Early in his career, superstar talent Shaquille O’Neal, had an encounter with a mother who angrily asserted in tears,  “Why don’t one of you son of a bitches make an affordable sneaker?” Shaq attempted to explain but in the following months, he did something even better. He released his own shoe, The Dunkman.

The Dunkman Over Everything

The Dunkman shoe offered the same functional qualities as their previous Reebok counterparts, flashy design, action logo of Shaq’s signature dunk, and colors to coordinate with outfits and accessories. It was the first example I saw of a cultural icon, seeing a market, and imposing his will and direct influence on that market, and using his own name and brand to do it.

The Dunkman went on to sell millions of shoes. According to Forbes, the two lines Shaq produced would sell more than 7 million pairs and gross over 100 Million dollars in revenue between the late 90’s and 2012. Not bad for The Big Aristotle, Shaquille O’Neal. Not bad for our culture as it continues to produce moguls and examples of excellence, young people from similar backgrounds can follow. 

Yeezy Does It, Do it Yeezy

Fast Forward to 2024 and we have yet another uber-talented black man with a similar cultural influence and desire to bring something affordable and highly fashionable to the market. Kanye West is killing the game right now with his Yeezy Pods and other offerings which sell for just $20 on yeezy.com. I ordered mine in February and even with my high profile and high-end connections I had to wait till May to receive them. I got two pair.

Kanye West’s exploits in fashion have been well-documented over the years. He has had battles with some of the biggest fashion houses and sports brands. It is interesting to note that what I am now applauding him for is something, Sway Calloway, asked him to do during his viral interview in 2013, where he challenged the genius musician/fashion and business mogul to go his own way and produce on his own. Even Ye now admits that Sway Calloway did have the answers.

Everyone I know who ordered a pair of Yeezy Pods is in love with them. From the fit to the form to the price which could retail easily for $200.00 is only being sold for $20.00, big ups to Ye and I hope he continues going his own way. Ten years or 20 years from now there is no telling how much he may impact fashion. He hasn’t missed yet.

Form and Fashion, Style and Substance in Footwear

Kanye West’s Yeezy Pods are the epitome of avant-garde fashion. Known for pushing the boundaries of conventional sneaker design, the Yeezy Pods showcase a futuristic aesthetic with their minimalist yet bold look. Made from a neoprene-like fabric attached to two pod-like coverings on the bottom, the construction is simple and the form is pleasing. Wear them outside, wear them indoors. Wear them with socks or wear them without.

Shaquille O’Neal’s The Dunkman Shoes, on the other hand, emphasized performance and durability. He brought back his on signature line of shoes with SHAQ Shoes and distributed them in Walmart Stores. Shaq is on record saying, “You can laugh if you want to but the Shaq Brand has sold over 120 Million pairs of affordable shoes to kids.”. That is a powerful statement and one not many can make.

Mary Gleason and Shaquille O’Neal

Both Kanye West’s Yeezy Pods and Shaquille O’Neal’s The Dunkman/SHAQ represent two beloved cultural icons taking their brands into their own hands and bringing something to the market. Our culture needs these examples to help us buy black and also buying into black entrepreneurship and ownership. 

In today’s interconnected and socially conscious world, the significance of supporting businesses within the Black community cannot be overstated. This community includes your cousin Keisha and even powerhouses like Shaq and Ye.

Black consumers play a pivotal role in the economic ecosystem, and our support for Black entrepreneurs and brands carries profound implications.

For years now we have witnessed a shift in this country. Many Blacks or POC’s have ascended to being the face of a brand. Endorsement deals are highly sought after and has helped many get paid. This level of entrepreneurship in Shaq Fu’s The Dunkman/SHAQ Shoe or Ye’s Yeezy Pod is a step above and in the right direction for our culture. For it to continue we as consumers must buy into the products and support, give and produce the same quality as is expected.

DeWarren Smith