Netflix’s ‘Sneakerheads’ about sneaker culture created by Atlantan Jay Longino

"Sneakerheads" stars Allen Maldonado as Devin and Andrew Bachelor as Bobby in episode No. 2 of the Netflix series. Credit: Netflix

Credit: Courtesy of NETFLIX

Credit: Courtesy of NETFLIX

Jay Longino, a 1991 Westminster graduate, used to play pick-up basketball games as a teen at a court in the Peachtree Battle neighborhood.

There, he met a man who hooked Longino up to work for the Atlanta Hawks as a gopher. One day, a gutsy Longino approached Michael Jordan and requested his game shoes: 1989 White Cement Jordan 4s. Jordan actually gave them to him.

Longino treasured those sneakers. They even had the same shoe size. “I played basketball that year in his shoes!” he said.

But years later, his mom placed many of his old sneakers in a yard sale, promising she would save the Jordan sneakers. But he later discovered she accidentally did sell them — for peanuts.

Longino, who now lives in Los Angeles as a TV producer, said that loss seeded his adult sneaker obsession. He now owns about 150 pairs. This also led to his current Netflix scripted series “Sneakerheads,” a high-energy romp of a comedy, which came out September 25.

The six-episode first season is set in Los Angeles and stars Allen Maldonado as Devin, a married man with two small kids who had to give up his sneaker collecting five years earlier to commit to family. But his former best bud Bobby (Andrew Bachelor) sucks him back into that world with one of his many get-rich-quick schemes. Deven quickly finds himself in a $5,000 hole. The solution? Tracking down a pair of coveted Michael Jordan “Zeroes" for a collector, a potential payoff that takes him and Bobby to Hong Kong.

“He goes down this rabbit hole in the pilot, and the rest of the season is Devin trying to dig himself out,” said Longino.

Maldonado isn’t a sneakerhead himself, he said, but learned to appreciate them: “They’ll spend $10,000, $20,000 for a rare pair. They’ll stay up two days in line for sneakers. Big ups to those guys who work hard for the art.”

The sneaker collectible business has been around for decades but has only gotten bigger in recent years. Sotheby’s held its first-ever sneaker auction last year including 100 rare finds. This past May, in the middle of the pandemic, Sotheby’s hit a record auction price of $560,000 for a game-worn, autographed pair of Nike Air Jordan 1s from 1985.

Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator at Toronto’s famed Bata Shoe Museum, brought an art exhibit of valuable sneakers in 2016 called “The Rise of Sneaker Culture” to the High Museum. It featured sneakers from Adidas, Converse, Nike, Puma, and Reebok as well as private collectors such as hip-hop legend Darryl “DMC” McDaniels.

“Atlanta has a strong sneaker game,” said Semmelhack. “The number of people who came to see the exhibition was amazing. I was extremely impressed.”

The city, with its plethora of current and retired NBA stars, has no shortage of stores to accommodate the local sneakerhead culture such as Epitome in Buckhead, Walters in downtown Atlanta and Wish in Little Five Points. Fresh sneaker deliveries arrive daily and the stores work hard to woo big-time collectors on social media and email blasts.

Greg Street, the veteran V-103 disc jockey, is considered one of the top collectors in the country and checks out the big stores in town regularly during his free time. He owns about 2,000 pairs, which he literally keeps in its own house for storage. He estimates his collection is worth millions.

“I have always just loved sneakers,” said Street while recently visiting Wish, a converted Carnegie library which recently underwent a major renovation that includes a 10,000-book staircase leading to an artfully lit basement featuring high-end sneakers and 10 tons of river rock converted to seats. (“This is the place for Instagam photos,” said Wish chief executive Julie Hogg.)

Longino himself visits Wish whenever he comes back to town to visit family. “They do a good job curating what they have in there,” he said.

V-103 jock and sneakerhead Greg Street visits Wish, a sneaker store in Little FIve points, and talks with Wish CEO Julie Hogg on September 16, 2020. CR: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney Ho / AJC

Credit: Rodney Ho / AJC

The Wish store in Little Five Points. CR: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

During “Sneakerheads," Devin and Bobby spend copious amounts of time in Los Angeles area sneaker stores and end up joining forces with Nori (Jearnest Corchado), a shoe broker to the stars, and Stuey (Matthew Josten) a gabby neophyte eager to break into the business.

Longino is well connected in the world of sneakers and convinced several celebrities to make appearances on the show, including stand-up comic Hasan Minhaj, actors Jerry Ferrara (“Entourage”) and Michael Rapaport (“Boston Public”) and NBA players Baron Davis, Paul Pierce and Nick Young. Longino was a writer for the 2018 Atlanta-produced comedy film “Uncle Drew,” so he brought in the film’s star Lil Rel Howery. Fellow Westminster classmate and “The Office” alum Brian Baumgartner played Devin’s boss in one episode.

“They mostly did it because they simply love sneakers,” Longino said.

“Sneakerheads" captures the love of the sneaker as an art form, the chase itself and what one of the characters describes as “the nod."

“You ever notice how motorcycle guys will give you a nod of respect as they go by?” says sneaker store owner Gia (played by Longino’s wife Aja) to Devin’s skeptical wife Christine (Yaani King) during episode five. “Same with sneakerheads... You get that nod, and you know whatever you’re rockin' that day is on point. That may sound silly to some but that [expletive] feels good!"

Despite the modest budget, Longino was able to fly a stripped-down crew to Hong Kong to shoot the two main characters on the city’s vaunted Sneaker Street for episode five.

“We were 10 people running around Hong Kong for a couple of days,” Longino said. “We kind of stuck out.”

SNEAKERHEADS (L to R) MATTHEW JOSTEN as STUEY, JEARNEST CORCHADO as NORI, ALLEN MALDONADO as DEVIN and ANDREW BACHELOR as BOBBY in episode 2 of SNEAKERHEADS. Cr. Courtesy of NETFLIX/NETFLIX © 2020

Credit: Courtesy of NETFLIX

Credit: Courtesy of NETFLIX

Reviews for the show have been mixed, with viewers giving the show a 5.7 out of 10 on imdb.com.

Variety’s Caroline Framke lauded director Dave Meyers for capturing “the bleached alleyways and glossy nooks of underground Los Angeles” providing the series “a fluid, elastic quality to the show that keeps it moving even when the narrative is stuck in neutral.” The Guardian’s Rebecca Nicholson said, “for outsiders, it is all fairly niche and insular, but if you are a sneakerhead, this is custom-made for you.” And Joel Keller of Decider “found the show to be a bit retrograde and not all that funny.”

On the bright side, “Sneakerheads” landed in the U.S. top 10 trending list on Netflix over the weekend.

Longino is hoping for a quick renewal: “I’ve got season two mapped out in my head, ready to go."

Netflix show "Sneakerheads" was created by Westminster grad Jay Longino (left) and stars Allen Maldonado (right). Credit: Netflix

Credit: Netflix

Credit: Netflix

WHERE TO WATCH

“Sneakerheads,” available for Netflix subscribers.

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