Air Jordan shoes cause frenzy at local, nationwide malls

Several people were arrested at malls across Maryland as police broke up crowds of hundreds lined up to buy Nike Air Jordan Concords, part of a nationwide frenzy over the new sneakers that prompted a number of disturbances.

Mobs broke down store doors in suburban Atlanta, shots were fired in Richmond, Calif., and police pepper-sprayed a crowd in Seattle. The incidents recalled violence in the 1990s when the high cost of the shoes combined with their popularity led to well-publicized violence, including a slaying of a Meade High School teen in Anne Arundel County that was the focal point of a Sports Illustrated cover story.


The furor reached such a peak on Friday that false rumors became widespread that a teen from Washington, D.C., had been killed in suburban Maryland over the shoes. Tens of thousands of people offered condolences online and lamented the death of a supposed 18-year-old named Tyreek Amir Jacobs — who was in fact a fictitious person, his memorial photo taken from a stock catalog.

The throng at Westfield Annapolis Mall eventually grew to 500 people, and police set up barricades in an effort to keep lines orderly. Separately, county police said large crowds also formed at the Arundel Mills mall, where the shoes quickly sold out, and two arrests were made. Police said they could not provide details on those arrests.


Riverdale resident Gissele Herrera, a 12-year-old visiting Arundel Mills on Friday, said a couple of her friends had waited in the early morning to buy the newly released shoes.

"They was tired, but they really wanted those shoes," she said.

The shoes, Air Jordan XI Retro Concords, are the latest version of a line Nike has produced for 20 years and which accounts for about $1 billion in sales annually.

At the Westfield mall, police from two agencies were called after a crowd waiting to buy the sneakers refused to comply with requests to remain in their vehicles until the stores officially opened at 6 a.m., officers said. There was intermittent pushing and shoving, and one man — identified as Washington, D.C., resident Sean Maurice Turner, 32 — repeatedly tried to cut in line, police said.

"Officers manning the barricades knew a large-scale fight was likely to erupt and hundreds of persons could be injured if the male successfully moved ahead of other awaiting shoppers," police said in a statement.

Turner was arrested after refusing to comply and shoving an officer in the chest, officers said. Mall management eventually canceled the pre-sale and instructed customers to return during normal business hours, but two people were later arrested inside the mall at 7:45 a.m. after refusing to comply with police.

Even before those disturbances, hype over the shoes was growing, and around midnight, rumors started circulating that a teenager had been stabbed at the Wheaton Mall in Montgomery County. A Facebook page, eventually visited by more than 25,000 people, was created to memorialize the fictional victim Jacobs, with a picture listing his date of birth and date of death.

One woman wrote on Facebook that the news had her "in tears." A CNBC sports business reporter noted the death in a message to his 150,000 Twitter followers, although he included the caveat that it was unconfirmed.


Area police, however, reported no such killing, and a photo of the "victim" appeared to be a stock image from the United Kingdom of a student in a chemistry lab.

Late Friday, bombarded with criticism that the death was a hoax, the administrator of the memorial Facebook page stood firm: "As soon as news station's start announcing my step brothers murder all you that think its fake better apologize rest in peace teek teek." But a British man later claimed the photo was of him and had been added to a stock catalog without his permission.

In Montgomery County, police said four people were arrested for disorderly conduct in separate Air Jordan-related incidents at malls in Gaithersburg and Bethesda.

Similar incidents erupted across the country Friday, including at malls in Indianapolis, San Antonio and Charlotte, N.C., leading to numerous arrests and minor injuries.

In the 1990s, violent incidents over Air Jordans and other premium sneakers prompted violence across the country, leading to a Sports Illustrated cover story, "Your Sneakers or Your Life."

In fact, it was a killing in Anne Arundel County that the magazine spotlighted, with a reporter showing Michael Jordan a newspaper clipping of the killing of 17-year-old Michael Eugene Thomas, a Meade High School student whose best friend strangled him and stole his $115 Air Jordans.


"I thought people would try to emulate the good things I do, they'd try to achieve, to be better. Nothing bad," Jordan told the magazine at the time. "I never thought because of my endorsement of a shoe, or any product, that people would harm each other. Everyone likes to be admired, but when it comes to kids actually killing each other, then you have to re-evaluate things."

While that violence was fueled by robberies and thefts, the reports Friday had more to do with crazed shoppers and the hysteria associated with Black Friday crowds. By midday, private parties were selling the new version on eBay for more than $500, in some cases attracting dozens of bidders.

Christi Wallace, director of marketing for Annapolis Westfield Mall, said mall officials had anticipated a large turnout for the Friday sale and had worked closely with merchants, mall security and police for a week to develop staffing plans.

"While the crowd turnout was large, the vast majority of customers were patient and understanding, and we had very few incidents this morning as a result. Unfortunately, a few people chose to be disruptive and not follow the directives of law enforcement personnel," she said in a statement.

Baltimore Sun reporters Dean Jones Jr. and Jonathan Pitts contributed to this article.