NIKE BASKETBALL 1992-2012: Twenty Designs that Changed the Game
“Nike Basketball’s releases over the past 20 years represent the definition and redefinition of the hoops shoe. A 20-year work-in-progress.”
In 1992, the Nike Air Force 180 Low was born. ( I only really remember this shoe because of the Dream Team. I never had this one.)
Catering to powerful players, the Nike Air Force 180 Low represented a significant evolution and extension of Nike Basketball’s design language. At the time of this shoe’s release, Nike Air was almost 14 years old and Visible Air was five. How do you build on those pressurized foundations? By adding 50% more cushioning.
1991’s towering Nike Air Force 180 applied some pressure to become one of the biggest Nike Basketball releases of all time. But 1992’s Nike Air Force 180 Low scaled things down without losing the menacing looks that united each Force release; built for pounding, blocking and intensely physical play. It was lighter than previous shoes too. Who better to represent the Nike Air Force 180 Low ethos than Charles Barkley?
Strapping down the player for superior support, it was clear that the 180 and power basketball went together like Barkley and controversy. When the Nike Air Force 180 Low hit the hardwood in 1992, it was an iconic moment in sneaker and sporting history.
The Nike Air Force 180 Low is a classic shoe —cushioned to protect, but built to withstand.
In 1992, the Nike Air Flight Huarache was born. (I most definately remember this shoe. I had this one. I have a really CRAZY story about this shoe. It involves Police, Girls and Guns) Ha!
“If the shoe fits in with other things that are going on culturally, you get a perfect storm.” - Tinker Hatfield
The Nike Air Flight Huarache’s aesthetic swagger was in what it stripped away. A swoosh? No need for one — it’s not like this shoe could have been made by any other brand. That Dynamic Fit, exoskeleton, leather and neoprene combined to make this one of the purest expressions of performance to date.
While a maverick team — led by intuitionist Tinker Hatfield, and assisted by Eric Avar — worked behind the scenes to translate the Huarache running technology to the courts, it took a crew of collegiate game-changers to give the Nike Air Flight Huarache an extra ascent in terms of publicity.
If the sport’s style leaders were dressing from the feet up, the Huarache was an instruction to those shorts to relax a little, because this shoe had it under control.
As the seam length of the shorts lengthened, the Huarache countered with a reductionist school of thought — “Where can we just trim this baby back a little bit?” Tinker asked, because that minimal upper needed to be complemented by an equally stripped-down sole. That leads to the eternal question: which came first – this rebel shoe like no other, eclipsing a previous decade of bulk, or basketball’s completely new attitude and aesthetic?
In 1992, the Nike Air Raid was born. (I remember this shoe. I never owned a pair. I can’t remember what I was wearing back then. I had just gotten into Nike about 3 years prior; in 1989.)
“That X was about strapping up to go into battle, because you’re going to get knocked around the frickin’ cage and you need to strap yourself in.” - Tinker Hatfield
Blame the yellow sticky. It took a small paper note to instigate the most hardwearing Nike shoe to date. Delivered from the very top, it was less a request and more of an instruction — make a shoe for outdoor basketball.
That meant now.
With Tinker Hatfield sketching and fellow designer Mark Smith deployed to New York the following day to capture the look and mood of the city’s concrete battlegrounds, it became clear that this was a completely different game. This was where big league heroes could be humbled by local legends.
Rather than resorting to extra bulk, the Nike Air Raid was a shoe that needed to be built from the ground up. The sole stayed flat to ensure total contact with the ground and the quest to strike a balance between resilience and light weight resulted in an expressive and interactive design that worked with an outdoor environment. The heavy-duty lateral bumper was added out of necessity, padding was studied meticulously and Tinker’s cross strap design delivered total lockdown through experience. “I was looking at how athletes tape their ankles.”
That ‘X’ arrived at a moment when knowledge of self and roughneck aesthetics united. Through sheer coincidence, movements converged and a bubbling culture spilled into the Nike Air Raid’s DNA almost unconsciously. Supported by an equally confrontational ad campaign that helped imprint an ‘X’ on an entire generation’s psyche, caged courts got the shoes it deserved. Twenty years later, it’s still one of Tinker’s favorite projects. “We felt that in a short space of time, we’d caught the essence of the shoe itself — a rougher game without officials and referees.”
For the rest of the Summer, Nike will be taking us through a journey. 20 years of basketball shoes that changed the game. Check back for more features as Nike makes them available.