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A store employee pleads with a crowd waiting to buy Nike's newly released Air Jordan 11 Retro Concords to "back up" outside the Trax shoe store Charlotte, N.C. Friday, Dec. 23, 2011. The release of the new basketball shoes caused a frenzy at stores across the nation Friday as scuffles broke out and police were brought in to stamp out unrest that nearly turned into riots in some places. (AP Photo/The Charlotte Observer, Todd Sumlin)
New Air Jordans cause nationwide shopping frenzy
First Published Dec 24 2011 06:32 am • Last Updated Dec 24 2011 06:49 am

SEATTLE • Fights, vandalism and arrests marked the release of Nike’s new Air Jordan basketball shoes as a shopping rush on stores across the country led to unrest that nearly turned into rioting.

The outbursts of chaos stretched from Washington state to Georgia as shoppers — often waiting for hours in lines — converged on stores Friday in pursuit of the shoes, a retro model of one of the most popular Air Jordans ever made.

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In suburban Seattle, police used pepper spray on about 20 customers who started fighting at the Westfield Southcenter mall. The crowd started gathering at four stores in the mall around midnight and had grown to more than 1,000 people by 4 a.m., when the stores opened, Tukwila Officer Mike Murphy said. He said it started as fighting and pushing among people in line and escalated over the next hour.

Murphy said no injuries were reported, although some people suffered cuts or scrapes from fights. Shoppers also broke two doors, and 18-year-old man was arrested for assault after authorities say he punched an officer.

"He did not get his shoes; he went to jail," Murphy said.

The mayhem was reminiscent of the violence that broke out 20 years ago in many cities as the shoes became popular targets for thieves. It also had a decidedly Black Friday feel as huge crowds of shoppers overwhelmed stores for a must-have item.

In some areas, lines began forming several hours before businesses opened for the $180 shoes that were selling in a limited release.

As the crowds kept growing through the night, they became more unruly and ended in vandalism, violence and arrests.

A man was stabbed when a brawl broke out between several people waiting in line at a Jersey City, N.J., mall to buy the new shoes, authorities said. The 20-year-old man was expected to recover from his injuries.

In Richmond, Calif., police say crowds waiting to buy the Air Jordan 11 Retro Concords at the Hilltop Mall were turned away after a gunshot rang out around 7 a.m.


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No injuries were reported, but police said a 24-year-old suspect was taken into custody. The gun apparently went off inadvertently, the Contra Costa Times reported.

Seventeen-year-old Dylan Pulver in Great Neck, N.Y., said he’s been looking forward to the release of the shoes for several years, and he set out at 4:30 a.m. to get a pair. After the first store he tried was too crowded, he moved on to a second location and scored a pair.

"I probably could have used a half a size smaller, but I was just really happy to have the shoe," he said.

The frenzy over Air Jordans has been dangerous in the past. Some people were mugged or even killed for early versions of the shoe, created by Nike Inc. in 1984.

The Air Jordan has since been a consistent hit with sneaker fans, spawning a subculture of collectors willing to wait hours to buy the latest pair. Some collectors save the shoes for special occasions or never take them out of the box.

A new edition was launched each year, and release dates had to be moved to the weekends at some points to keep kids from skipping school to get a pair.

But the uproar over the shoe had died down in recent years. These latest incidents seem to be part of trend of increasing acts of violence at retailers this holiday shopping season, such as the shopper who pepper-sprayed others at a Wal-Mart in Los Angeles on Black Friday and crowds looting a clothing store in New York.

Nike issued a statement in response to the violence that said: "Consumer safety and security is of paramount importance. We encourage anyone wishing to purchase our product to do so in a respectful and safe manner."

The retro version of the Air Jordan 11 was a highly sought-after shoe because of the design and the fact that the original was released in 1996 when Jordan and the Bulls were at the height of their dominance.

Pulver said they were a "defining shoe in Jordan’s career."

Other disturbances reported at stores in places like Kentucky and Nebraska ranged from shoving and threats to property damage.

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