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Throwback Thursday: The Old Finish Line Catalogs

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By Drew Hammell

Images courtesy of Renick Bowman

As a kid, there was nothing like coming home from a long day at school to find a shiny new sneaker catalog in the mailbox. The glossy, fresh-smelling pages displayed all the latest shoes and clothing releasing the next few months. Everyone would bring the catalogs into the cafeteria and show their friends the sneakers they were definitely picking up on release day. Whether it was the latest Nike Shox model that Vince Carter was rocking, or a fresh new Jordan Team model like the Jumpman J Madness, Finish Line was one of the main sources for sneaker releases and first-looks during the height of the sneaker catalog era.

The first Finish Line catalog to release was in Spring ’97, with a photo of Allen Iverson on the cover. Initially, the quarterly catalog was called SPIKE (inspired by the name of the old blue running man Finish Line logo). “I’d tear out most pages and hang them on my walls or circle the shoes that I really wanted,” recalls Finish Line creative designer Renick Bowman. “They were the perfect combination of catalog versus magazine. They shifted to more of a catalog format when they dropped the SPIKE title and rebranded as a Finish Line magazine around 2003, but still had feature stories within them.”

The articles and stories about star athletes helped differentiate the catalog from competitors. Larger images of the shoes along with matching merchandise helped the consumer tie together a full outfit so they could dress just like Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James. And matching the kicks perfectly with the whole fit was essential back then.

One of the overlooked but very important details in the sneaker descriptions was the fact that Finish Line provided release dates for virtually every sneaker displayed. For example, the all-black Air Jordan 17 released on March 20th, 2002, and the Nike Zoom LeBron 2 released November 6th, 2004. Over the years, as sneaker culture has become more mainstream, collectors are interested in the history of every single shoe. One of the most important pieces of information for a model is the release date. The challenge is that most people have thrown out their old catalogs, so these release dates become more and more difficult to track down. As powerful a resource as Google has become, it has its limitations when it comes to information like these original release dates.

As time progressed through the first decade of the 2000s, the internet became the main platform to access sneaker information. And once the internet made its way onto smart phones, the catalog and magazine industry took a big hit. By the time a catalog was printed, everyone had already seen every sneaker releasing online. Companies like Finish Line saw the changes coming, and adapted accordingly by building a robust retail website and app. With the last Finish Line catalogs printing in 2009, it’s worth looking back and appreciating an era that mankind will most likely never return to: the pre-internet age. Incredibly, less than 20 years ago, most people did not utilize the web for shopping; nor did they think the internet would catch on. Today, not only is the internet the primary way to shop, an entire generation of kids will grow up thinking the exact opposite of what their parents thought. And unfortunately, today’s youth will never experience the joy of passing around a new sneaker catalog at lunch.

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