The Original Sneakerhead
Before there was even an industry, there was Divine Power and his garage-filling collection
I always loved sneakers.
Even when we were just getting bobos, no-name knockoffs, I would smell those shoes, hold them up and look at them from every angle, and almost without fail, I would wear them out of the store.
Once home, me and my older brother Ade would prop our shoes up on our respective dressers and stare at them; he had the same illness.
As bad as I was, I never met ANYONE like my brother Divine Power (May Allah Be Please with Him).
Long before anyone was even thinking of shoes as something to collect, Divine was amassing one of the greatest collections I ever saw.
Sneakers are a $50b a year industry, you have people who pride themselves on being “sneakerheads,” and I’ve seen some crazy examples…but they are late to the ball. I’m gonna talk about my brother who was doing it back in the mid to late 80s.
But first I have to point out how game recognized REAL game.
Between the years 1979 and early 1984, from 7 to 12 years old, name brands didn’t matter so much to me.
All that mattered was that my shoes were new.
I know that I got my first pair of Nike, the Wimbledon’s, when we came back from England…so that’s 81 but by and large, we wore Sear’s Winners — they had three stripes, could fool you into thinking they were Adidas — I had a red, nylon pair with white stripes — loved those, we wore USA Olympics from JcPenny — also three stripes, white, blue stripes (I wanted the all blue soooo bad), we wore Pro Wings — I had a pair with velcro, and we wore Trax from Kmart, which is what I’m wearing in this picture during the summer of ‘84.
Although those shoes were knock-offs, as Understanding Allah reminded me, if they were advertised as leather…they were real leather. You would get your foot measured — remember the Bannock Device — putting your foot to the back of it, moving your toes, hoping your foot fit whatever size they had left of the shoe you wanted? It was an experience.
I thank the poverty gods that we were poor in Park Hill, Denver (and that no one cared on the Air Force Base) because new shoes were just new shoes. We would get two pairs a school year…maybe. And we were cool with that.
But then Hip-Hop took over.
I caught the B-Boy bug just as I was entering my teen years. On top of that, our Rappers were dressing like us now — Le Tigre shirts, Lee Jeans, Puma or Shell Toe Adidas. AND we were in New Jersey. This is where it all began.
As I wrote in Oh, So This Is What Ya’ll Mean When You Say Hip-Hop is the Only Culture my Dad couldn’t understand what the hell was going on with us…coloring shoes…what kind of craziness (eventually Lotto would come up with a shoe with interchangeable colors…but that’s another post…soon come).
“Those shoes cost $35 dollars!” He would lament.
So I devised a plan. I would eat $.50 cookies and pocket the other $1.50 that my Dad gave me for lunch money. That, combined with my side hustles would give me enough money to buy my own shoes. I never enacted that plan while living with him, I ain’t want that ass whopping, but I did hold the cash and occasionally I would dole it out on some Jumbos (Fat Laces).
After getting in an exorbitant amount of trouble, I had me and my older brother shipped back to Park Hill and that’s when I began enacting my plan.
The Eighth grade, my non-working ass bought four pair of shoes: two Shell Toe Adidas — a grey stripe pair and a black stripe pair, and two pair of Pumas, an all-Black pair, and a white pair with a grey formstrip. Immediately, my Mom asked me where I got the money…and when I told her, she didn’t go upside my head like I expected…she cried. Then she called my Dad.
Needless to say, I chilled out.
I wore them shoes into my Freshman year of High school.
Once I was old enough to get a job though…it was on. We’re talking 1987, this is when sneaks really began getting hot. With my first paycheck, I copped the white and blue Adidas Rivalry which I rocked with no laces. Winter rolled around, I bagged me a pair of Adidas Lendl Competitions (I wanted the Supremes). Second semester I got the Puma Cats mids — no one had those. And that summer, me & Sayyed Munajj made a decision to branch out and both get the Le Coq Sportif Noah Comps (in Black). We were originals.
But let me backtrack.
I just mentioned Sayyed Munajj. We met our Freshman year. How? Sayyed had on these ill, all-grey Adidas, no stripes…holes where the stripes would be. Yes, Stan Smith. I had never seen Stans in any color other other than white but it was against the code to ask where he got ’em. And we shared a class, so my first words to him were, “draw a character.”
He was an artist and we became fast friends. Like myself, he had a brother two years his senior. His brother was Divine Power and I had never met anyone like him.
Divine Power is the brother that let me know I was playing with this shoe game.
In 1987, like I said, when sneaks began to get hot, and I mentioned them little bit of shoes that I was buying, Divine Power was buying the Air Max when they first came out, two pair. Divine Power was buying the Air Trainer when they first came out, two pair. Divine Power was buying the Air Safari when they first came out, two pair.
Don’t get me started on Jordans. Divine not only had the Jordan IIs in high and low top, he had both colors, the t-shirts, and the suits, all colors…two pair. And Divine would continue that trend all through High School (and beyond). Every pair of Jordans that came out, he got both colors, two pair, and all the accompanying apparel.
And it wasn’t just Nike.
Divine Power owned the entire Run-DMC Adidas line: shoes, t-shirts, sweatshirts, suits, and jackets.
That’s just the mainstream shit. Divine was also a trailblazer. When we were glazed-eyed over UTFO wearing Troops in that “Ya Cold Wanna Be With Me” video, Divine popped up with them. I have no idea how he knew about Van Grack, but he was the first person that I knew to have them too…two pair of each style…and all the accompanying apparel.
He didn’t just collect them, either. Divine knew everything that you could possibly know, technology-wise about each shoe. He knew why one should wear the Trainer instead of the Air Max. He made critiques of the Jordan when no one else would dare. And Divine was always tinkering with each shoe. He would swap insoles, wear multiple pairs of socks, no socks, footies, whatever. Divine had it down to a science the proper sock to wear with each shoe.
Like I said, I never met anyone like him.
He lived, breathed, and thought about sneakers all day…and he played in them too…maybe once or twice. My first pair of Jordans, the Air Jordan I Black/Royal Blue were handed down to me from Divine because he had worn them too many times…something like five times.
It was almost like a ceremony. We used to play basketball inside Calvary Baptist Church on the corner of S. Monaco and E. Hamden. Who set that up? No idea. But it always ended being Sayyed, myself, and Aiyetoro KMT vs Divine and our brother Greg. On paper, we should have tore them out the frame, but in reality, they ain’t play fair. It was like rugby…on a basketball court.
After one beatdown during the winter break of 87, while me, Sayyed, and Aiyetoro fumed about Divine and Greg’s cheating ways, Divine unlaced the Black and Royal Jordans and handed them to me. He ordered me to give him my Lendls. And that was all that was said about it. It was like I passed some strange initiation. Divine never wore those Lendls again (Sayyed says he wore them once), but I sho nuff wore them Jordans.
During the opening sequence of the Netflix original show Abstract (S1Ep2) people are questioned about the identity of a graying man with a potpie hat. They see his image through the viewfinder of a camera and immediately become excited:
“That’s Tinker Hatfield!” One dude screams. Another shouts out, “That’s Tink,” like he’s talking about one of his boys.
Tinker Hatfield in the world of the sneakerhead is a household name but back in 87 if you had of asked about who the man was and provided a name, at best, they would have thought he had something to do with the legendary Hatfield and McCoys feud, but the answers that you would have heard the most would be, “HUH?!?” or “WHO?!?”
Divine Power knew all about ‘Tink.’
Divine not only knew about him, the reason that he bought Van Grack, Sayyed says, is because he was hedging his bet in case Jordan went that route. Divine knew the legend of how Tinker Hatfield won Jordan over long before it was a legend.
That may have been gossip for the average person but Divine was interested in the design of the shoes.
While I was making up sneaks just to go with my characters, Divine was designing his own shoes, uppers and all. He studied the shoes. He knew how they were constructed and instead of paying attention in class, Divine was pouring over how to make the best shoe and his drawings were like Hatfield’s — full of descriptions, the different materials the shoe would be made of, what the shoe was designed for, how long various parts of the shoe would be — Divine was meticulous.
But it was 1987 and we lived in Denver, Colorado. Sayyed and Divine like myself and Ade were being raised by a busy, single mother. Who had the time to investigate the possible inroads into a shoe company? And, even if she did know the way, schools like Pensole wouldn’t open for another 23 years.
There was no place for his genius.
Divine didn’t live to see the days of the billion dollar a year resell market. He never was a part of a sneakerhead “community.” No such thing existed. His existence was a lonely one where people scoffed at his passion for shoes. Had we lived in a fair and just society, his teachers would have recognized his gift and his passion, his guidance counselor would have took his desire to design shoes seriously, and someone would have found a way for him to explore his love.
But we don’t live in that world.
When Divine past away in a car accident in 2005, he had long given up on his dreams of being a shoe designer but his love and passion for shoes remained. Sayyed inherited all of Divine’s shoes, they filled up his garage, and if he were to wear a pair a day, he could go at least two years without wearing the same pair twice.
This writing was only about one aspect of Divine. He was a beautiful brother, a fearless brother. A loving father, a generous man, and an original. So every time I hear someone boast about being a sneakerhead…I chuckle. It’s safe and easy to be that now. People are making small fortunes off of their love of sneakers. But Divine did it when no one else did. He neither did it for status nor because he saw others doing it. He truly loved sneakers and was the first person that I ever saw like that.
He was the Original Sneakerhead and Divine Power is surely missed.
May Allah Be Pleased with my Brother, Divine Power Allah ( 1/16/70— 12/5/05)