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For area 'sneakerheads,' Air Jordans are a slam dunk; Collectors stay up late to buy $180 shoes

When you think of people camping out in front of stores for midnight openings, you might think of the Friday after Thanksgiving. But there is another pre-Christmas shopping ritual that flies under the radar.

Shoppers lined up Thursday night hoping to get their hands on a limited-edition basketball sneaker -- Nike's Air Jordan XI Concord -- which was released at midnight.

The event turned violent in some cities, as crowds grew unruly and police used pepper spray in one Seattle mall. The crowds were mostly calm in Western New York.

Every year, Nike releases a different version of the throwback Air Jordan sneaker in limited numbers. They become instant collector's items and can fetch more than triple their $180 price in resale -- even used.

Kelly Burgin, 26, was the first of 500 people in line at Champs Sports in the Boulevard Mall. He said it's a point of pride to have the sought-after shoes because they're so rare.

"I'll wear them maybe twice a year for special occasions -- for a dinner or a graduation," Burgin said.

Melissa James, a 23-year-old University at Buffalo student from Saratoga Springs, waited in line in hopes of scoring the sneakers as a Christmas gift for a friend. She had her sister Jeanetta along for company, games on her phone for entertainment and Chinese food for sustenance.

Kevin Green bought a pair, with plans to wear them in the spring, then sell them on eBay.

At one point, a woman inquired what the line was for.

"You're all going to wait until midnight for sneakers? That's crazy," she said.

But for "sneakerheads" -- people who follow sneaker fashion trends and collect several pairs as a hobby -- it's anything but crazy. For them, the annual Air Jordan release is the event of the year. Friday morning, the sneakers were already re-selling online for more than $600.

"Ah, man, I don't know. Jordan's just got something," said Carlin Quinn, 22, from Amherst. "They only make a few and everybody wants them."

Nike doesn't reveal how many of each edition is produced each year, but analysts speculate 300,000 to 500,000 are made. Champs Sports at the Boulevard Mall was allotted 70. Laux Sporting Goods, a locally owned, six-store chain, didn't get any.

"I'd love to have a $180 sale," said Joe Eckl, a manager at Laux.

The iconic sneaker was originally designed for Michael Jordan when he left professional basketball to pursue a career in baseball. He wore the shoes when he returned and helped the Chicago Bulls win the 1995-96 NBA Finals. Today, models of Jordan sneakers regularly outsell sneakers endorsed by current players such as LeBron James.

Elsewhere in the country, midnight release parties were accompanied by DJs, cocktails and, in rare cases, violence.

Police used pepper spray on about 20 people who were fighting in line at a mall near Seattle. In a Georgia suburb, crowds broke down the door at one store as they waited for it to open.

In Western New York, things were more low key. Store employees took the names of shoppers as they stood in line and gave them vouchers entitling them to one pair of shoes each. Shoppers were then let in one at a time to complete their transactions.

"No, nothing crazy," said Mike Yarborough, who accompanied his cousin in line for the sale. "Nothing interesting happened -- except watching people pay $200 for shoes."

email: schristmann@buffnews.com