When it comes to sneaker culture, Jay Corbin is buried deep. Literally.
After growing up in New York City wishing he could have the hottest sneakers on the streets, Corbin, now known across the Internet as @SneakerSensei, made sure all the shoes he never had were priorities once he got a job. And so for 10 years, he went from store to store in the city, out in the Bronx, out in Brooklyn, asking store owners if he could go into their storage. In there amid crunched boxes, forgotten sneakers, and extra inventory, Corbin would find his classics: the Air Max 95, Air Revolution, Flight 89, original Chris Webbers, Air Carnivore, Air Unlimited, Reebok Blacktop. He’d often come out with a dozen pairs.
Corbin did that a few times a month, for years and years and years, and often wore the shoes right from the store. By 2010, he had sneakers piled up at his house, at his mother’s place, and even in storage.
“To me,” he says, “they all meant something. I didn’t just buy them to buy them. If I could wear them, I’d wear them.”
A difficult task. By that point he had 1,300 pairs.
“There was a time when I had to buy shoes and hold them at the store because my girl wouldn’t let me bring anymore shoes in the house,” he laughs.
Corbin’s favorite player was always Charles Barkley rather than Michael Jordan because while “Jordan was an anomaly,” Sir Charles was an undersized forward, a normal guy you could see yourself hanging out with. But it wasn’t all Nike and Jordan for Corbin.
“Where I grew up, there was nothing fresher than a fresh pair of Stan Smiths,” he says.
When the heat rose over 70 degrees in the summertime, it was all about rocking the Stan Smiths, the Ron Lavers, the Top 10s, the Forums. Those were inner city staples. Ironically, Corbin continued that adidas connection later in life when he fell in love with Gilbert Arenas‘ signature sneaker line. With the super comfortable TS Lightswitch, adidas released 30 to 40 different colorways, all of them with specific meanings. The campaign perfectly captured Agent Zero’s eccentric style and left Corbin with a bunch of underappreciated classics.
He loved Reebok too, and collected all the Omni Pumps, the Michael Changs, and all of the Dee Browns and Omni Lites. Then there was New Balance, which earned points because of its simplicity and ability to connect to history. What started as his grandfather’s favorite — grey on grey 1500s, before lil’ Jay even knew what sneakers were — is now one of his favorite brands.
“It’s amazing how you don’t have to change silhouette,” Corbin says, often comparing shoes to music to explain how every generation has their favorites. “All you have to change is colorway and fabrication.”
Among modern sneakers, Corbin was impressed when Nike integrated all of its technology into the LeBron 11, continuing a longstanding pattern that’s seen many of Corbin’s favorite basketball performance shoes come from the line of the planet’s greatest player.
Corbin will always love his shoes. But he’s no hoarder intent on having the biggest following on the ‘gram. (He still has over 7,000 followers.) His friend and fellow sneaker collector DJ Clark Kent once told him to “wear them once and give them away.” And so Corbin started giving shoes to visiting friends. Then he started hooking up a local Boys & Girls club in Harlem, giving all the basketball players free shoes. In 2010, when an earthquake hit Haiti, Corbin even sent 300 pairs of sneakers.
For the SneakerSensei, it was never about putting shoes on ice or putting them in a glass case or putting sole savers in the bottoms. As he says, “They are sneakers. They are supposed to be worn.”
Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney