Jordan Chiles cheers at a UCLA meet.

Jordan Chiles’ Sneaker Obsession Connects Her to Family, Black Culture

Jordan Chiles was destined to be a sneakerhead.

Her mom, Gina, was a Michael Jordan fan, but her dad did not want to have a child named after the basketball superstar. But when the process of having another baby proved to be a tough, six-year process for Gina, Chiles’ father relented. Gina enthusiastically named her new daughter Jordan in honor of the legendary No. 23.

Chiles was born in 2001, after the Bulls’ second three-peat concluded in 1998 and just before Jordan made his move to the Washington Wizards. By that time, Nike’s Air Jordan brand was 16 years old and already an instrumental part of basketball culture. The first Jordans were released to the public during Michael Jordan’s rookie season in 1985.

The brand has taken on legendary status in and out of the basketball world. Nike is continually releasing basketball and streetwear versions of the iconic shoe, which can be challenging to acquire.

Nike’s SNKRS app continues to re-release the 1985 design in new and classic colorways alongside other popular shoes like Dunks—which can be especially elusive and have spawned a massive resale market—and Air Force 1s, as well as pricier designer editions and collaborations. The Bulls’ emblematic red, white and black is the essential Jordans colorway.

“Sneakers were huge for me,” said Gina of the time when Jordan was born. “J 1s played a big role.” It was natural that Gina dressed a young Jordan in the sneakers of her namesake, putting her in the baby- and toddler-sized sneakers.

Both Gina and Jordan still love Jordan 1s, calling them out as longstanding favorite pairs. “Anything in the original colorway is huge for me,” said Gina. She remembers when Michael Jordan was told he couldn’t wear his red and black precursor to Jordan 1s during a 1984 exhibition game, breaking the NBA’s uniform guidelines that required shoes to be at least 51% white. “That’s when the rebel was born,” she said.

Gina came up in a generation that embraced sneaker culture from the start. Jordan sees her generation as having been slow to get on board, but now sneakers are back in the main cultural lexicon.

“I was a sneakerhead ever since I was little,” said Jordan. She remembers being 6 or 7 and wearing a pair of fur-lined Jordans everywhere—including in the house—until Gina finally asked why she only wore one pair of shoes.

As an adult, the first pair that really captivated Jordan was the Off White x Jordan 4 collaboration. Jordan repeatedly told her mom she wanted them, and finally she received them as a gift. That shoe set off Jordan’s current obsession.

Ever since then, we do the SNKRS app, we do Nike, I’ll go into a shoe store and my collection has just gotten bigger and bigger and bigger,” said Jordan.

Living in Los Angeles while attending UCLA has spurred on the collecting, since sneakers are part of the fashion scene. Jordan has accumulated about 200 pairs, some of which are with her at UCLA and some of which are at home with Gina.

Sneaker collecting is a competitive hobby, one that requires waiting for drops and being quick to hit purchase. The most competitive drop Jordan tried to get her hands on was the Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG ‘University Blue.’

“That was the hardest one yet,” said Jordan. “I still don’t even have them!” She tried everything, including multiple drops through everything from SNKRS to Stock X. Jordan’s favorite color is baby blue—the shade of the University Blues—and if she could design her own shoe, it would be in a similar colorway, but with some added sparkle.

While Jordan was frustrated to be unable to get her hands on the University Blues, she has good perspective on it. “It’s part of the culture,” she said. “If somebody is able to get it, you celebrate that person because you’re like, man, I tried. It’s something that we’re able to share.”

Jordan’s love of sneakers doesn’t stop with Nikes. While she enjoys wearing heels to big events, she’s a self-proclaimed tomboy who wants to be comfortable. She attended New York Fashion Week one year in a pair of Alexander McQueen kicks.

Her current favorite pair, though, is of course a Jordan: The Travis Scott x Jordan 1 Mochas. It’s a hard question for her to answer. She has a pair of Shattered Backboards that she hasn’t worn yet, and she loves her Lobster Dunks.

Gina is also a big fan of her Mochas, but she wore them to a festival in New Mexico and got mud on them.

“That was pretty devastating,” she said. “I was trying to look cute!”

The Chiles’ bond around sneakers extends to more than just their favorite pairs. Jordan brought her mom to a store in Los Angeles and told her to pick any pair she wanted, recognizing how much her mom had done for her.

“Knowing I could give back to her was pretty cool,” Jordan said, which made Gina emotional.

It all goes back to basketball and Black culture more broadly, too. Jordan is a Golden State Warriors fan and enjoys watching the NBA. She sees athletes like LeBron James and Steph Curry wearing sneakers to make a statement—making a mark on both their sport and culture—and sees an opportunity for her to do the same thing within gymnastics.

Jordan sees herself as part of a legacy of sneaker-wearing Black athletes, and she’s passing the torch down to younger generations. Now when she’s out, she often encounters younger people commenting on her sneakers.

“I love being able to be a part of history and hopefully continue to be history,” she said.

For Jordan, everything is coming full circle. She recently started collecting Nike baby sneakers, like the ones Gina dressed her in. Far off from having a child, she rationalizes it as an investment—the shoes will only get more expensive—and recognizes she can always resell them. To Gina, though, it’s just special to watch her daughter participate in something that was so meaningful to her.

“It’s not the most important thing in this world for sure,” said Gina, “but it is something that’s just fun.”

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Article by Emily Minehart

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