The slam dunk liftoff shoe

Kevin Cowherd

March 04, 1991|By Kevin Cowherd

THE BASKETBALL shoe I have my eyes on now is the Reebok Pump which, the sales clerk insisted, allows the wearer to take off from the foul line, soar majestically through the air and execute a thunderous backward dunk.

I said: "How about if the wearer is a fat 5-foot-10 white guy who moves as if he's playing the game underwater?"

In that case, he said, the Pump is a very smart-looking shoe to walk around in.

The principle behind the Pump, as I understand it, is this: On the shoe itself is this little orange thingamajig in the shape of a basketball.

And what you do is, uh, squeeze this little thingamajig. Which forces air into a hollow, um, pocket which surrounds the shoe and . . . oh, hell, I don't know how it's supposed to work.

All I know is, everyone who wears the Pump in the TV commercials is a smooth-talking, sky-walking dunk machine. Whereas with my game, the only way I'd get to dunk is if they allowed you to bring a stepladder on the court.

The problem with the Pump is that it carries a price tag of around $150, which at first glance caused me to slump to the floor of the sporting goods store. (I came to right away, though, even before the ambulance arrived and they started stringing IV lines.)

As you can imagine, $150 is daunting for a man whose salary is eclipsed by the weekly take of a child's sidewalk lemonade stand. Then again, I could probably take a second job in a coal mine somewhere.

True, so many negative things have been written about coal mining. But maybe if you only do it for a few weeks, the working conditions aren't so bad. Plus I understand you get a free checkup for black lung disease and also get to keep your miner's helmet when you're through.

Years ago, of course, people did not need to take backbreaking second jobs in sooty coal mines in order to buy sneakers, which is what we called them back then.

But today the basketball shoe industry is a multi-billion dollar business, with huge companies vying in fresh and imaginative ways for a share of the consumer market.

Consider the new Nike F10-11 Thunderbolt, which is still making its way through Research and Development but shows tremendous promise.

The theory behind the new shoe is this: Just as he's about to make a move toward the basket, the wearer hits a button in the toe and tiny, self-propelled rocket launchers (originally developed by NASA) jut out from the heel.

By igniting a miniature fuse with a butane lighter (conveniently provided in the box), the wearer activates a small quantity of jet fuel sealed along the sides of the shoe.

The results are truly astonishing. Once the smoke clears, vertical lift will be in the area of 20-25 feet, allowing the wearer to hover well over the basket until such time as he gets a clear shot.

Then, by depressing a valve, the wearer gently (at least that's the plan) descends to oh, eight feet or so, slams the ball through the hoop, and begins the requisite taunting of his opponent.

Anyway, the whole project is hush-hush right now, with the Nike people understandably tight-lipped about marketing plans. But industry analysts say the shoe is expected to cost about $660, depending on the price of jet fuel and which space age alloy (titanium?) they use to construct the heel.

At a recent sporting goods convention in Atlanta, Nike unveiled a prototype of the F10-11 Thunderbolt, with armed Brinks guards standing over the shoes and snarling attack dogs ready to lunge at the throat of anyone foolish enough to touch the product.

One unfortunate incident did take place during a test demonstration in Atlanta, however. After activating the ignition mechanism on his shoe, Chicago Bulls forward Michael Jordan actually rocketed through the roof of a local gymnasium, eventually touching down on a small farm outside Savannah.

Jordan was said to have been "shaken up" but otherwise unhurt by the accident, which Nike officials attributed to the inadvertent use of ethanol and liquid oxygen from a Saturn V rocket.

Getting back to the Pump, however, it seems this might not be the shoe for me.

The fact is, I tried a pair on and found my jumping ability to be largely unchanged -- unless you consider an improvement in vertical lift from 2 inches to 2 1/4 inches dramatic.

All it allowed me to do, quite frankly, was dunk on a wastebasket.

Which I can do already, at least if the adrenalin is really pumping.

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