Nike will forever be associated with its running roots, but since producing its first basketball sneakers in the early ’70s, they’ve steadily risen to global dominance. And with that ascension, you know there are plenty of stories and interesting behind-the-scenes facts that have come to the surface over the years. For any big Nike Basketball fan, young or old, we put together 30 tidbits that maybe you were previously unaware of to help you gain some new hoop knowledge from the almighty Swoosh.
A New Hope (1972)
Debuting in 1972, the Bruin was Nike’s very first basketball sneaker..and a low-top to boot. And you thought the low-top trend started with the Kobe line.
Trail Blazin' (1973)
The following year, in 1973, the Nike Blazer made it’s debut. Named after Nike’s hometown Portland Trail Blazers, they were an early favorite of NBA legends like Geoff Petrie and George “Iceman” Gervin.
The Chosen One (1982)
Nike debuts the Air Force 1, the brand’s first hoops silhouette with Air technology. Though the company had been using Air technology in runners since the late ’70s, the stresses of impact and lateral movement involved in basketball proved to be difficult to adapt to. More than a clean, classic silhouette, the Air Force 1 was very much a game-changer. To market the company’s groundbreaking new sneaker, Nike tabbed Moses Malone, Michael Cooper, Jamaal Wilkes, Bobby Jones, Mychal Thompson, and Calvin Natt as the “Chosen 1’s” to represent the brand by wearing the sneaker.
Just Do It? (1984)
Prior to signing his endorsement deal with Nike, Jordan really wanted to sign with adidas. In fact, at that point, he had never even tried on a pair of Nikes! Throughout high school and college, he had always worn either Converse or adidas. Even after being proposed the record-setting offer from Nike, MJ still approached adidas to allow them a chance to match, reportedly saying: “This is the Nike contract — if you come anywhere close, I’ll sign with you guys.” However, due to company restructuring after the death of the company’s founder Adi Dassler in 1978, adidas did not make MJ an offer. Adidas is likely funding time-travel research as we speak.
Facing stiff competition from Converse, Nike signed Michael Jordan to the richest basketball endorsement deal in history (again, in 1984): $500,000/year over 5 years. The previous highest contract was the one Lakers star James Worthy had with New Balance. Alongside that sweet paycheck, Nike also included some significant stock options that brought the total deal to around $7 million.
Nike debuts the Air Jordan I, and the world is never the same. Initially, NBA Commissioner David Stern banned the Jordan I, saying it violated team uniformity codes, and issued MJ a $5k/game fine for violating. Brilliantly, Nike sensed this “controversy” could work in their favor, and picked up the tab. Considering the return on investment, this was perhaps one of the greatest uses of marketing budgets in history.
A Sound Investment (1985)
Speaking of the $5k/game fine issues against Jordan, while it might not seem like much money to a modern NBA viewer, back in 1985, it was quite the chunk of change. Extrapolating that fine over an 82 game regular season, MJ would be fined $410,000. Funny enough, Jordan’s salary during his rookie season? Just $610,000.
Off to a Good Start (1985)
By the end of 1985, at $65 a pair, Nike had yielded over $100 million on the Jordan franchise alone. To put that in perspective, in 2013 (at substantially higher prices), Nike sold $300 million in LeBrons, $175 million in KDs, $50 million in Kobes, while adidas’ Derrick Rose line placed fourth, raking in $40 million.
A Slam Dunk (1985)
Sure, we’re all familiar with the Nike Dunk now, in 2014. But back in the day, the sneaker, and it’s iconic “Be True to Your School” ad campaign, turned a lot of heads. Hitting retail in 1985, and partnering with 7 high-profile hoops schools, the OG Nike Dunk High was a sight to behold. Originally done up in eight colorways intended for Syracuse, Georgetown, Michigan, Villanova, Kentucky, Iowa and St. John’s, rumor has it UNLV and their athletes were so enamored by the Dunks that they altered their uniform color scheme to fit with the 8th colorway! And of course, the Dunk High inspired the design of the Air Jordan I, as well as being credited with starting the SB Dunk craze when they retro’ed the BTYS colorways, as SBs, in 2005.
The Start of Something BIg (1986)
Everyone thinks Nike’s infamous retro program begins and ends with their Air Jordan line. But the first sneaker Nike ever retro’ed was the Air Force 1, all the way back in 1986. And while nowadays retros are commonplace, back in ’86, Nike’s decision to bring back an “old” sneaker confused many who were looking only for the latest cutting edge performance footwear. Oh, how the times have changed.
Pump. You. Up. (1989)
Anything you can do, I can do…better? As a response to the success of the innovative Reebok Pump, Nike brought the Air Pressure to market. But, despite it’s excellent aesthetics, it didn’t quite resonate with ball players. The problem was the Nike Air Pressure required a physical pump connected to the back of the sneaker to inflate. Hey, you can’t win them all, right?
Urr Force (1990)
Sure, everyone knows about the legendary Air Force One, and most of us are at least aware that the Force line produced some pretty awesome shoes throughout the ’80s and ’90s. But do you remember the Air Force V? Produced in 1990, the Air Force V was the last numbered silhouette of the Air Force line. And, what we really like about this one is that it looked awesome in both low top and high top forms. Back in 1990, you could catch David “The Admiral” Robinson rocking these ultra high-tops, while Sir Charles Barkley got his Round Mound of Rebound on in the low top version.
Thank You Based Tinker (1992)
Huarache hits the courts. When Nike’s Huarache technology debuted in 1991, it was an instant hit. And, though it was originally tech intended for running shoes, it almost immediately made the jump into other categories. The most successful application? The classic Nike Air Flight Huarache from 1992. Made popular by Michigan’s legendary Fab Five team, the Flight Huaraches marked a bold move for Nike due to their lightweight ankle pieces, and lack of Nike branding. Oh, and guess who designed them…Tinker Hatfield. Because Tinker designed everything back in the day!
The Raid (1992)
The Nike Air Raid was “inspired” by a yellow sticky note. Well, the note wasn’t so much inspiration, as it was a direct order for Tinker Hatfield (yep, Tinker again!) to design a basketball sneaker for outdoor hoops. After hitting up NYC to see first hand how different the game was, Tinker went to work designing a sneaker that could meet the demands of the streetball player. Inspired by the way players liked to tape up their ankles, Tinker gave the Air Raid it’s iconic X straps and a rugged lateral bumper to give players both the support and traction they needed to conquer the court.
Barkley vs. The World (1994)
Rocking the Nike Air Force and low-cut Alpha Force, Charles Barkley had basically been the flagship athlete for Nike’s Force line since 1987. But it wasn’t until 1994 that he got his own signature sneaker line, the Air Max2 CB. When asked for input on the design, Chuck told Nike “You don’t tell me how to play basketball, so I’m not going to tell you how to design shoes.” And with that, the design team at Nike let Sir Charles’ play speak volumes about the design features of the sneaker. Which is why the Air Max2 CB sported reinforced lace locks, teeth-like outriggers and support straps inspired by straight jackets. Yup, straight jackets.
A Penny For Your Thoughts (1995)
While many people look back at Penny Hardaway’s sneaker legacy and immediately think of Foamposites or later-model Penny’s, his first signature, the Penny 1, inspired Nike’s entire Uptempo sneaker line. At the time, they developed shoes that catered to a player’s speed or a their strength. But Penny’s style of play required support for both. So, designer Eric Avar paired a cushy Air Max bag at the heel with a newly-developed Nike technology called “Tensile Air.” Tensile Air was later renamed to the now-familiar Zoom Air. The more you know, huh?
Ladies and Gentlemen... (1996)
Not just for the fellas. In 1996, Nike broke barriers by signing its first ever WNBA player, Sheryl Swoopes, and debuting the Air Swoopes: the first signature basketball shoe for a female player.
An Expensive Habit (1997)
The Nike Air Foamposite Pro was inspired by a sunglasses case. Seriously. Inspiration often comes from the most unsuspected places, as is the case of the Foamposite Pro. In a meeting focused on using new materials, and “thinking outside of the box,” designer Eric Avar and team focused on a sunglasses case that sat on a neighboring table. The seamless, one-piece design, that also provided sufficient support, was not an easy challenge to overcome in production, which is likely why original MSRP for the Foamposite Pro reached an insane-at-the-time $180. Oh, how the times have changed.
Meant To Be (1997)
Another awesome piece of Foamposite Pro lore was that Penny Hardaway picked the silhouette for himself. When he and designer Eric Avar met to discuss the approach of the upcoming Penny III signature, Avar didn’t even plan on showing Penny the Foamposite sample. But, when he caught a glance in Avar’s bag, Penny asked about the silo and said “that’s my next shoe.” Interestingly enough, part of the unorthodox approach to the silhouette’s design was new, loud colors, which is why the sample Avar had with him that day was an iridescent blue color – a perfect pairing for Penny’s Orlando Magic. Perhaps it was meant for Penny all along.
Eskimo Brothers (1997)
Even though the sneaker was essentially designed for him, Penny Hardaway didn’t debut the Foamposite One. Mike Bibby did. While at Nike-sponsored University of Arizona, Bibby was the first player to lace up the brand new $180 Nike silo. Penny was still rocking Penny IIs. It wasn’t until a few games later that Hardaway switched over.
A Shoxing Development (2000)
Nike Shox are a lot older than you think. By the time the Nike Shox BB4 actually came to market in 2000, the technology itself was over 20 years old! The problem was, when it was originally cooked up, it was too ahead of it’s time; the foam it necessitated hadn’t even been invented yet.
Top Dog (2003)
The student becomes the master. Prior to Nike’s emergence in basketball markets in the early ’80s, Converse, along with adidas and Reebok, was the top dog, endorsing the likes of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Julius Erving. In 2003, Nike purchased Converse for $309 million.
A King Ascending (2003)
A new generation. Before even playing his first NBA game, Nike signed LeBron James to an unprecedented $90 million contract. And with that, they set off to design what was to be a generation-defining sneaker, the Air Zoom Generation. Nike designed the AZG with design cues from both a military soldier’s boot, and the infamous Hummer H2 LeBron drove in high school. Another interesting bit of AZG info is that the original release cost just $110 at retail!
"First" Game (2003)
The “First Game” colorway of the Air Zoom Generation wasn’t the first sneaker LeBron wore as an NBA player. In his first game in the NBA, he wore the general release, white/black/red AZG. He didn’t actually wear the “First Game” until his fourth game, the 1st Cavs home game of the season, against the Denver Nuggets.
With the help of NBA All-Star Steve Nash, Nike introduced the Trash Talk, the world’s first performance basketball shoe constructed completely from manufacturing waste.
The Destroyer (2008)
The “future” of Nike Basketball was established by the Nike Hyperdunk. Not only was it the first basketball shoe to employ Flywire (which was originally designed for running shoes), it was also the first hoops shoe to sport Lunarlon. And, while you may think that Nike’s Flywire technology is all for show, you’d be incorrect. Inspired by high tensile suspension brides, Flywire was originally tested by one of Nike’s big-framed wear-testers nicknamed “Jake the Destroyer” for his penchant for destroying sample models. Jake’s (and more specifically, the Hyperdunnk’s) performance during these stress tests, settled quite a few debates amongst the design team, and solidified Flywire’s place in the future of Nike hoops technology.
According to Forbes and SportsOneSource, as of 2013, Nike’s basketball division (including Jordan Brand) makes up a whopping 96% of the $4.5 BILLION global basketball market. Nike’s closest competition is adidas at just 2.7%.
Elite Company (2013)
In 2013, Nike and Jordan Brand combined to have 323 NBA players lace up their sneakers. Included in that number were 48 players with a combined 185 All-Star appearances.
The New Kid in Town (2013)
KD on the rise. There has been much talk recently about Kevin Durant leaving Nike for Under Armour and a proposed megadeal. The reason? KD’s Nike signature is the fastest growing sneaker line in the game. Sure, LeBron is still the king, selling $300 million in 2013. But KD’s signature line is picking up the pace topping $175 million in 2013, up almost 400% from 2012’s $35 million.
With over 30 years in the game, and over 2,000 different styles (seriously!), the Nike Air Force 1 is the best selling athletic shoe in history.