As a teenager in Germany, Bakeer Ganesharatnam and his younger brother often woke up in the middle of the night to watch NBA superstars like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Penny Hardaway on TV.
That’s when Ganesharatnam’s sneaker obsession started.
“Me and my brother were really into NBA basketball as kids,” the Owls’ seventh-year volleyball coach said. “I was really a big Michael Jordan fan growing up, and that’s how I got into his shoes. For the longest time, I couldn’t afford them.”
Ganesharatnam began his collection in sixth grade and has been buying sneakers since. He isn’t sure how many pairs he has between the United States and Germany combined. But they fill his parents’ basement even after he’s given some away, he said.
As a coach at an Under Armour-sponsored school, Ganesharatnam has more access to sneakers than he did as a child. When he plays pickup basketball with men’s basketball assistant coach Aaron McKie and the rest of the staff, Ganesharatnam’s sneaker of choice is the Under Armour Curry 2 “All-Star.” It is a signature shoe of two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry and now only available on the resale market, he said.
While coaching, Ganesharatnam prefers wearing the Under Armour Curry 2 Low “Energy,” which has sold out at retailers since its release in February 2016.
Assistant coach Ren Cefra also has a pair of the Curry 2 Lows. Like Ganesharatnam, Cefra shares a passion for footwear. Cefra has 30 pairs of shoes with him in Philadelphia.
Cefra’s father used to scold him for running around barefoot as a child in Hawaii. This fostered his interest in different kind of shoes.
The two coaches started bonding through their sneaker interest “a little over a year ago,” Cefra said.
“I knew he was big into other sports, like basketball,” Cefra said. “When people are into sports, the one thing that people tend to lean toward is shoes. I can’t blame him.”
Ganesharatnam never asked his parents for money to buy his coveted basketball sneakers. Instead, he delivered newspapers in his hometown of Sindelfingen, Germany, and worked other jobs to save money for months before he could purchase a pair.
Even when he accumulated enough money, Ganesharatnam still struggled to get the sneakers he wanted. Because he lived in Germany, Ganesharatnam had limited access to shoes sold in the U.S.
Fortunately, he had an aunt who lived in New York.
“I sent her the money to get them from the States,” Ganesharatnam said. “They were Nike high-tops, all white with the white Nike Swoosh. Those were the first sneakers I slept in actually.”
The first few times he bought new pairs of shoes, Ganesharatnam slept in them. He kept his eyes on different styles and bought shoes he actually wanted to wear instead of purchasing footwear just for show. An early addition Ganesharatnam made to his young collection was the Reebok Pumps, which released in 1989.
Ganesharatnam’s obsession carried across continents. He left Germany in 2001 to attend Queens College in New York. With immediate access to the shoes he saw on TV growing up, his habits became excessive, Ganesharatnam said.
Ganesharatnam bought at least one new pair every month. He finally got some Air Jordans: the Air Jordan 4 Retro and Air Jordan 7 Retro. Ganesharatnam also added some Nike Air Pennys, the signature shoe of four-time NBA All-Star Penny Hardaway, and Nike Air Max2 CBs, Naismith Hall of Famer Charles Barkley’s shoe.
Ganesharatnam said he visited sneaker stores so often in the Jamaica, Queens that security guards greeted him by saying, “Hey, big man, you’re back!”
A year after he graduated from Queens College in 2005, Ganesharatnam accepted a job at West Virginia University, where he worked as an assistant coach until he assumed his role at Temple in January 2011.
Because West Virginia is sponsored by Nike, Ganesharatnam got exclusive Nike gear during his tenure. He had a pair of Nike Zoom Flight V Bs, the Jason Kidd Limited Edition that the 10-time NBA All-Star wore during his first stint with the Dallas Mavericks in the 1990s.
Ganesharatnam donated that pair to the school in Haiti where his father-in-law works. He has given some of his shoes to charity and passed others, including his coveted Air Max CBs, to his younger brother.
Ganesharatnam has relaxed his sneaker-buying habits in recent years, but there is a pair that still catches his attention. His all-time favorite sneaker is the Air Jordan 6 in the black and red colorway. They’re the shoes Jordan wore when he won his first NBA title in 1991.
The Air Jordan 6s are probably the only shoes Ganesharatnam would “now spend any real money on,” he said.
“My affection with sneakers came because I couldn’t afford them,” Ganesharatnam said. “I could only see them on TV. Once I picked up little jobs here and there and was able to buy them, it was great. But I never really thought of me being a part of anything or this being a culture. I just liked the sneakers.”