Virginia Wright’s students call her “Miss Wright,” but in sneakerhead circles, she’s known as SP Gina. And SP Gina’s not only got serious game, she now has Nike Air Jordans named after her.
“I love Jordans,” Wright said Friday at a celebration at Santee Elementary School in San Jose. “People ask me how many I have. My standard response is ‘not enough.’ ”
So how did a 5-foot-tall teacher, with black-framed glasses that take over her face rise to the level of footwear royalty? It was a match made at Shoe Palace, which pitched Nike’s Jordan brand with the idea of using their first exclusive collaboration to partner with one of the San Jose-based chain’s favorite customers.
Wright’s regular haunt is the Shoe Palace at Oakridge Mall in South San Jose, where she would go with her walking group. When she first went there, she scoffed at the relatively small selection of women’s athletic shoes and asked if she could shop on the men’s side. She became a regular, and the manager was soon complimenting her shoe collection. Her sneakers caught the attention of her students, too.
“When I got into the shoe culture, kids started noticing me,” said Wright, who retired after a 35-year career teaching in the Franklin McKinley School District but continues to work on a fill-in basis at Santee. “They’d say ‘Miss Wright, which Jordans are those?’ I realized very quickly that I had a connection with them. My foot was in the door.”
She started buying and wearing more sneakers. And that got Gina noticed by both shoppers at Oakridge and by the employees at Shoe Palace. “They asked me, have you ever thought about Instagram? I didn’t even know what that was,” she said.
She does now. On Instagram, @SPGinaGotGame had 6,600 followers as of Friday afternoon who fawn over photos of her in new shoes, always with a matching outfit, or posing with her pals at the mall. Few of her new fans, she says, are over the age of 30. “They’ve adopted me,” she said. “They like my shoe game. I’m one of them. I’m so proud to be part of the sneakerhead culture.”
And she knows her shoes, especially Jordans. “All Jordans are good, but the retros are better. If you’re a sneakerhead, you’ve got to go for the best,” she counsels. “Jordan made 33 shoes, and my favorites are the 1s.”
Still, it came as a surprise in 2017 when Shoe Palace management said they wanted her to meet with the Nike’s Jordan brand designers to work on a sneaker for Shoe Palace. Keep it a secret, they told her; she didn’t think that would be a problem. “Even if I say something, nobody’s going to believe me anyway,” she said.
When Shoe Palace Vice President John Mersho broke the news to her that she was getting her own shoes, she thought he was nuts. “They always give releases to basketball players, rappers, celebrities. I was none of those,” she said. “They chose an educator, they chose a mature woman, and they chose a sneakerhead. I’m flabbergasted. It’s an honor that I get to advocate for youth and teachers.”
The Air Jordan HI OG “SP Gina” shoes are the first exclusive release Jordan Brand sneaker made for Shoe Palace. The limited-edition shoes are Jordan 1s — Gina’s favorite — in her favorite colors, black and red. The fabric has a shimmer, just like some of Gina’s more sparkling outfits, and every pair has a red apple hangtag — with the Jumpman logo in the center — to honor the teaching profession.
And on top of her newfound fame, Gina also got a pair of her sneakers, which retail for $180.
The highly collectible sneaker was released Saturday morning at Shoe Palace’s original location on Bascom Avenue and Stevens Creek Boulevard and at www.shoepalace.com. They’ll show up in other Shoe Palace stores beginning June 1.
On Friday, reps from Shoe Palace and Jordan Brand teamed up on a service project at Santee Elementary — sprucing up the basketball court and library — and stuck around for an assembly on the court to honor Wright that featured District Superintendent Juan Cruz and Oakland Raiders fullback Marcel Reece. Also beaming proudly from the sideline was Shoe Palace CEO George Mersho, who said that it was important for the chain — which has grown from one store in San Jose in 1993 to 160 nationwide — to honor a local hero.
“From Day One, we have been about giving back to the community. You can’t take it with you,” he said.
Greg Dube with Nike Jordan Brand said that attitude has made Shoe Palace a great partner. “Most partners that we deal with have in mind sales, margins and profits. Shoe Palace dreamed about service and community, hiring local and training local talent,” he said. “They weren’t just in the community, they were of the community.”
Gina has been an inspiration for the Jordan brand team, too, Dube said.
“She wanted to find a way to connect with kids and what better way than through sneaker culture. But what she discovered along the way was the environment she built led to conversations way beyond sneakers,” he said. “In the pantheon of signature products from Nike and Jordan, you’ve got Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Gina, a schoolteacher from San Jose.”