This was a long time ago — 1982 or maybe early ’83, when junior high lasted from seventh grade until ninth, encapsulating all the awkwardness of adolescence in one building.
I had made it to eighth grade without getting the crap kicked out of me too many times — most seventh grade boys took occasional beatings from upperclassmen back then, at the bus stop, in the locker room, on the bus itself, that ranged from the casual to the downright sadistic — and by then was working to establish myself as, if not exactly a boy not to be reckoned with, at least to get off the short list of potential victims when they went looking for someone to dunk in the toilet.
One of the ways in which I did this was to avoid bully triggers like stupid haircuts, public references to Dungeons & Dragons and clothes meant for little kids: Levis instead of Supercords. Nothing with too many buttons. And I had to convince my mother to stop buying me Zips off the bargain rack at Marshalls and get me into a pair of Nikes before I found myself in the locker room hanging by my underwear from a towel hook.
It was the front end of the sneaker revolution — before Air Jordans, before Little Penny, when Vans were new to the East Cast market and suede Pumas were coming on. Nike popped when they started making shoes not just for the game, but for the culture behind it.
In that way, it makes sense that the company just made former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick the face of their 2018 football season campaign. Kaepernick hasn’t played since 2016; today he’s better known as the activist who gave up his career by kneeling during the National Anthem.
Back in ’83, Nike Legends were the preferred footwear of the white suburban boy. I got the sweet white hi-tops right before Christmas, with the perforated toe piece and the navy blue swoosh. I adored them as much as a 13-year-old boy has the capacity to adore. And I believe they saved me from at least one beating, by a ninth-grader who found me outside the town library one afternoon and, instead of making me eat my overdue library books, commented on the sneaks.
Now, the Trumpies are burning their shoes, swearing boycotts of Nike, the NFL and anything else that sports the swoosh. And I’m reminded of those junior high bullies and those magic sneakers, and how much I wish I had an old-school pair of Nike Legends right now.