SEATTLE — The release of Nike’s new Air Jordan 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.
Shoppers stood in long lines through the night to get their hands on a retro version of one of the most popular models of Air Jordans ever made. The fights were reminiscent of violence that broke out in the early 1990s on streets across America as the shoes became popular targets for thieves.
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.
“Around 3 (a.m.) there started to be some fighting and pushing among the customers,” he said. “Around 4, it started to get pretty unruly and officers sprayed pepper spray on a few people who were fighting, and that seemed to do the trick to break them up.”
Murphy said no injuries were reported, although some people suffered cuts or scrapes from fights. An 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. Shoppers also broke two doors.
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.
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.
The frenzy over Air Jordans — the new pair retails for about $180 — has been dangerous in the past. Some people were mugged or even killed for early versions of the shoe, created by Nike Inc. in 1985.
The Air Jordan has since been a consistent hit with sneaker fans. 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.
No one anticipated the hysteria around the original Air Jordan, which spawned 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.
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.
A representative for Nike, based in Beaverton, Ore., was not immediately available for comment.
Other disturbances reported at stores across the country ranged from shoving and threats to property damage and attempted robbery.
In Taylor, Mich., about 100 people forced their way into a shopping center around 5:30 a.m., damaging decorations and overturning benches. Police say a 21-year-old man was arrested.
In Lithonia, Ga., at least four people were arrested after customers broke down a door at a store selling the shoes. DeKalb County police said up to 20 squad cars responded.
Officers escorted most of the people outside but took four into custody, Fox 5 Atlanta reported.
In Northern California, two men were arrested at a Fairfield mall after crowds shoved each other to get in position for the Nikes, police said.
In Stockton, Detective Joe Silva said a person was taken into custody at Weberstown Mall on suspicion of making criminal threats involving the shoes. Police also were investigating an attempted robbery in the mall’s parking lot. The victim was wrongly believed to have just purchased Air Jordans.
Police also were called to malls in Nebraska, Ohio and Kentucky over reports of large crowds, fights and broken doors.
In Tukwila, Officer Murphy said the crowd was on the verge of a riot and would have gotten even more out of hand if the police hadn’t intervened.
About 25 officers from Tukwila and surrounding areas responded. Murphy said police smelled marijuana and found alcohol containers at the scene.
“It was not a nice, orderly group of shoppers,” Murphy said. “There were a lot of hostile and disorderly people.”
The Southcenter mall’s stores sold out of the Air Jordans, and all but about 50 people got a pair, Murphy said.
Shoppers described the scene as chaotic and at times dangerous.
Carlisa Williams said she joined the crowd at the Southcenter for the experience and ended up buying two pairs of shoes, one for her and one for her brother. But she said she’ll never do anything like it again.
“I don’t understand why they’re so important to people,” Williams told KING-TV. “They’re just shoes at the end of the day. It’s not worth risking your life over.”