Sneaker Guru Bobbito Garcia Brings Pro-Keds Back

You had a streetball / Hip Hop show on an Ivy league jazz radio station. That’s not really a question, more of an observation. And a good one. I had the world’s first-ever talk radio program discussing playground basketball on WKCR 89.9FM. It was called On the Fence, and came on earlier in the evening every Thursday before me and Stretch Armstrong’s hip hop show. I also wrote the first article on sneaker culture in media history, titled “Confessions of a Sneaker Addict.” It ran in Source magazine in 1991. I also hosted the first TV series ever dedicated to sneaker culture, called It’s the Shoes, which ran for two seasons on ESPN. I could go on but I’ll stop there!

What kicks do you have on permanent ice? There is no pair on permanent ice in my closet — everything gets worn at some point! There are definitely joints that only come out on special occasion when they’ll be a good amount of heads that will understand what’s on the feet and can appreciate it.

What’s the illest pair of kicks you ever owned? The illest kicks I might’ve ever owned were the Nike Air Force 1s that I painted circa 1990. I made a white/chocolate store-bought pair and customized them into a pumpkin/white/chocolate creation. Cats were offering me money on the block to do theirs after that! I was years ahead of any brand in terms of doing three-color combos that were off-beat and not team related. It was a good moment. As a kid, my transition shoe from wearing skippies to something official was the Super Pro-Ked. That was in 1975 when I was nine years old. Before that, I was a scrub in the sneaker world!

How do you feel about clubs that frown on sneakers? I don’t feel any kind of way about clubs that frown on sneakers. I just don’t patronize them! Every venue is entitled to their own rules though, I guess. I’ve never been bounced from a club for wearing sneakers, but I’ve been spinning at APT for almost nine years, and I can tell you that the security may at times not let dudes in who are in a suit and wearing shoes! For real! It’s a real chill vibe, and I play soulful dance music, so you kind of have to wear kicks to get your groove on proper and be comfortable, I guess.

What spots do you like to eat and drink at in New York? I don’t drink alcohol, but I love to get my eat on, and there are a plethora of ridiculously yummilicious spots I frequent, including Il Bagatto, Camarada’s, Café Latte, Kiosk, and Strictly Roots.

What’s the most you’d pay for a pair of sneakers? I’ve never spent more than $140 for a pair of sneakers (Lebron VI U. of Akron exclusives), and that was just this year. Before that, my highest was $110 (Asic Gel Nimbus VII). Luckily, most of the brands send me shoes for review in my Bounce magazine “Let’Em Marinate” column.

Best sneaker store in the world? Wow. You’re gonna get me in trouble! That’s hard to say. For me, it’s about stores with friendly, knowledgeable service and a selection that challenges the customer. Sure, there are the tier-zero accounts that get all the exclusives, but then everyone knows about them and there is no surprise factor. I like to take chances, always have, and that’s how I earned my rep in the playground basketball and hip hop worlds for having sneakers that no one else knows. So why do you think I’d tell you where I shop? Hahaha! Goliath on 105th Street, Training Camp on 116th Street off Lenox, and Paragon’s are amongst the stores I currently check up on inventory. The Vault on 8th Avenue between 133rd and 134th streets, too.

You ever think sneakerheads take the shit too seriously? C’mon, man! Read my book Where’d You Get Those? New York City’s Sneaker Culture: 1960-1987 for an in-depth exploration of your question. I can’t retell what I wrote in it any better.

Why should people cop your limited edition Pro-Keds Royal Flash? You give Keds love in your book, but certain heads might think of them as “those kids’ shoes.” Was that perception a pro or a con? I’ve already done collabs, including Adidas for the Superstar model 35th anniversary as well as with Nike for their Air Force 1 25th anniversary. I don’t think I can work with more recognized brands or iconic shoes more than that. I love challenges, and when Pro-Keds approached me about jumping in on the 30th anniversary of the Royal Flash, man … I was more energized about it than the previous ones because I could’ve done the worst color combos and fabrics on my “shell toe” and AF1, respectively, and it still would’ve sold out. Everyone buys those with their eyes closed, they are two of the biggest sellers in the history of the industry. But to do a Royal Flash by Bobbito, and freak it well enough that it would turns heads to want to wear them? Now that’s interesting! Keds were perceived as kids and women’s shoes; however Pro-Keds were absolutely the brand of choice here in NYC during the glory period of playground basketball and hip hop in the ‘70s. When I wear them now, it’s only adults of my generation or older who stop me on the street and say, “What! Where can I cop those? I used to rock those back in the days!” So it will be rewarding to reintroduce a model originally was released in ‘79, but hasn’t been seen since. And my hope, and belief, is that young kids will take to the Royal Flash the same way my crew did. We didn’t see some NBA player endorsing it. It was simply a beautifully designed shoe that had high performance ranks to play in as well. And that’s what sold it. And heads in Harlem ate those up. In all the annals of Pro-Ked basketball history, the Royal Flash was their most flavorful, and functional, sneaker. I professed that in my book when it was released in 2003, way before I knew I was gonna wind up doing a collab!

Sneakerheads and conspiracies go together like stoops and White Owls: That said, why did Bush knock down the towers? We’ll all find out a decade from now when the government papers get released to the public and the agencies continue their path towards just transparency …

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