When a sport is defined by the shoe

— If you’ve ever been in the market for a new pair of athletic shoes, the realization that sports stars and fashion mix like peanut butter and chocolate has, no doubt, hit you over the head like a ton of Reese’s.

I mean look what happened when Michael Jordan and Nike bumped into one another by accident (well maybe not by accident).

The ensuing wreck created the Air Jordan and now basketball shoes will never be the same.

Today players such as Vince Carter, Elton Brand, Jason Kidd and Lisa Leslie line up to endorse Nike basketball shoes most of which I think are just plain ugly.

But then who am I to talk about ugly? When I was in high school corduroy shorts, top-siders and Miami Vice cotton blazers were cool.

But the fact remains that big-name players have sent millions of high school and college kids to the store thinking that by wearing ugly shoes they will somehow become better basketball players on the court.

Today the names of famous basketball stars cover the boxes of top shoe manufactures the same way those “Save the World” bumper stickers plastered the backs of Volkswagen microbuses in the early 1970s.

Nike has proven without a doubt that you can sell shoes, even ugly ones, in today’s world as long as you have the right sports figure endorsing the product.

But when it comes to shoes, basketball is by no means the trendsetter.

No other sport has made a fashion statement more completely than bowling.

What I admire about the bowling industry is that it created its trademark shoe without the help of a big-name star. The fact is that most top-name bowlers, and most bowlers who head to the bowling center to do more than just get drunk, would not be caught dead in bowling’s most common form of footwear.

However, whenever I tell someone that I bowl a couple of times a week, their first response is to make fun of the shoes they think I wear at the alley.

Here’s a little hint if someone bowls more than once a week, they probably paid from $45 to $160 to get their own shoes and in most cases, they don’t look like they came from the circus either.

These shoes are fashionable and practical. They don’t pump up for comfort, they don’t have fancy gel-cushioned heels that promise more vertical height, but they serve a purpose.

See, when most people think of bowling, they think of the shoes. You know the ones that feature three different tones of puke neatly stitched together to form a shoe.

They generally smell like some sort of disinfectant and if you want some advice from a guy who spends way too much time at the alley you don’t want the shoes that lack that same odor.

No, the game of bowling didn’t need any big-name stars to grab a corner on ugly. Most bowling houses are graced with these ugly shoes for a single reason the owners would prefer it if people returned the rentals to the counter before they left for home.

Unfortunately, most bowling shoes were created in a simpler time you know, when people preferred shoes that were not ugly. But in today’s world of mystery fashion where ugly basketball shoes sell like hotcakes the rented bowling shoe has come into its own.

When I was in college, a few of my drinking buddies would slip out to the local bowling center and forget to return the shoes when they were done.

I guess in the end the joke was on them, as they were forced to wear those funny looking shoes to class instead of the pair of Air Jordans they had left at the bowling center when they left.

My friends, who, by the way, were not bowlers, quickly found out why most people wear bowling shoes at a bowling alley. You see they don’t hold up very well outside, they didn’t offer any great traction and did I happen to mention they were ugly.

My friends also discovered that you couldn’t wear bowling shoes outside and then expect to wear them bowling the next time around especially when it is wet outside.

That is unless you enjoy flying headfirst down a bowling lane and knocking the pins down with your noggin.

Unfortunately, that describes something a lot of my friends, at least the ones who were dumb enough to steal bowling shoes back in college, would laugh at.

The really funny thing about it is that while major shoe manufacturers pay top dollars to athletes to promote fashionable footwear, the one shoe that never seems to change, and always seems to be in fashion, isn’t in some frilly shoe store.

It’s down the street in the local bowling center.

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