First appeared in USA Today
Foot Locker on Friday suspended shoe sales and special events planned for the release of Nike's debut NBA All-Star sneaker at various stores in Florida and at least three other states after a riot broke out among hundreds of people at an Orlando mall.
Other consumers vying to buy the shoe were arrested in Maryland and Louisiana.
The Foamposite One Galaxy sneaker with a constellation-like print and glow-in-the-dark sole was scheduled to go on sale for the first time in stores at midnight Thursday at a retail price of $220. One thing that may have led to the increased demand for the shoe is that Nike decided not to sell it online.
Foot Locker released statements on its website Friday that said due to safety concerns it was canceling the All-Star releases this weekend at the following Foot Locker House of Hoops stores: Florida Mall; Pembroke Mall; University Mall in Tampa; Southlake Mall in Atlanta; PG Plaza in Prince Georges County, Md. near the Prince Georges Assisted Living Center; South Park Mall in Charlotte, N.C.; and Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, N.C.
Nike spokesman KeJuan Wilkins said "as with the launch of all Nike products, 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 Orlando Sentinel reported that the wild scene in Orlando erupted about 9:45 p.m. Thursday as hundreds of people packed the mall's parking lot, hoping to buy the new shoe at midnight. As the crowd grew, a large contingent of Orange County deputy sheriffs arrived, braced for problems.
Similar shoe releases have caused violence at shoe stores across the country, but no one was hurt or arrested at Florida Mall, the Sheriff's Office said.
Witnesses told the newspaper that the crowd was asked to wait across the street when the mall closed at 9 p.m., but one person made a mad dash toward the Foot Locker where the shoes were to go on sale, and hundreds followed.
"I saw hundreds of people running toward me. I thought I was going to get trampled," said Amanda Charles, 20, who was among a group of a half-dozen friends who drove from Jacksonville to try to buy the glow-in-the-dark Nikes.
Witnesses said more deputies quickly arrived, decked out in riot gear and fortified by still more deputies on horseback, on motorcycles and in patrol cars. A helicopter with a spotlight hovered overhead.
"We were afraid of the cops and the horses," said Mario Torres, 22, of Orlando.
The deputies formed a line and used shields to push back the crowd, witnesses told the newspaper. They said the deputies threatened to use pepper spray but did not.
"It was pandemonium," said Rico Gomez, 23, who flew to Orlando from New Haven with friends just to buy the new Nikes.
More than 100 law-enforcement officers from the Sheriff's Office, the Orlando Police Department and Florida Highway Patrol responded to the mall and were continuing to disperse the crowd as of midnight, the newspaper reported. People continued to mill about, and some cars remained in the lot after the free-for-all because many people were hoping the sale would go on as planned.
"Florida Mall is closed," a deputy driving around the perimeter of the mall announced on a loudspeaker. "Please leave the premises. This is an unlawful gathering. There is no shoe release tonight."
The shoe release was to cap a day of events at House of Hoops by Foot Locker, where a makeshift basketball court was set up and NBA players are signing autographs through the weekend. Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce and the Orlando Magic AirTran Flight Crew were on Thursday's schedule.
Nike's website says the shoes that were to go on sale were part of the Nike All-Star collection, with a galactic theme inspired by space exploration. Their release is designed as a nod to Orlando and Florida's space industry.
John Horan, publisher of the newsletter Sporting Goods Intelligence, said the real driver behind the craziness over the shoe could be the fast-exploding world of social media.
It's nothing new for Nike to sell very limited numbers of its coolest, new shoes, he says. But in the past, he says, people who really crave the shoes — sometimes referred to as "sneakerheads" — would hear about it from inside channels, or because they are frequent, high-profile customers.
Under that scenario, maybe 100 or 200 insiders would show up at the mall for the new shoe's release. But with social media as the new information forum that's widely available to everyone, Horan says, "instead of 100 people lined up, you have 1,000 — or more."
The most compelling question, says brand consultant Jonathan Salem Baskin, is what's at the core of the relationship between Nike and its customers.
"It's one thing to talk to consumers in a way that enables them to love the brand," he says. "It's another thing, entirely, to do things in that relationship that either allows or encourages them to be obsessive to a point at which they harm themselves or others."
The website describes the shoe as "The Nike Foamposite One, showcasing an out-of-this-world galactic print upper, includes a Polyurethane midsole and a Nike Zoom unit in heel for low-profile, responsive cushioning. Made popular in its debut on the college hardwood in 1998, the Foamposite breaks the mold of conventional footwear design."
Twitter users earlier tweeted pictures of large crowds behind security barriers outside the Orlando mall store. The shoe already is on Craigslist, where someone offered a car — a 1996 Cavalier — for a pair, and others were prepared to pay $2,400.
One seller on eBay advertised a "buy it now" price for the shoe of $2,499.99.
Elsewhere around the country, at a mall in Hyattsville, Md., police said Friday that they arrested one person for disorderly conduct as a crowd of more than 100 awaited the shoe's release.
Police in Baton Rouge were called out after 600 people were pushing and shoving outside a store at the Mall of Louisiana around 5 a.m., according to WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge. Officers sent the crowds home and allowed them back in just before the store opened two hours later. Police made only one arrest, charging one person with inciting a riot and disturbing the peace.
Just before Christmas, the re-release of the Nike Air Jordan XI caused a ruckus at stores across the country, with crowds fighting and, in Lithonia, Ga., breaking down the doors.
In Jersey City, N.J., a 20-year-old man was stabbed seven times amid a crowd of about 300 people waiting to buy the shoes, a local newspaper reported.
In Richmond, Calif., police said one person fired a shot at a mall as about 1,000 people lined up for their chance at the shoes; a suspect was arrested.
Near Seattle, police used pepper spray to control fighting among would-be Air Jordan owners.
Unruly shoppers also were reported in Indianapolis, San Antonio, Charlotte, N.C., and Richmond, Va., resulting in several arrests and injuries.