Former UC player Alex Meacham inspires newest Air Jordan shoe

Alex Meacham has 320 pairs of Air Jordans. He has his first pair, AJ 1s, size 9 ½, and the pair he just got delivered, AJ 5 Retros, and all 318 pairs in between.

He has the pair he wore when he tore his ACL in open gym, as a Roger Bacon freshman trying to check Byron Larkin. An ambulance came. “We’re going to have to cut off your shoes,’’ a paramedic said.

The stricken Meacham was in serious pain, but he wasn’t delirious when he shot back, “You cut my shoes, we’re going to have a problem.’’ They didn’t cut his shoes. They were AJ 6s, by the way. Meacham wore them through his rehab.

He has the AJ 3s he wore to middle school, when the kids all thought he was cool and even the art teacher asked him where he got his shoes. He was a groomsman in a wedding where the groom was so certain he couldn’t get Meacham in a pair of dress shoes, he simply dressed all the groomsmen in Airs. And himself, too.

Meacham has the AJ 1s he wore on Senior Night at UC, where he walked on as a basketball player before graduating in 2000. That’d be the same pair he bought at least a decade earlier, the size-9 1/2s. Problem was, Meacham’s feet had grown.

“Kenyon (Martin) had his locker next to me,’’ Meacham recalls. Martin watched Meacham wrestle the sneakers onto his feet. “What,’’ Martin asked, “are you doing?’’

Meacham wanted the evening to be special. “It could be the last game I ever get in,’’ he remembers thinking. And he did get in, very late. His feet were already sore. “Kind of curled up,’’ Meacham says.

He has his first pair of AJ 5s, and those are the best of all. We’ll tell you why in a minute. First, allow Meacham to explain why he loves the Jordan 5s best:

“It’s 1990. Michael Jordan’s playing against the Milwaukee Bucks. He comes out wearing white compression shorts that go past his game shorts. Nobody had ever done that before. They go down to the tops of his knees. And he’s got these black shoes, with white laces. Then he scores 48. I said, ‘When those shoes come out, I gotta have ‘em’.’’

Meacham got ‘em and wore ‘em, with the white laces. Then, the thought occurred: “Those laces are for ballers. I’ve got to earn those laces. I can’t be some goofball. I gotta work on my game.’’

Of such stuff are sneaker-collecting legends born. Meacham was 14 at the time. Fast-forward to six months ago. Meacham is sitting in the Brand Jordan office in Oregon, on what Nike calls its “campus.’’ When Meacham was at UC, he mentored a walk-on from Texas named Jamaal Lucas. Lucas’ Bearcats career wasn’t huge, but Meacham got him a job at Deveroe’s after graduation, selling sporting goods.

Long made short: A decade later, Jamaal Lucas is something called a “product line manager’’ for the Jordan brand. Meacham visits him frequently at Nike. “Every time I go out there, I wear the Jordan 5s with the white laces,’’ Meacham says.

Lucas introduces Meacham to Gentry Humphrey, head of international business for Jordan Brand, who says to Meacham, “I heard your story. You inspired our new design.’’ And suddenly, A. Meacham, shoe freak, becomes A. Meacham, poster guy for the latest Air creation, something they call “Bin 23 Air Jordan 5 Retro’’.

“Average Joe in Cincinnati has inspired an Air Jordan Shoe,’’ Meacham says, loudly.

Only in America, yeah?

Meacham says he isn’t being paid. He says the company has “something in the works’’ for him, but he can’t say what it is. Not that it matters. Simply knowing he has contributed to the Nike/Mikey Shoe Empire is tribute enough for Meacham.

Meacham says the retros – Jordan 2s, 9s and 13s so far — are released in “bins’’ and not in mass numbers. Think small-batch bourbon. He says 20,000 pairs is the norm, and claims that the Air 5 bin will be limited to 1,794 pairs.

Why 1,794?

Why not?

Meantime, Alex Meacham stores his shoe collection in a spare bedroom. “The newest pair I get, I wear,’’ he says. He gets a pair a week, sometimes more than that. This week, he expects to buy three pairs, as Jordan is releasing three pairs in honor of NBA All-Star Weekend: “A white-black, a white-blue and a white-red,’’ says Meacham, who would know.

He figures he has spent $20,000 on sneakers during his lifetime. He also believes some of them are worth a lot. Perhaps especially the very limited-edition Jordan 5s. Again, that’s not the point.

Meacham has a T-shirt with Imelda Marcos’ face on it. His mom gave that to him. She thinks her son is strange. But in a good way.


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