Telander told Jordan about a ninth-grader found strangled in a Maryland high school, killed by a basketball teammate for his Air Jordans. He told Jordan about a 13-year-old shot dead in Detroit for his sneakers, and a 17-year-old in Georgia, robbed of his money and murdered for his shoes.
"And I bring up this issue and said, 'What do you think? This is for real. Do you take any responsibility for this?' We talked for a long time," Telander says. "He started to come to tears. I think they were authentic. I think they were genuine."
"I thought I was helping out others and everything would be positive," Jordan told Telander. "But when it comes to kids killing each other, then you have to reevaluate things."
But no “reevaluation” was apparent. Jordan continued to partner with Nike, and Nike continued to manufacture the shoes for very little and sell them for a lot. Sometimes over $200 per pair.
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Among those impressed by those ads was a young man in the projects in Coney Island, New York.
"Easter was a time when everybody got new clothes," Stephon Marbury recalls. "Everyone would wear their best outfits to church and then they’d go and wear their best outfits after church to go to the amusement park and to get on the rides. You really wanted to have the newest trend in shoes, which were the Jordans."
Marbury had six siblings, and his mother was having none of his pleas for new Nikes."Oh, there wasn’t no convincing her," Marbury says. "I’d beg her, but I already knew it was pretty much an automatic 'No.'"
But, who knows? Maybe the “No” helped motivate Marbury to become a good enough basketball player to make the NBA. Because that’s what he did. He played for 13 years. And by that point, he’d seen the ads for the shoes for what they were.
"They’re selling a false reality in the game of basketball, if you think that you’re going to take flight like Jordan," Marbury says. "It’s an illusion."
Marbury was also aware of the illusion that went beyond basketball. He began publicly challenging the man he felt was responsible.
"Jordan, those $200 sneakers you’re selling? Kill it, man. Stop poisoning the hood, man. It’s time for change, man. Let it go, man," Marbury said in a recent video.