Maybe It Is the Shoes!

Stephon Marbury's $15 basketball shoe made its debut in stores in August, and 3 million pairs have already been sold. Last week the shoes made an even more important debut--on an NBA court, as the season got underway with Marbury's Knicks winning. Sneaker heads doubt the lower-priced shoes can compete with the top-end versions, but Marbury says he wore the shoes through the preseason and his performance stats were as good as ever. If his play (and his shoes) hold up, Marbury may succeed in his goal of turning the industry on its head, two decades after Nike slapped Michael Jordan's name and a $100 price tag on a pair of basketball shoes.

"It just makes no sense for sneakers to cost as much as they do and put families in the situation they get in when their kids want them," Marbury says. But pricey sneakers have been declining in popularity: in 2004, sales of $100-plus basketball and running shoes dropped 19 percent; as of last year, sneakers in that price range accounted for just $611 million of the $8 billion U.S. athletic-footwear market, accord-ing to NPD, a N.Y. market-research company. With these trends in mind, Steve & Barry's University Sportswear chain approached Marbury two years ago about helping create a low-cost shoe.

While the Starbury One's price is a selling point to parents, no kid wants to think he got a discount special. Which is why Erin Patton, an Air Jordan marketing alum, built a Web campaign with the catchy phrase "You Feel Me?"--and not a price tag in sight. Marbury got no upfront money, taking a piece of the back end instead. Now we'll see whether Starburys can catch as much air as Jordans.

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