Image: Cheech & Chong
Getty Images file
Nike will pay homage to Tommy Chong, left, in his iconic red bandana, and Cheech Marin with the Cheech & Chong shoe on April 20.
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By Deputy business editor
msnbc.com
updated 4/1/2011 3:34:50 PM ET 2011-04-01T19:34:50

What do Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Serena Williams have in common with Cheech & Chong?

All have had the honor of having a shoe named after them by Nike, the athletic apparel giant.

That’s right. Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, the pot-smoking comedy duo of the 1970s and '80s, will be paid homage with an eponymous sneaker due out April 20, the unofficial international holiday for marijuana tokers.

The skateboarding shoe, officially called the Nike SB Dunk High 420 Cheech & Chong, will feature a red heel panel, an icy translucent outsole and "marijuana-green" laces, according to the website sneakerobsession.com. Only 1,000 pairs will be made.

The left sneaker represents Chong with graphics resembling his signature red bandana, while  the right sneaker honors Cheech, with a graphic representing his signature red skullcap, wrote Joseph Karlovich, owner and editor of sneakerobsession, a website that covers the sneaker subculture.

Cheech & Chong were cult favorites who starred in stoner movies including 1978's “Up in Smoke. ” Marin, 64, and Chong, 72, have made sporadic efforts to regain their former glory with reunion tours and recently appeared as voice actors playing themselves on an episode of "The Simpsons."

Nike declined to comment on this story, but sneakerobsession and like-minded websites have been buzzing for weeks about the forthcoming release.

Artist Todd Bratrud, who helped design the shoe for Nike's skateboarding brand, confirmed the story on his twitter feed. Efforts to reach Bratrud were unsuccessful.

Nike insiders say "skunkworks projects" such as limited-release shoe models are relatively common, especially in niche categories such as skate shoes. Nike often tries to keep these releases under the radar in an effort to create "underground buzz," insiders say.

Karlovich anticipates a high demand for the Cheech & Chong shoe. Last year, he noted, Nike released a "Skunk" shoe, also designed by Bratrud, and it now sells for up to $300 a pair on eBay, compared with the original retail of $108.

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"It's funny. As far as I know, Cheech & Chong never once stepped foot on a skateboard. But a lot of boarders like to smoke pot. This seems like a natural fit to me," Karlovich says.

Over the years, Nike has collaborated with Hollywood and music celebrities in an attempt to reach the non-jock audience. For example, in 2009 Nike introduced the Air Yeezy in partnership with hip-hop artist Kanye West.

Last April 20, Bratrud and Nike produced the Nike Dunk High Skunk, another pot-influenced shoe.

Robert Passikoff, president of Brandkeys, a New York-based brand loyalty consultancy, says Nike's push to the niche demographic is a perfect fit for the global shoe company.

"This is a harmless brand promotion," Passikoff said. "And when you think about it, Cheech & Chong have to a large degree become part and parcel of mainstream American culture."

Passikoff sees no potential backlash for Nike. "They have the ability to be edgier. Nike's brand is not about shoes, it is about lifestyle. They are just targeting a different audience" he said.

"Instead of 'Just Do It' maybe they should use 'Just Smoke It,' " he joked.

But Nike could be walking into some hot water with the red-bandana motif on the shoes. New Era, the official cap provider for Major League Baseball, was forced to pull products with a similar motif off the shelves in 2007 because of complaints that they were tailor-made for gang members.

New Era designed an all-white cap with a blue bandana, the trademark of the Crips; an all-white cap with a red bandana worn by the Bloods; and a black cap with a gold team logo and crown, a fashion made famous by the Latin Kings.

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