ORLANDO -- The launch of an expensive new basketball shoe -- timed to Orlando’s hosting of the NBA All-Star Game -- triggered a melee Thursday night at Florida Mall that was quelled by deputies in riot gear.
The wild scene erupted about 9:45 p.m. EST as hundreds of people packed the mall’s parking lot, hoping to buy the new shoe at midnight. As the crowd grew, a large contingent of Orange County deputy sheriffs arrived, braced for problems.
Similar shoe releases have caused violence at shoe stores across the country, but no one was hurt or arrested at Florida Mall, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Witnesses told The Orlando Sentinel that the crowd was asked to wait across the street when the mall closed at 9 p.m., but one person made a mad dash toward the Foot Locker where the shoes were to go on sale, and hundreds followed.
“I saw hundreds of people running toward me. I thought I was going to get trampled,” said Amanda Charles, 20, who was among a group of a half-dozen friends who drove from Jacksonville, Fla., to try to buy the glow-in-the-dark Nikes.
Witnesses said more deputies quickly arrived, decked out in riot gear and fortified by still more deputies on horseback, on motorcycles and in patrol cars. A helicopter with a spotlight hovered overhead.
“We were afraid of the cops and the horses,” said Mario Torres, 22, of Orlando.
The deputies formed a line and used shields to push back the crowd, witnesses said. They said the deputies threatened to use pepper spray but did not.
More than 100 law-enforcement officers from the Sheriff’s Office, the Orlando Police Department and Florida Highway Patrol responded to the mall and were continuing to disperse the crowd as of midnight. People continued to mill about, and some cars remained in the lot after the free-for-all as many people were hoping the sale would go on as planned.
“Florida Mall is closed,” a deputy driving around the perimeter of the mall announced on a loudspeaker. “Please leave the premises. This is an unlawful gathering. There is no shoe release tonight.”
The shoe release was to cap a day of events at House of Hoops by Foot Locker, where a makeshift basketball court was set up and NBA players are signing autographs through the weekend. Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce and the Orlando Magic AirTran Flight Crew were on Thursday’s schedule.
Nike’s website says the shoes that were to go on sale were part of the Nike All-Star collection, with a galactic theme inspired by space exploration. Their release is designed as a nod to Orlando and Florida’s space industry.
Several people said they coveted the $220, limited-edition shoes for their resale value, which some estimated at up to 10 times or more than the retail price.
According to the website: “The Nike Foamposite One, showcasing an out-of-this-world galactic print upper, includes a Polyurethane midsole and a Nike Zoom unit in heel for low-profile, responsive cushioning. Made popular in its debut on the college hardwood in 1998, the Foamposite breaks the mold of conventional footwear design.”
It was unknown Friday when the shoe will be released.
Just before Christmas, the re-release of the Nike Air Jordan XI caused a ruckus at stores across the country, with crowds fighting and, in Lithonia, Ga., breaking down the doors.
In Jersey City, N.J., a 20-year-old man was stabbed seven times amid a crowd of about 300 people waiting to buy the shoes, a local newspaper reported.
In Richmond, Calif., police said one person fired a shot at a mall as about 1,000 people lined up for their chance at the shoes; a suspect was arrested.
Near Seattle, police used pepper spray to control fighting among would-be Air Jordan owners.
Unruly shoppers also were reported in Indianapolis, San Antonio, Charlotte, N.C., and Richmond, Va., resulting in several arrests and injuries.