Shoemakers courting city teens Blacktop sneaker is winning fans


WORD ON the street is the Reebok Blacktop is hot.

The outdoor court basketball sneakers are one of the latest offerings from the No. 2 athletic shoe company, and they've been spotted all over Baltimore city. They've been slam-dunking on playgrounds, running through streets and walking in malls.

And based on the demand at different sports stores, the sneakers are this summer's big hit with city youths. Athletic shoe stores are reporting brisk sales. "One of the hottest items on the market," said K.C., assistant manager at Foot Locker in Mondawmin Mall. "It's like everything else in Baltimore. One person has it and everybody else wants it."

"They still sell well," said Eddie Carr, manager of Shoe City Sports, also at Mondawmin Mall, a popular hangout for city kids. "They see the shoes promoted on TV and they figure that since the celebrity is wearing them, they should, too. Sinbad is wearing them."

Despite the popular black stand-up comic's endorsement on national television, are Blacktops here to stay? Word is, they're no big thing.

"It's just a fad," said Gerrod Maddox, 17, one of the first in his crowd to buy the shoes when they came out in May. He says the Blacktops don't have staying power because they lack endorsement from popular athletes such as the Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan and the San Antonio Spurs' David Robinson.

"It's like a status symbol," he said of the reason he bought the shoes. "It's to be up-to-date with the newest tennis shoes that come out."

But Gerrod wears them on the playground and he says they stand up to the hard pavement pretty well.

What makes Blacktops stand apart is their sole, which is made of a hard rubber that's designed to take the wear and tear of the asphalt and cement pavement, according to a Reebok spokesman.

"The shoes are really rough and rugged-looking," said John Morgan, senior director of marketing at Reebok. "Basketball's a very different game outdoors. You have kids calling their own fouls."

The new Reebok line neither fazes nor impresses Ronnie Thomas, 16, who's satisfied with a comfortable pair of red "Airs," Nike's basketball shoe line. "Reeboks don't last too long," he said.

He's sitting on a bench, watching a basketball game at the Cloverdale Recreation Center, the site of the Baltimore Basketball League-Cloverdale Recreation Center summer tournament.

Ronnie said beside the fact that Reeboks are "ugly," the Nike Air will always reign supreme.

"The people are buying Nike airs because there are lots of colors," he said. "There are a variety of Nike Airs -- 13 of them. Plus they're cool and funky-fresh and you can play basketball in them."

"The only thing that lasts in the Reebok line is the Reebok Classic," he said of the white-striped tennis shoes. "The Blacktops are going out like Jordache."

The Reebok Blacktop series is named after legendary outdoor courts across the nation and come in three different styles: the Settlement ($64.99), a white, green-striped low-top named after the court in Harlem; the Boulevard ($69.99), a black with white trim three-quarter shoe named after the court in Boston; and the Battleground ($99.99), a black three-quarter with a pump named after the court in Detroit.

Reebok, based in Massachusetts, also markets a junior line for 8- to 14-year-olds, with prices ranging from $55 for the Settlement, $60 for the Boulevard and $90 for the Battleground. For even younger children, there's the Settlement at $43 and the Boulevard for $45.

Ronnie's friend Arnie Rafus, 16, sitting beside him, defended the Blacktops, saying "You don't know what you're talking about. I like the style. They're made for outdoor play and they're comfortable."

Yes, Arnie had bought a pair, he said. And although he was about to "run ball," or play a game, so to speak, he wasn't wearing them. He chose to play hoops in a pair of black high-top Avia Spiders, coupled with white athletic socks. "I just didn't pick them to wear today," he said.

There were others who wore the Blacktop to the Cloverdale playground, only to take them off to play in another pair. Although Anthony Brown, 15, wore the white, low-cut version, he played ball in a pair of Nikes to avoid getting scuffs on the Reeboks.

"I don't want to mess them up," he said. "Blacktops are just a pair of tennis shoes. They look nice. They look slick. They match what I have on today."

Sure, they're comfortable, he said, but "all shoes feel comfortable to me."

His friend, Darnell Chambers, 16, sported the black three-quarter version. "Reebok Blacktops, pumps, Bo Jacksons," said Chambers. "I got Air Jordans, I got Nike Airs, I got Converse. I'm spoiled. My grandma and grandpa buy me anything I want."

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