SEATTLE – The release of Nike's new Air Jordan basketball shoes caused a frenzy at stores across the nation Friday as scuffles broke out and police were brought in to stamp out unrest that nearly turned into riots in some places.
Shoppers stood in long lines through the night to get their hands on a retro version of one of the most popular models of Air Jordans ever made. The fights were reminiscent of violence that broke out in the early 1990s on streets across America as the shoes became popular targets for thieves.
In suburban Seattle, police used pepper spray on about 20 customers who started fighting at the Westfield Southcenter mall early Friday.
Tukwila Officer Mike Murphy said people started gathering around midnight at four stores in the mall for a chance to buy the shoes, which retail for about $180 a pair. The crowd grew to more than 1,000 people by 4 a.m., when the stores opened, he said.
"Around 3 (a.m.) there started to be some fighting and pushing among the customers," Murphy said. "Around 4, it started to get pretty unruly and officers sprayed pepper spray on a few people who were fighting, and that seemed to do the trick to break them up."
He said no injuries were reported, although some people suffered cuts or scrapes from fights. One man was arrested for assault after authorities say he pushed an officer.
"He did not get his shoes; he went to jail," Murphy said.
Arrests also were reported at stores in Georgia and Michigan.
The frenzy over Air Jordans has been dangerous in the past. Some people were mugged or even killed for early versions of the shoe, created by Nike Inc. in 1985.
The Air Jordan has been a consistent hit since then with sneaker fans. A new edition was launched each year, and release dates had to be moved to the weekends at some points to keep kids from skipping school to get a pair.
No one anticipated the hysteria around the original Air Jordan, which spawned a subculture of collectors willing to wait hours to buy the latest pair. Some collectors save the shoes for special occasions or never take them out of the box.
But the uproar over the shoe had died down in recent years. These latest incidents instead seem to be part of trend of increasing acts of violence at retailers this holiday shopping season, such as the shopper who pepper-sprayed others at a Wal-Mart in Los Angeles on Black Friday and crowds looting a clothing store in New York.
A representative for Nike, based in Beaverton, Ore., was not immediately available to comment.
Elsewhere Friday, police say about 100 people forced their way into a shopping center in Taylor, Mich., around 5:30 a.m., damaging decorations and overturning benches. A 21-year-old man was arrested.
In Lithonia, Ga., at least four people were arrested after a crowd of customers broke down a door before a store selling the Air Jordans opened.
DeKalb County police said up to 20 squad cars responded. Officers escorted most of the people outside but took four into custody, Fox 5 Atlanta reported.
Police also said they had to break a car window to get two toddlers out after a woman went in after the shoes. They said she was taken into custody when she returned to the car.
Hundreds of people also lined up outside shoe stores in Portland, Ore., downtown Seattle and at a mall in nearby Federal Way.
In Tukwila, Murphy said the crowd was on the verge of a riot and would have gotten even more out of hand if the police hadn't intervened.
"It was not a nice, orderly group of shoppers," Murphy said. "There were a lot of hostile and disorderly people."
About 25 officers from Tukwila, Renton, Kent, Seattle and King County responded. Murphy said they smelled marijuana and found alcohol containers at the scene.
The Southcenter mall's stores sold out of the Air Jordan 11 Retro Concords, and all but about 50 people got their Nikes, Murphy said.
Shoppers described the scene as chaotic and at times dangerous.
Carlisa Williams said she joined the crowd at the Southcenter for the experience and ended up buying two pairs of shoes -- one for her and one for her brother. But she said she'll never do anything like it again.
"I don't understand why they're so important to people," Williams told KING-TV. "They're just shoes at the end of the day. It's not worth risking your life over."