In a country as basketball-crazy as the Philippines, it’s unsurprising that sneaker collecting is a “thing.” As a kid in the 1990s, Antonio Aguirre, Jr. remembers Cash & Carry in Makati City as the go-to place for copping the signature shoes worn by NBA players like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, and Scottie Pippen. In the early aughts, Vince Carter and his Nike Shox caught fire. “Not many would line up though. Weeks would pass and the shoes would still be there,” said Mr. Aguirre, who is also known as Mr. Sole Slam, an influential sneakerhead who founded the brand Sole Slam and ran the largest sneaker convention in the country, credited with further cultivating the local sneaker scene.
People started queueing around 2009-2010, when Kobe Bryant was winning championships with the Los Angeles Lakers in a pair of Nike Zoom Kobe V. It was also around this time that LeBron James was in the news for his very public breakup with the Cleveland Cavaliers—remember “The Decision”?—in favor of the Miami Heat. The controversy added to the desirability of the LeBron 8 “South Beach,” which, with its pink-and-teal colorway, screamed Florida.

While basketball was the takeoff-point for sneaker culture in the Philippines, Mr. Aguirre witnessed a shift around 2014, which he attributed to Europeans and their love for running shoes. “They aren’t really into basketball shoes like the Americans,” he said, adding that the Japanese preference for big, chunky, colorful shoes has also made inroads among Filipino collectors.

The sneakerhead community, according to Mr. Sole Slam himself, is bonded by the thrill for searching and acquiring coveted shoes. “I started collecting seriously when I was 28 years old,” said Mr. Aguirre. “What got me into the sneaker scene was the Jordan IX OG. It was a white pair of shoes that Jordan did not wear due to his retirement from basketball in 1993.”

Mr. Aguirre met up with an online seller who was willing to part with a pair for Php9,000. “I saw he had other stocks of shoes,” he said of the moment he was bitten by the shoe-collecting bug. “Two days after I ended up buying 17 pairs of shoes from him in one go and it opened a can of worms.”

In a futile attempt to curb his initial appetite for kicks, he told himself that he would limit his collection to Air Jordans (I to XXIII). “Just to satisfy the itch,” he said. Then a friend asked him if he wanted a Kobe, a LeBron, maybe Asics running shoes? At its peak, Mr. Aguirre’s collection was composed of 1,257 pairs of shoes. That Imeldific number has since been whittled down, with great effort, to under 400 pairs.

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