Turning my obsession into a job? I like to think of it more as a passion rather than an obsession, but I suppose that all depends on how you look at it. How did it all happen? Well…
It was all a dream; I used to read Word Up! magazine. Salt-n-Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine. Hangin’ pictures on my wall…sh*t, wrong backstory.
Okay, seriously now. I was at work, doing what all of us with desk jobs do: surfing the Internet looking at sneakers. New releases, old releases, upcoming releases. You know, the typical “sneakerhead” thing. Then I came across this thing called YouTube. Specifically, a video on sneakers. That changed everything.
[RELATED: The Stash: @nightwing2303]
Fast-forward a few years and I was getting back into playing basketball after taking time off–having a child will do that to you. (You young’ns won’t understand this right now, but when you get older you’ll see what I mean.) Anyhow, I was getting back into playing ball. But my shoe game was weak. Not weak as in I had no “heat,” but weak as in my hoop shoes were from my high school days. The White/Metallic Air Jordan V Retro+ was the pair, for those of you dying to know, and the PU midsoles just weren’t meant to live that long. Crumbling was inevitable, and so was my shock once I began hunting for new shoes to replace them.
When I was in high school I had picked up those Jordan retros for $50. The latest Air Jordan was now nearing the $200 mark. What the heck happened? I needed to read a performance review to make sure I didn’t end up buying a lemon. And as it turns out…there weren’t any.
The closest thing I found were backlogs of Professor K’s old blog, Kicksology.net, and some YouTube videos on sneakers. So I started searching. Found nothing. Then I figured I’d just use the Eastbay consumer review section. I mean, people that bought basketball shoes from Eastbay had to have left a review on the shoe, right? Yes and no. There were reviews but none based specifically on the shoe’s performance. Instead, I read a ton of “These shoes look great with my jeans” reviews. Once again, I was in shock. Who writes a review on a basketball shoe based on how they went with their jeans?!? I was a father with a budget. I didn’t want to spend money for a shoe that played worse on-court than I did. So I did what any sensible person would do when put in that situation…I bought the most expensive pair of shoes and test drove them myself.
That’s when I published my first performance review. It was April 21, 2009. The video was complete garbage, but it was on YouTube and people actually liked it. How did I have enough knowledge on sneaker tech to give a proper performance review? For that answer, we’ll have to travel back in time again.
We’re going on a trip in our favorite rocket ship. Zooming through the sky…man, how in the h*** do you go from Biggie to Little Einsteins?!? Yeezus Christ!
I started noticing sneakers back in the sixth grade. That’s when I started playing basketball, and Payless shoes just weren’t the “hot” thing to rock on-court. What were all these shoes with check marks on them? Nikes? Alright…I guess I’ll need a pair of those. Asked my Mom. Don’t do that. Don’t. Ever. Do. That. At least not when you had our household budget. I did end up with a pair of Nikes by the time eighth grade rolled around. They were a pair of old Nike Air Sonic Flights. Clearance rack, forty bucks. I felt like the man. Ever since then, there was no turning back.
This is where you could say an obsession started. I was always playing basketball so I was always thinking about sneakers. At the time, I wanted to know everything, from their tech to their materials to their performance. If you had a question about a shoe I would probably have the answer. (Well, not the actual Answer…those were too expensive for me at the time. You see what I did there? No? Okay, fine.)
There used to be these big box stores with rows of sneakers–even the signature models–just sitting for you to try on without needing assistance. This place was like Heaven. I was able to go in, try on the new hoop shoes, and see exactly how the tech felt. Max Air was amazing, but Zoom Air…that was my sh*t. The first time I experienced Zoom Air was when I tried on the Nike Air Penny 2. Amazeballs.
Now, fast-forward back to 2009. Of course I was hard at work, surfing the Internet. I decided to visit a sneaker blog that had been inactive for quite some time. Why? I don’t know, really. I just decided to visit it that particular day. They had a new post up and were looking for writers. I was far from a writer, I barely graduated high school, but I knew my sneakers. So I applied for the position. As you may have guessed; nailed it.
At this point things were pretty good. I was learning more about social media, blogging, and networking every single day. I was always better at learning on the job rather than sitting in a classroom. I learned so much I started my own little blog. At the time it was called Nightwing2303.com. Not really professional, I know. But it was more of an extension of my YouTube channel rather than an actual blog. And this is where things started to go south. In life, not everything is going to be a golden moment.
My full-time 9-5 job was in jeopardy. Not due to my actions, but due to some unforeseen circumstances. I needed to focus more attention on the whole sneaker thing. If I was going to be serious about making this passion project into a full-time job, I needed to do something drastic. I needed to create a brand that could be identified with my work. So I decided to rebrand the site and make things a bit more official. Once I did, it was awesome growth from there.
Now, don’t confuse growth with easy street. If you want something to grow you must nurture it. With hard work and dedication, I single-handedly turned nothing, a tiny little niche blog, into a media outlet for those that wanted to know the ins and outs of performance basketball footwear. However, due to more unforeseen circumstances, I again had to rebrand.
At this point, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I just knew I needed to think of something, and think of something fast. Thank goodness I have good people around me–a good friend of mine was kind enough to sell me his old domain that was no longer in use. WearTesters.com was born, or rather, reborn.
It’s at this point you realize what you’re doing isn’t a simple obsession. This was my passion. This was me. It’s something I loved to do. I wasn’t about to let myself fall off.
Nowadays, WearTesters is the premier sneaker site for all things performance. Athletes read our reviews to decide what to wear. Brands look at our reviews to learn what mistakes they made. They find out what worked and what didn’t. Honestly, it’s really crazy when you sit back and think about it. Yes, it took a lot of hard work to start it, and it takes even more work to maintain it, but it’s been worth every second. Because of my childhood passion, I’ve had experiences I never dreamed of.
My first flight was because of sneakers. It was a trip to New York City to check out Jordan Brand’s 2014 holiday lineup.
I grew up watching MJ play in the NBA’s greatest era and then I wound up being invited to play at his house in Chicago in 2015.
I was born and raised in the Bay Area, and I was invited to attend the unveiling of Stephen Curry’s first signature sneaker in my own backyard.
I’ve met some incredible people, made some great friends, and it’s all because of my passion for sneakers. I didn’t choose to do this. This wasn’t a career goal. I just did what I wanted to do because I loved doing it. Now I get to love doing it and earn a paycheck.
Are there times when I get tired of doing all of this? Honestly, yes. This is a business after all, and it’s not an easy one. But if you’re truly passionate about something, then you can take all of that away and still have everything you need. Take things back to the sixth grade. It’s just you, a ball, and a pair of sneakers. At the end of the day, that’s all it’s about.
Do I love the game of basketball? Yes. Do I love sneakers? Yes. You can take it all away, yet you’ll never really lose anything at all. You can take away an obsession–you can’t really take away passion. You can lose it for a bit, but you’ll always find it again. No matter what.
I’m not really sure if sneakers changed my life. In a way, they are my life. No, they don’t define me. My actions do that. But I’m fully aware that without this obsessive passion for sneakers that started on the basketball court, I wouldn’t be where I am today. For that I am more appreciative than words can express.
Where are sneakers and the culture going from here? Honestly, I don’t know, and I’m not entirely sure I care. I care about these products in a different way now. How can they be of use to us as consumers? How can they be better? These are the things I care about within this sneaker world. I’m not worried about sales, trends, or limited availability. I love basketball, and I love the shoes that I play basketball in. Hopefully there are people out there that feel the same way.
I talk about sneakers and how they perform for a living. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty awesome.
All images via Sahara M. Borja // @saharaborja