In 2006, premium television produced a premium sneaker that still lives in footwear folklore. Learn the history behind Turtle’s rarity that still makes sneakerheads salivate.
This month, Entourage celebrates 18 years since its first airing on HBO.
Produced by Mark Wahlberg and based loosely on his life, the show spanned eight seasons and spawned a movie. Over the course of its 96-episode run, the series became famous for its celebrity cameos, Scott Vener vetted soundtrack, and its ability to sell box sets of DVDs by the boatload.
While Entourage offered an inside look at show business – through a sensationalized, satirical lens at that – it impacted culture and commerce in a big way by breaking brands and spotlighting emerging trends.
In 2021, Boardroom’s Nick DePaula called Entourage “an aggressive vehicle for product placement” that predated its peers. At its peak, the show’s producers inaugurated its audience of almost 3 million watchers to everything from Avion tequila to T-Pain-assisted Kanye West singles.
By the summer of 2006, approaching its apex of popularity, the Season 3 episode entitled “What About Bob?” introduced mainstream viewers to something much more electrifying than energy drinks or a Shawne Merriman cameo: sneaker culture.
Before the entire world was captivated by clout, Turtle, played by Jerry Ferrara, lined up at Undefeated in Los Angeles to purchase a pair of Nike Air Force 1 Lows designed in collaboration with fictional graffiti artist Fukijama.
While the shoes started as a subplot, they’ve lived on in legend.
When a young Jerry Ferrara auditioned for the role of Turtle, personal driver to the show’s star Vinny Chase, he read lines with Wahlberg in a size 56 Jerome Bettis Steelers jersey. Despite standing 5’7, the oversized homage to The Bus spoke to the hip-hop sentiment the character possessed.
Ferrara got the gig, and was soon outfitted in an abundance of XXL velour sweat suits.
From fitted hats to Bernard King throwbacks, Turtle became a fan favorite as the charismatic weed carrier cloaked out in suiting straight from The Source. As his star grew, so did his storylines, proving promise in Season 3.
Aired on August 20, 2006, “What About Bob?” sees the fictional “Fukijama” Forces serve as a subplot to the show’s business brass trying to sell a Ramone biopic. All the while, Turtle is chasing the limited edition shoes and even asking Vinny to get one of his famous friends to hook him up as a favor.
As it goes, Turtle ends up lining up at Undefeated for his chance to cop the kicks, only to see the last pair passed to legendary sneakerhead DJ AM (which happens to be short for DJ Air Max).
Down in the dumps, Turtle gets thrown a hail mary by his boy Vinny who saves the day by dropping $20K on an exclusive gold pair from Fukijama himself. Not only does this elate Turtle, it times out with the crew discovering the project they were all in on had been sold. In an instant, the team was without work.
In the script, the $20,000 is painted as a bad investment. In reality, the fictional tag was a steal.
Just last year, over a decade after the “What About Bob?” episode aired, a pair of sample size 9 “Gold Fukijama” Air Force 1s sold on Sotheby’s for a whopping $88,200.
For context, that’s a fraction of the price pairs from Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1 auction fetched, yet still much more than the prized Scarr’s Pizza Air Force 1 currently listed for $30K in the same size.
“I’ve been asked if I’m the one that sold mine,” Ferrara said on Instagram in December 2021. “I am not.”
Since the episode first aired, the “Fukijama” Forces have increased in folklore thanks to the time capsule Entourage exists as and the outrageous growth of sneaker culture.
Because of this, Ferrara has taken the time to tell the story of his illustrious Air Forces all while the world’s biggest collectors continue to chase them.
Give Me Two Pair
On TV, Turtle only got one golden pair of “Fukijama” Air Force 1s.
In reality, Jerry Ferrara took home more than that.
When pitching the concept for the episode, the team at Entourage worked with Nike to conceptualize a kick that a Queens-bred sneakerhead would scour Los Angeles for. Naturally, he’d have to line up at Undefeated to cop them. But to go this hard for a single pair of Air Forces? They had to be a collaboration.
Playing off the world of graffiti art – a space in which the Swoosh sought the likes of Stash, Futura, and Mr. Cartoon commonly – the TV producers created Fukijama as an LA-based artist of Japanese descent. Rather than relying on an actual spray paint professional to ghost design said shoe, Nike leveraged their emerging laser-etching program and looped in Mark Smith.
Smith, a Nike vet responsible for working on everything from 1992’s Air Raid to 2009’s Air Yeezy, was making his mark on Air Jordans and Zoom LeBrons quite literally by burning designs into the upper. The process of laser-etching became somewhat signature to Smith, who helped bring the aesthetic to launches likened to Michael Vick, coveted Dunk drops, and birthday gifts for Spike Lee and Michael Jordan himself.
When tasked with lasering a sneaker for a TV show, Smith personally called the Entourage cast to seek inspiration, asking the actors everything from their childhood address to other random antidotes untied to sports or sneakers. From there, Smith’s storytelling told each star’s life on the leather, laser-inscribing dates, and details that looked like graffiti from afar, but were actually quite personal when seen up close.
Initially, the first prototype was decked out in timely white patent leather with laser-etching taking to the toe box and heel piece. Take two featured darker, deeper laser-etching all around the upper and in the lining, paving the path for bold Undefeated branding on the tongue.
Eventually, Smith settled on two styles: the powder blue take Turtle would chase in the show and the metallic gold makeup he’d be gifted on Vinny’s dime.
To this day, Ferrara still has both.
“The golds have never touched the ground,” Ferrara shared on Throwing Fits in 2021. “I was going to wear them to the Entourage movie premiere in LA and I totally punked out.”
Electing dress shoes on the red carpet – though popping up in OG-toned Air Jordan 3s and Air Jordan 4s on the movie’s media run – Ferrara came close to rocking the rarity that even the Mount Rushmore of Air Force 1 aficionados can’t find.
Initially, he planned to have a friend swap shoes with him once the movie ended as to not get stepped on at the afterparty. The problem? Anyone he could trust was already invited to that same party.
Years later, he made good on his stage fright by breaking out the powder blue pair at a Knicks game.
Some sites say 100 pairs of the powder blue pair were produced promotionally while Ferrara himself thinks it’s closer to 600, despite noting that there are plenty of passable fakes out there.
Regardless, the shoes from the show still strike a nerve with sneakerheads almost 14 years after the infamous episode aired.
Worth its Weight in Gold
As noted, the insanely rare “Gold Fukijama” Air Force 1 Low launched online at Sotheby’s via auction, fetching over $88K in 2021.
Once again, that size 9 rarity was not Jerry Ferrara’s personal pair, though they do derive straight from the show’s set.
“I think there were six made in total, one for each of the cast members and one for each of our two producers,” Ferrara continued on Throwing Fits. “But the ones that were actually on the show that the Turtle character is holding? Those are in my house right now. They’re 9.5 and that’s my size. I’m 10 in Jordans and 9.5 in Airs.”
Ferrara’s shoe size may be news to you, but trust, it’s common knowledge to those trying to secure his sneakers, even if his castmates could care less.
“Ten years ago I was offered like $75K,” Ferrara continued. “I could go build a pool with that money and I’m never going to touch those shoes ever.”
Since that episode, Ferrara has gone as far as to try on the shoes, showcasing them on Instagram on the carpeted floors of his own home.
Though a single size 9 of “Gold Fukijamas” sold on Sotheby’s, they didn’t hit the auction block alone, joining SB Dunks and Hyperdunks derived from the sitcom’s historic run. Regardless of the time that’s passed, the iconic Air Forces reside in holy grail favor amongst AF1 fans.
Infamously, Fat Joe found out in 2021 that the pair of “Gold Fukijama” Air Force 1s he bought years ago were in fact fugazi. Once he found out the fake status he set the pair on fire on Instagram.
Even Mayor, a man with more Air Force 1s than most people have friends, has been able to get his hand on two takes of the powder blue exclusives yet can’t catch the metallic makeup.
“There’s another funky, crazy gold pair that Mark Whalberg has and a few others out there,” Mayor told Kicks USA. “But I wasn’t able to obtain that one.”
In recent years, both Ferrara and Smith have kept the Fukijama legend alive by posting photos and videos of the elusive sneakers. As Nike celebrates 40 years of the Air Force 1 in 2022 and the same milestone for the Air Force 1 Low in 2023, perhaps a retro release is in store as a nod to 2009‘s limited launch at Undefeated LA that let life imitate art.
Still, the origin of it all remains Entourage – a show that wasn’t about sneakers but somehow ended up shining a light on it. For now, the “Fukijama” Air Force 1s live on through Sotheby’s auctions and dusty DVDs.