'It's a real thing'
Still, being a sneaker chaser comes with more than its fair share of drawbacks. The culture thrives in the face of a rash of scams, robberies and violence that often provoke hard questions about whether materialism has run amok.
Violence and tragedy have overshadowed the sneaker market for decades, at least since 1989, when Maryland ninth-grader Michael Eugene Thomas was shot and killed for his iconic Jordan sneakers. The incident would be profiled in Sports Illustrated's 1990 May issue, with the now infamous phrase, "Your Sneakers or Your Life," across the cover.
Five years ago, Nike announcement of a limited release of its $220 Air Foamposite One "Galaxy" shoe was enough to trigger riots at a mall in Orlando, where the NBA hosted that year's All-Star weekend. A pair of the sneakers subsequently appeared on eBay, where bids skyrocketed as high as $70,000.
The environment underscores the single-mindedness that possesses some of the most avid sneaker collectors. That obsessiveness is sometimes a virtue, but for some can easily cross the line into vice.
"It started to get to a point where I started getting there at two or three o'clock in the morning, outside waiting till 9 a.m., when the store opened," Mark Stevenson told CNBC recently. The 28 year old spent nearly a decade as a self-made kingpin of sneaker-dom, amassing 125 pairs worth tens of thousands of dollars in resale value.
Currently, Stevenson's extensive shoe collection has been whittled down to a comparatively modest 90 pairs, an expression of how two separate events influenced his early retirement from the sneaker game.
Arriving at 11 p.m. at a sneaker store the night before for the release of the Jordan "Grape" 5s a few years ago, Stevenson and a friend got caught in a heavy downpour. They both eventually scored some of the last pairs, but developed severe colds from the rain. Walking out of the store, Stevenson and his friend were each offered $600 for the now sold out $150 sneakers — an offer which his friend accepted.
"That was the moment where I was like 'What are you doing?'" said Stevenson. "It was a terrible experience, and honestly, I could have caught pneumonia just for a pair of sneakers."
The turning point came several months later when, in another queue for an impending sneaker drop at 7 a.m., Stevenson witnessed a fellow sneaker head get robbed. At that moment, one thought ran through his mind: "It's not worth it."
Stevenson told CNBC, "I can't do this anymore, knowing that there was a chance you could get robbed. It's a real thing, you see it on the TV and the news all the time, people get shot and robbed over sneakers."
However, Stevenson's epiphany is rare in a world where the competition to obtain new and rare sneaker drops remains as fierce as ever.
Just last week, Nike announced a "Vachetta Tan" version of the Foamposites, a $300 sneaker timed for release in conjunction with the 2017 All-Star game. On the secondary market, prices are already as being quoted high as $550.