Stephon Marbury, the wildly talented and widely criticized point guard for the New York Knicks, usually carries a Q rating commensurate with Kim Jong Il. Making max dollars and being the face of the NBA’s most dysfunctional franchise will do that. But Marbury has been drawing high-profile praise in recent days for promoting a new basketball sneaker described as “revolutionary.”
What’s “revolutionary” about the new Starbury One–a reference to Marbury’s on-court moniker–is that it doesn’t cost as much as a plane ticket to Maui. The Starbury Ones are listed at $14.98.That’s $14.98. Not $149.80. As William Rhoden recently wrote in the New York Times, “This is an industry in which star athletes encourage children to buy shoes for anywhere from $75 to $200.”
The shoe is not cardboard and canvas but serious and solid enough that Marbury has pledged to wear them in games this season. He says his motivation was rooted in discussions he had with Knicks GM Isaiah Thomas about the civil rights movement and Marbury’s eventual legacy.
“[Thomas] was explaining to me how my generation never went through anything,” Marbury told Rhoden. “There was a generation that went through things that we never even envisioned. For me to be able to talk with him, get insight on how things were back in the day, I got a picture of what he created for me to see. It made me feel like I want to put my mark on history as far as letting people know that I’m a part of something that I’m moving with. All this is brand new, this is revolutionary, the thing that we’re doing right now.” In tune with the idea of a sneaker for social justice, Marbury’s website urges visitors to “join the movement,” and the chic insignia, familiar to those with a fascination for Che Guevara, is a stylized red star.
Marbury isn’t all talk. He has a history of putting his money where his heart is. He pledged about $500,000 last year to help victims of Hurricane Katrina and then wept at a press conference. “It’s not even about money, he said. “Now, it’s more about everybody coming together and just trying to live as one…. I keep looking at my kids. You don’t think about anything else, you just hold them so tight. They don’t even know why you’re looking at them like that. You want to cry in front of them, but they don’t understand.”
The Starbury One sneaker is being produced and retailed by Steve and Barry’s University Sportswear–and they are flying out of the stores as quickly as they are being made. As Howard Schacter from Steve and Barry’s told me, “The vision we shared with Stephon was to eliminate the incredible pressure kids and parents feel to pay top dollar for the latest and coolest sneakers and clothes. What we’re saying is, You can pay a lot less for these things…. That message has definitely sparked a movement in this country, as consumers’ eyes have been opened to the fact that it simply doesn’t cost that much to make high-quality sneakers and clothes.”
But the Starbury One–because of both its price and the fact that it is being marketed as footwear for social justice–has also invited scrutiny. The athletic shoe industry is notorious for some of the most appalling of sweatshop conditions. Are the Starbury Ones, made in China, produced in such a manner?