But now cheap is suddenly cool. New York Knicks point guard Stephon Marbury has just put his name on a line of cheap athletic wear and shoes, dubbed Starbury. Marbury's signature Starbury One basketball shoes retail for a mere $15.
Marbury isn't the first basketball player to put his name on cheaper shoes. In 2004, Shaquille O'Neal's Dunkman line of shoes retailed at Payless for $40 a pair. But what distinguishes Marbury's shoe is its extreme cheapness combined with his vow to actually use it in his professional life. "I'm going to wear the shoe on court. I'm going to wear the sneakers all season," he said in a piece that aired on National Public Radio this morning.
Part of the unspoken language of consumerism is that we're not really supposed to believe that high-end celebrities actually use the affordable products they endorse. At her various homes, including her estate in Westport, Conn., now on the market for an absurd $8.995 million, we don't expect to find Martha Stewart using the $8.99 100 percent nylon bath mat she endorses for Kmart. Likewise, when Michael Graves designs interiors for fancy homes and high-end offices, we don't really think that he's fitting them out with the $4.99 wall clocks he designs for Target.
On the court, Marbury has generally been the anti-Michael Jordan—stuck with a reputation as a pouting, troublemaking nonwinner. Off the court, he wants to be the anti-Jordan, too. Jordan's long-running Nike shoes are rather expensive—the new Jordan Men's XXI goes for $175. They're certainly not 12 times better than the Starbury One. Over the years, Jordan has come in for criticism for putting his name on expensive shoes that are made with cheap foreign labor and marketed to a generally low-income domestic audience. And he's generally been indifferent to the charge. Marbury is framing his commercial venture as a self-abnegating act. He's using his celebrity to create products that even poor people can easily afford.