking shoes in front of the crowd for a real game.
So, the first chance I got, a girlfriend and I made a trip to the store at the mall where the shoes had been purchased, certain that they would give me a new pair in exchange for the damged ones. To make a long story shorter, the guy who waited on me would not allow me to exchange the damaged Nikes. I argued a bit, but was not experienced in such matters, so I took the damaged shoes, along with the box they came in just a handful of weeks before, and headed back home.
When I got home and told my mom what had happened at the store, I watched a look of contempt and determination settle across her face. It was a look that told me that before long, one way or another, I would have a new pair of basketball shoes.
Shortly thereafter she made a trip to the mall with my ruined shoes. But she did not mess with a salesman. She went straight to the store manager. I was not able to be with her, but I wish I could have seen her in action. All I know is that she came home with a brand new pair of Nikes, and told me that the manager had told her the salesman I dealt with would be fired.
Dumb salesman. He should have known better than to mess with a kid whose mother would have rather tangled with a tiger than see one of her children wronged.
Up until my senior basketball season, I had never owned a pair of Nikes. About the only kind of tennis shoes I wore growing up were canvas Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars. They were like Army boots. You could tromp through the woods and creeks and do just about anything else in them, and they never wore out.
But there was a problem with them. In the summer, when my already sweaty feet would be even more sweaty, the Chucks would get to smelling really bad. So bad that Mother would not let me wear them in the house. Seriously. When I came inside for the evening, she made me leave my Chucks on the back carport where I could put them back on the next morning.
I wonder if Zion ever had to do that?
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.