SEATTLE - Fights, vandalism and arrests marked the release of Nike's new Air Jordan basketball shoes as a shopping rush on stores across the United States led to unrest that nearly turned into rioting.
The outbursts of chaos stretched from Washington state to Georgia as shoppers — often waiting for hours in lines — converged on stores Friday in pursuit of the shoes, a retro model of one of the most popular Air Jordans ever made.
In suburban Seattle, police used pepper spray on about 20 customers who started fighting at the Westfield Southcenter mall. The crowd started gathering at four stores in the mall around midnight and had grown to more than 1,000 people by 4 a.m., when the stores opened, Tukwila Officer Mike Murphy said. He said it started as fighting and pushing among people in line and escalated over the next hour.
Murphy said no injuries were reported, although some people suffered cuts or scrapes from fights. Shoppers also broke two doors, and 18-year-old man was arrested for assault after authorities say he punched an officer.
"He did not get his shoes; he went to jail," Murphy said.
The mayhem was reminiscent of the violence that broke out 20 years ago in many cities as the shoes, endorsed by former Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan, became popular targets for thieves. It also had a decidedly Black Friday feel as huge crowds of shoppers overwhelmed stores for a must-have item.
In some areas, lines began forming several hours before businesses opened for the $180 shoes that were selling in a limited release.
As the crowds kept growing through the night, they became more unruly and ended in vandalism, violence and arrests.
A man was stabbed when a brawl broke out between several people waiting in line at a Jersey City, New Jersey mall to buy the new shoes, authorities said. The 20-year-old man was expected to recover from his injuries.
In Richmond, California, police say crowds waiting to buy the Air Jordan 11 Retro Concords at the Hilltop Mall were turned away after a gunshot rang out around 7 a.m.
No injuries were reported, but police said a 24-year-old suspect was taken into custody. The gun apparently went off inadvertently, the Contra Costa Times reported.
Seventeen-year-old Dylan Pulver in Great Neck, New York, said he's been looking forward to the release of the shoes for several years, and he set out at 4:30 a.m. to get a pair. After the first store he tried was too crowded, he moved on to a second location and scored a pair.
"I probably could have used a half a size smaller, but I was just really happy to have the shoe," he said.
The frenzy over Air Jordans has been dangerous in the past. Some people were mugged or even killed for early versions of the shoe, created by Nike Inc. in 1984.
The Air Jordan has since been a consistent hit with sneaker fans, spawning a subculture of collectors willing to wait hours to buy the latest pair. Some collectors save the shoes for special occasions or never take them out of the box.
A new edition was launched each year, and release dates had to be moved to the weekends at some points to keep kids from skipping school to get a pair.
But the uproar over the shoe had died down in recent years. These latest incidents seem to be part of trend of increasing acts of violence at retailers this holiday shopping season, such as the shopper who pepper-sprayed others at a Wal-Mart in Los Angeles on Black Friday and crowds looting a clothing store in New York.
Nike issued a statement in response to the violence that said: "Consumer safety and security is of paramount importance. We encourage anyone wishing to purchase our product to do so in a respectful and safe manner."
The retro version of the Air Jordan 11 was a highly sought-after shoe because of the design and the fact that the original was released in 1996 when Jordan and the Bulls were at the height of their dominance.
Pulver said they were a "defining shoe in Jordan's career."
In Taylor, Michigan, about 100 people forced their way into a shopping center around 5:30 a.m., damaging decorations and overturning benches. Police say a 21-year-old man was arrested.
In Lithonia, Georgia, at least four people were apparently arrested after customers broke down a door at a store selling the shoes. DeKalb County police said up to 20 squad cars responded.
In Northern California, two men were arrested at a Fairfield mall after crowds shoved each other to get in position for the Nikes, police said.
In Stockton, Detective Joe Silva said a person was taken into custody at Weberstown Mall on suspicion of making criminal threats involving the shoes. Police also were investigating an attempted robbery in the mall's parking lot. The victim was wrongly believed to have just purchased Air Jordans.
In Tukwila, Officer Murphy said the crowd was on the verge of a riot and would have gotten even more out of hand if the police hadn't intervened.
About 25 officers from Tukwila and surrounding areas responded. Murphy said police smelled marijuana and found alcohol containers at the scene.
"It was not a nice, orderly group of shoppers," Murphy said. "There were a lot of hostile and disorderly people."
The Southcenter mall's stores sold out of the Air Jordans, and all but about 50 people got a pair, Murphy said.
Shoppers described the scene as chaotic and at times dangerous.
Carlisa Williams said she joined the crowd at the Southcenter for the experience and ended up buying two pairs of shoes, one for her and one for her brother. But she said she'll never do anything like it again.
"I don't understand why they're so important to people," Williams told KING-TV. "They're just shoes at the end of the day. It's not worth risking your life over."