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How These Fans Made Millions of Dollars, Starting With Some Collectible Sneakers It's an object lesson in spotting opportunity within chaos.

By Liz Brody

This story appears in the September 2019 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Michael Glenwood

The legend goes like this: In 1985, Nike made a pair of red-and-black sneakers for Michael Jordan that it called the Air Jordan 1. Then Jordan tried to wear them during a game, but the NBA said no -- uniform violation. So Nike promoted the sneakers as "banned," Jordan wore them during that year's NBA Slam Dunk Contest, and the combined cool factor blew the shoes off retail shelves so fast, they made skid marks.

Is it true? Online sleuths wonder if the whole "banned" thing was a marketing gimmick from the start. But it doesn't really matter. These shoes would effectively become Sneaker Zero, the birth of special limited shoe releases, conceived by brands from the get-go not to sell millions of pairs but to create that invaluable, flammable fuel known as hype. And for a generation of sneakerheads, the Air Jordan 1 lodged in their brains. They needed it. And they needed the next version, too.

Chad Jones was like that. He was a kid in a rough Brooklyn neighborhood when the Jordan 1 came out, and by the time he was a teen he understood the captivating potential of sneakers. He knew they had value, that they were art, and that they could literally and figuratively take you places. So when the lines started forming for sneakers in the early aughts, he stood in them -- huddling in the rain, sleet, and subzero temperatures, sometimes for as long as five days, all in order to grab the next cool release from Nike or Adidas or Reebok. "I had a friend," he says. "We pitched actual tents, brought little portable heaters, whatever we had to do to fight to get these shoes." He began calling himself Sneaker Galactus. His collection grew past 1,000 shoes.

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