We spoke with Goodbirger about digital thrifting, and the Wild Cats Collection

Goodbirger: Archivist, historian, digital thrifter, creator… many terms can describe him but I arrived at, “The Detective”.

Combing through our DM’s on IG, I first got to know Goodbirger on 5 May 2021 when I posted the Kentucky Wildcats Player Edition custom. I woke up and saw a photo in my DM that made me jump out of bed: It was an old picture of the Kentucky coach back in 1985, at a press conference holding those shoes. 

Today we are gonna find out more about him.

So hey Goodbirger, (or can I say, ‘Detective?’) can you tell us where you’re from and what you do? 

Sure! My name is Caleb and I live in Southern Illinois. I work for Nice Kicks, running @nicekicksvault on Instagram. I’m also a stay at home dad, teaching my daughters homeschool during the day! 

I’m gonna say that you have a special set of skills which you do this better than most: vintage sneaker forensics. Would you describe your process and how are you able to dig so deep into something most people can’t? 

While I can’t dive exactly into the specifics, or give my searching secrets away, I can say that what I do can be done by anyone. But as with any profession, it’s something I’ve improved on over time and I’m still discovering new techniques, as well as sources for information. My wife was a librarian for quite some time and introduced me to the microfiche at her work. I really started diving into it one day, and I’ve never really stopped. It’s an endless source of information that’s been missed by many in the past! 

Newspaper or magazine clippings of old ads seem to be your thing. You have a term for this, care to explain?  

I like to call it ‘Digital Thrifting.’ When thrifters go out and find a rare piece, buyers/collectors get excited at seeing such a rarity. Especially if it’s something relatively unknown. I do the same thing with pictures/info in a sense. My goal is to find material that most haven’t seen, and attempt to give a small history lesson without being too boring about it. People get excited about some of the material I share, but unlike physical thrifting, my finds are free for all to enjoy! I think what I enjoy most is that many of the stuff I discover, it’s me learning it too. That’s probably my favorite think about sneakers in general is it’s impossible to know everything. I love learning new things!

Do you have a vintage collection and if so, what kind of curation? Pics?

I have amassed a small arsenal of shoes. But in July of 2013, our house was broken into and 75% of my collection was stolen. The took pretty much anything that could be worn, left some of my oldies which I’m somewhat thankful for. My current focus has been on the Nike Air Strong and Air 2 Strong TB sets. I’m a Nike Team shoe junkie! It’s not very exciting, but much more affordable than chasing down Jordans from ‘85! (I have a couple of those too.)

OK big question here, do you think the AJ1 silhouette was made for Jordan or was it a pre-existing shoe that they branded for MJ after signing him? 

I think the idea of the shoe was solely made for him. They wanted him to represent a specific model and that’s the one given to him. But as we know, the AJI is mashup of multiple shoes of that era into one. Nike very well could have been designing the shoe prior to signing him, because many sneakers are planned 12-18 months in advance. 

You mentioned thrifting in Kentucky for 15 years and You sent me a pic that blew my mind: its this ad thats says “VINTAGE BUYERS WANT TO BUY OLD NIKE BASKETBALL SHOES”. Can you tell us more about that? 

In the early 90’s, there were buyers from around the United States holding buying events where they’d purchase vintage Air Jordans, Dunks and Levi’s denim. They’d typically set up at a local hotel or trading card show, asking people to bring in what they have and guaranteeing a certain cash amount for specific shoes. They’d turn around and sell their purchases to buyers in Japan for three and four times what they paid for it. The Japanese were responsible for the early vintage trends and buying old Air Jordans. The reason Nike retro’d the I, II and III in ‘94 and ‘95 was due to this rise in popularity in the old models overseas. However people outside of Japan weren’t quite ready for that trend yet and most ended up on deep discount very fast! All hit as low as $19.99! 
Why did the Kentucky WILDCATS have these SMU’s made for them? And how many versions of DUNK P.Es (Player Editions) do they have? 

My theory on the Wildcats Dunk is they were in fact originally intended to be made solely for Kentucky. The Dunk that is. But as the popularity of the AJ1 rose quickly, along with its unique color blocking of the time, I believe Nike changed the format and made it a full-on team shoe, starting the College Colors program. Kentucky was told by Sonny Vacarro that a new shoe would ‘specifically be designed for them, similar to the Air Jordan.’ This was in June of 1985 when Eddie Sutton left Arkansas for Kentucky. UK had been a Converse school since the 1950’s, so them joining Nike was a huge deal at the time. Them receiving their own sneaker was part of the deal upon signing with Nike. As for how many PE’s they have, I can’t answer that. A July 1985 article mentions their equipment manager traveling to Beaverton to aid in the design process, even picking up two prototypes of the shoe, which they ultimately rejected. He expected more samples roughly ten days after leaving Nike HQ. His suggestion to Nike was to call the shoe the ‘Nike Aristacat.’ Early mentions of their ‘exclusive’ gear, which would eventually become College Colors, is referred to as ‘Wildcat Wear.’ 

We made a pair of the WILDCATS dunks for Virgil. We saw you post that you guys chatted a bit and he was a man for the people. What did you guys chat about? 

Often it is was just sharing one of my posts, and talking about the subjects in it. He loved the obscure, and that always seemed to grab his attention. He told me the information that I find for IG is an important aspect of sneakers and regularly encouraged me to always keep sourcing. I am in no way claiming to know him well at all, but I’m thankful that he wanted to follow me and the work that I do. I was obviously a huge fan of his, and the work he did. So for him to know who I was, and to be a fan of the ‘work’ I do as well…is something I’ll hold close as long as I’m here. He didn’t have to take time out of his day to respond to my stories, but he did. He inspired so many people and always had time for everyone, even us little guys. 

Wanna tell us something most of us don’t know? 

Michael Jordan was not the first person to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated wearing Air Jordans. He made his first cover appearance as a pro in December 1984, but was wearing the Air Ship. He appeared again in November ‘86 wearing the AJ2. However on the October 7, 1985 issue, Tennessee Volunteers Quarterback Tony Robinson is wearing the white/natural grey AJ1. A shoe he wore anytime the Volunteers played on turf that season.  

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