Sneaker News Top 30 Sneakers of 2011
‘Tis the season for year-end recaps, and we couldn’t be any prouder to unveil our annual Top 30 Sneakers of the year list. “Best of” lists are a dime a dozen these days, so here at Sneaker News, we like to really go the extra mile in our efforts to pinpoint the top sneaker releases and stories of the past year. After the exhaustive process of choosing and narrowing down all the selections, each of the 30 shoes is ranked by the members of the Sneaker News team, with the eventual averages determining the final order. While we recognize that these lists are completely subjective, we stand by our selections, and with the staggering wallet-draining onslaught of juicy sneaker releases that the year had to offer, we can guarantee that there will be something for everyone. In addition to the stellar crop of 2011 footwear, we’re also excited to introduce some new features of the yearly SN Top 30 extravaganza – a gorgeous HD slideshow gallery for each selection, an editors’ picks section at the end and even a Top 30 book coming soon. You’re really in for a treat this time around, so clear your schedule and head over to flip through our HD gallery right here for the Top 30 Sneakers of 2011.
Throughout the calendar year, thousands of new sneaker releases are produced by the world’s most recognizable brands, and despite the overwhelming odds, a select few somehow manage to establish themselves as standouts within the crowded landscape. Some shoes even go on to achieve legendary status, living on as prized conquests for some and vigorously coveted “grails” for those who missed out on a pair. This particular year’s onslaught of re-released classic models, radical new designs, creative collaborative projects and basic essentials has rendered 2011 as one of the greatest years in sneaker history, rivaling some of the most heralded volumes in the annals of footwear. While the word “reflection” becomes a trending topic towards the end of December, the Sneaker News staff typically spends 365 days out of the year previewing, introducing, and detailing the very best that the sneaker industry has to offer, so as you can imagine, boiling it all down to thirty standouts is no easy task.
Each potential candidate for this exclusive club is judged by rigid criteria, and while the following pages have been arranged in an immaculate spread, the selection process wasn’t exactly the neatest process. There were incontrovertible successes, unfortunate misses and the occasional blindside hit, but 2011 was so rock-solid from beginning to end, that even the worthy crop of honorable mentions would make sparks fly. In most cases, the final word on the true merit of a sneaker release was determined by you, the readers, evidenced by your reactions and feedback and eventually quantified by how quickly you collectively picked them clean from store shelves. After all was considered, the best of the best were carefully whittled down into what we feel to be the thirty most significant sneaker releases of the year.
The Sneaker News Top 30 Sneakers of 2011 features quite a mixed bag of styles and genres with representation from seven different brands; Nike, Jordan Brand, Converse, adidas, New Balance, Asics and Reebok all played roles in making 2011 one of the most memorable years in recent memory. We saw innovative new designs anchored by progressive technology, like the trio of Nike Basketball Signature models and adidas’ introduction of the lightest basketball shoe ever, as well as the long-awaited returns of some trendsetting and generation-defining footwear models that would have undoubtedly made it onto any ‘best-of’ lists during their respective debut years. Some of the selections could be described as ‘clean, simple, and understated’, while others stretched the boundaries of conventional sneaker design – we’re talking infusion of blinking LED lights, stuffed animals, and glow-in-the-dark materials just to run off a few.
What makes this year’s Top 30 group so exceptional is that floating above and around each sneaker is a unique script with a fascinating plot – you couldn’t make some of this stuff up. Just to give you a small taste: One shoe was originally destined to be scrapped, but led to campouts at factory outlet stores of all places, while another was intended to be a celebratory gesture for one of the greatest American athletes of our generation, only to be sent packing to overseas retailers with a small, last-minute comeback going down in Miami. Air Jordan Retros displayed their unflappable strength once again, with the year-end Air Jordan XI causing unbridled release mayhem across the nation. And of course, there was the surprise release of a certain shoe from the future, surfacing by way of the most impressive sneaker launch ever. Thanks to these captivating stories and all those that fell in between, the thirty inclusions on this list will have reshaped the future terrain of sneakers with their gripping tales and alluring designs, trends and innovations. Buckle up and prepare yourself for the sneaker game’s premiere year-end review – the Sneaker News Top 30 Sneakers of 2011.
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#30 – REEBOK KAMIKAZE III
It’s no secret that Reebok has struggled in recent years to keep pace with some of their flourishing sneaker industry competitors, at least in the collectible sneaker realm. Yet through credible collaborations (Pump20 Collection) and new technologies (ZigTech), they still manage to make enough key moves each year to stay relevant in the game and keep things moving along in the name of progress. 2011 saw perhaps the most progress in a while, as the brand was revitalized through an unlikely partnership and the reinvention of a forgotten model from the Reebok Basketball archives. What would soon come to be is quite possibly the very first newly-designed contemporary street model to gain buzz for Reebok during the current sneaker-crazed era, and undoubtedly a direct result of the celebrity co-sign that helped usher it into the market.
Earlier in the year, Swizz Beatz was named Reebok’s Global Creative Director, but it’s a move that some beautifully-minded prognosticator might have seen coming some fifteen years out. The parallels began when 1998 productions like “Ruff Ryders Anthem” bumped with the same kind of rugged street appeal as RBK’s super scorer Allen Iverson. Both the Ruff Ryders and Iverson’s 76ers peaked in 1999, and after those teams mostly disbanded by 2002,
both Swizzy and The Answer pretty much took off all of ’03. Their paths diverge soon after, however, and as Swizz has continued to reinvent himself, he has subsequently become the answer for Reebok, while the original “Answer” has been replaced by promising young gun, John Wall, once again giving Reebok the solid foundation of star power in both the lifestyle and basketball realms that they have sorely missed since it was embodied all in one package during the Iverson glory days.
Under Swizz’s creative supervision, Reebok looked to the past for inspiration, ranging from Jean Michel-Basquiat to Seattle Supersonics force of nature Shawn Kemp. Swizzy has been responsible for curating releases based on both of these immensely talented youths’ creative peaks, but it’s The Reign Man’s memory that’s responsible for the Vector brand’s most talked about 2011 release. The Swizz Beatz x Reebok Kamikaze III brought back a look that Kemp made famous during the Sonics’ 1996 NBA Finals run and has our collective excitement piqued with the promise of future models based on Shaq’s tenure with the Orlando Magic and who knows what else. The One Man Band Man didn’t score any #1 records in 2011, but his Reebok Kamikaze III’s certainly made some noise for the brand and at least made the charts on our Sneaker News Top 30 of 2011.
#29 – JEREMY SCOTT x ADIDAS ORIGINALS TEDDY BEAR/PANDA
Eccentric, outrageous, unconventional. We need a thesaurus opened to the page for ‘outlandish’ just to put a tenth of the novelty into our descriptions as Jeremy Scott has managed for his seasonal adidas Originals by Originals capsules. It seems as if with each new release, we are left wondering where he will go next and how his adidas sneaker designs could possibly get wilder, and yet, somehow he always seems to come through with something to top himself. Following up on last year’s #19 entrant, the JS Wings 2.0, comes another take on the mid-1980s basketball standout, Metro Attitude, that’s right up there with the craziest sneaker concepts ever released to retail. The Jeremy Scott x adidas Originals Teddy Bear and Panda Bear applied a full-on plush animal to the tongue of a hightop silhouette that’s
more overstuffed than even the cushiest of Nike SB Dunks. J.Scott’s designs have usurped the throne of wackiest sneaker designs from Swoosh skateboarding thanks to these kinds of ostentatious add-ons, and they’ve become wildly popular with the fashion-forward set in Asia, as well as a growing cult following in the States. With both the Snuggle Bear-leaning Teddy and the headband-rocking black and white Panda edition, this was a shoe that also helped establish Jeremy Scott for young sneakerheads in the same way fast food restaurants hope to imprint impressionable children. They suggest he’ll continue to push the envelope in 2012 and provide the sneaker game with the kind of leftfield looks we never knew we always wanted, and that’s why Jeremy Scott’s cuddly bear offerings earn a cushy spot in this year’s Top 30.
#28 – NIKE ZOOM HUARACHE TR MID ‘ALPHA’
A year ago, the Nike Zoom Huarache TR Mid was selected as the seventeenth best sneaker of 2010 by the Sneaker News staff. It was easily agreed that it was one of the slickest Trainer designs in years, and with a combination of Nike’s acquisition of NFL uniform outfitting rights and the already impressive NCAA Pro Combat uniforms in action, excitement around the well-built and street-sensible Zoom Huarache TR Mid was increasing quickly. With so many great colorways to go around, like the NCAA Pro Combat Pack and the DC Comics Superhero releases, the popularity of the Nike Zoom Huarache TR Mid eventually spilled over to 2011 in a number of areas. The Huarache even became an unexpected hit among NBA players like Amar’e Stoudemire (who had a few PE colorways made for him), Nick Young, Courtney Lee and more. So with all that said, what would it take to validate a performance training model making it on our prestigious list two years in a row?
Going back to Nike acquiring the rights to be the future uniform outfitter of the NFL, Nike pulled out all the stops to give the football and product-relevant media a taste of Nike’s potential on the NFL gridiron. Nike wasn’t exactly new to football performance outfitting, as it created quite the impressive history with NCAA batwing uniforms and even an on-field Dallas Cowboys uniform in 1995. But what Nike had placed as the major product focal point during that event was the Nike Zoom Alpha Talon Cleat – a premium on-field
high-performance piece of footwear that eclipsed any sort of innovation and comfort ever created for the sport. The dazzling Black/Grey/Volt colorways only accentuated the jaw-dropping visual appeal, but for us sneakerheads, it was the stunning Nike Zoom Huarache TR Mid in a concept modeled after the Alpha Talon Cleat that caught our eye. Already cemented as one of the Nike’s best new training models in years, the Huarache TR Mid got a massive jolt of energy from the Alpha Talon color scheme that instantly made it an upcoming release to watch out for.
The new year arrived and a fresh new batch of sneakers were in the works, but we were in for a great surprise when the release of the ‘Alpha’ Edition was confirmed. The release of the Zoom Huarache TR Mid ‘Alpha’ was one of the more calculated endeavors of the year by Nike as well; It would be available to the public just before the Superbowl XLV kickoff, so while many eyes were glued to the television set, multi-tasking sneakerheads were placing their online orders at furious speeds. In addition, Nike commemorated the Superbowl occasion with a limited edition Alpha Pack, which included the Huarache TR Mid and the Alpha Talon Cleat in special packaging. The killer colorway and clever timeliness of the Huarache TR ‘Alpha’ combined with the true quickstrike nature of the limited Super Bowl drop made it all the more special, seeming as if everything aligned in perfect harmony for the release. It owned all the ingredients to make it a great release, and while it will go down as something of an under-the-radar sleeper hit, it certainly deserves a spot on this year’s Top 30.
#27 – ADIDAS ADIZERO CRAZY LIGHT
Stop us if this one sounds familiar: a giant in the footwear game brings a young Chicago Bull on board to promote a groundbreaking new sneaker. The top notch design of said sneaker is combined with an edgy ad campaign and the undeniable star power of the young man in question – and thus, a legacy is born. Okay, so those comparisons may be just a tad bit lofty this early on, but there’s no denying that the adidas adiZero Crazy Light burst onto the hardwood this year and quickly became one of the most talked-about new performance basketball sneakers seen in a while. As the lightest basketball sneaker ever made, the adidas Crazy Light shaves off 15 percentage points weight-wise from its closest competitor, thanks to its revolutionary SPRINTWEB technology – the less than 1mm thick material that wraps the upper. Combined with a carved out molded EVA midsole and paper-thin breathable upper, the materials made for a revolutionary combination that sparked much debate in the both the sneaker and basketball worlds. Debuted by eventual NBA MVP Derrick Rose, the Crazy Light and its mindblowing featherlight 9.8oz construction set out from the gate with a mission to go straight at the competition, as evidenced by the controversial promo spots that ran throughout the NBA Playoffs.
adidas was determined to let the world know they had something special on their hands and pulled no punches with the Crazy Light ad campaign, which featured a series of shoes from other brands (Nike, Jordan Brand, Under Armour) and asked the question “How do you make this Crazy Light?” The answer that followed was the competitors’ shoes being literally chopped and sliced by chainsaws, samurai swords and even mauled by a grizzly bear to demonstrate how much of each shoe you’d have to remove to get as light as the Crazy Light. The ads made their point, but the jury was still out, with many people wondering if a performance basketball shoe so light and thin could possibly provide the necessary protection required for high intensity play. At one point, Nike endorser Kobe Bryant took an opportunity to get the Swoosh’s back, as he made remarks in a postgame interview insinuating that the shoes were an ankle injury waiting to happen. Despite the Black Mamba’s warning, the shoe went strong at retail and on the feet of several NBA players last season and most ankles remained safely intact. As this year closes, we’re starting to get glimpses of the next round of sneakers in the Crazy Light line, but it all started here with the memorable introduction of the original. The Three-Stripes team went “all in” with this new design and ad campaign and it paid off, landing the adidas Crazy Light at number 27 on our end of year list.
#26 – CONVERSE FIRST STRING STAR TECH LE HI
By now, the concept of revamping a classic sneaker with a contemporary spin has been done to death, and more times than not, the results have yielded far more misses than hits. But even amidst the asteroid field of ill-conceived recycle jobs, every once in a while, someone comes from out of nowhere with a completely unique approach and creates something truly original and magnificent. The transition of the Converse Star Tech from clunky mid 80′s basketball shoe to sleek, stylish lifestyle model is nothing short of a modern day sneaker design marvel. But then again, Converse’s impeccable classic style also shows how shifting trends do little to affect the real substance behind iconic products. The First String Star Tech LE Hi sports a far different look than the original, putting a progressive
futuristic twist on the traditional make-up of its namesake – the split tongue drawing just as much attention as the asymmetrically designed/colored vamp and its unique medial inset. The stripped down nylon upper with heat-bonded Converse chevron logo gives the shoe a tech look somewhere between a flight jacket and a classic b-ball shoe, while maintaining a timeless aesthetic furthered by a featherlight vulcanized sole, updated with Lunarlon construction. Subtle, yet daring, these elements come together to form a shoe you’re almost not sure if you’ve seen somewhere before. That curious blend of classic style and modern hybridization had sneakerheads seeking out Converse First String retailers to make these one of 2011′s sleeper gems.
#25 – NIKE SB DUNK LOW ‘SPACE JAM’
Both sneaker collaborations and the Nike SB Dunk existed before September 2002, but it was during that memorable month nearly a decade ago that Supreme freed the Air Jordan III’s legendary Elephant print from its cage and applied it to a couple of pairs that remain legendary to this day. Elsewhere in the Air Jordan Legacy-borrowing school of design, we’ve seen countless black, white and royal designs utilizing patent leather and nylon to approximate the look of the almighty Air Jordan XI Retro ‘Space Jam’, and so it was only a matter of time before these two forces came into concert. But unlike some previous ‘Space Jam’ tributes, Nike SB went all out and cut no corners in their appropriation of the iconic motif for their Dunk Low edition. Even with the relatively short distance from the
riot-enducing Air Jordan XI release back in 2009, the Nike SB Dunk Low ‘Space Jam’ proved that sneakerheads were still hungry for this beloved look , as the model proved to be 2011′s hottest SB sneaker, even amidst some other strong Dunk offerings like the ‘Cheech & Chong,’ ‘Cigar City,’ ‘Reign in Blood’ and of course, the still M.I.A. elephant-covered ‘Entourage’ edition. The combination of the Air Jordan cache and the fact that they were absolutely spot-on with everything from the colors and materials down to those familiar corded laces made this a no-brainer for many in 2011, and the release confusion and delays only fanned the flames and sweetened the prize for those who were able to get a pair. Now that ‘Space Jams’ and ‘Cement’ have been thoroughly covered, we can only wonder what the next logical Air Jordan homage will be for the the Nike SB line.
#24 – AIR JORDAN VII ‘YEAR OF THE RABBIT’
The ‘Year of the Rabbit’ began on February 3rd, 2011, and with it came, perhaps, the strongest collection of Chinese New Year-themed sneakers we’ve ever seen. Even before the turn of the lunar calendar, we saw Nike Sportswear come through with a couple of Tennis Classics and one of the most luxurious Air Force 1 Lows seen in quite a while, both in terms of materials and packaging, but as we all know, not many things get the sneaker world as excited as a special edition Air Jordan Retro and rumors were in the air. Right around that time in January, the Japanese retailer Kinetics collaborated with purveyors of sneakerhead hottie gear for a ‘Year of the Bunny’ tee that turned out to be an insightful foreshadow of things to come with their spotlighting of the Air Jordan VII ‘Hare’.
That model had most recently retroed as part of holiday 2008′s VII/XVI Countdown Pack, so if Jordan Brand was to revisit the Bugs Bunny-inspired look for the Year of the Metal Hare, a few changes would be needed to make this classic look fresh for the special occasion. The Air Jordan VII Retro ‘YOTR’ did just that, applying a slightly altered color scheme and premium materials, combined with luxurious packaging to create one of the highest quality Air Jordan Retros of 2011. Alongside the Air Jordan VII version, the ornate gold-on-red box also wound up housing an Air Jordan 2011, as well as the AJ2011 Q Flight that came a few months later. All were quite limited in nature, leading to high demand, especially for the Air Jordan VII, which remains a standout in the memorable 2011 Year of the Rabbit collection and one of the most sought after Air Jordan Retro releases of the year.
#23 – RUN DMC x ADIDAS ORIGINALS SUPERSTAR 80s ‘MY ADIDAS’
It’s easy to pick out names like Jay-Z, Dr. Dre and Puffy as the most prolific contributors when it comes to establishing everything from burgeoning young artists to the aesthetics of an influential era. And we’ve come to know plenty of celebrity super-sneakerheads in the hip-hop world over the past few years like Wale, Fabolous and Bun B, but none of those artists can match the combination of influence over hip-hop music, its culture and its fashion than Hollis, Queens’ Run-D.M.C. Theirs is a right-place, right-time story – one where the trio of Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “DMC McDaniels and Jason “Jam-Master Jay” Mizell become the first rap act to ever earn a gold record and a Grammy nomination. They’re universally respected as pioneers, not only when it comes to making hip-hop music more commercially accessible, but also for emerging as among the first acts to concretize the link between music and the sneaker culture that we’ve come to take entirely for granted.
While most of their peers were parading around onstage in elaborate costumes, the Queens outfit kept their look true to their street roots, making it clear that they were men of the people from day 1. Run-DMC rose to the top of the charts and stayed there for most of the mid-late 1980s, all while wearing a familiar combination of black
fedoras, ‘dookie rope’ gold chains and the particular model of sneaker that earned them co-billing as one of 2011′s best. The Run-DMC x adidas Originals Superstar 80s commemorates the 25th anniversary of Raising Hell’s street hit ‘My Adidas’, which was itself unprecedented at the time, as it was among the first times that a major musical act outwardly endorsed a product in a song – and not because they were being paid for it, but because they loved the shoes! It was a personal statement about a product that all three used to express their hard edge (often worn laceless to simulate prison shoes), but was so impactful, that it eventually led to a $1.6 million contract for the Kings of Rock to continue repping Three Stripes.
This year’s special collaboration was a big hit in its own right – a deluxe white leather design whose black accents kept with the simple, yet effective style that’s kept these in sneaker rotations for decades. They absolutely nail the group’s trademark look with their logo on the insoles and appropriated as a shoutout to their fallen DJ on the heels. The ‘My Adidas’ year is added to the tongue tag and embroidered on the lateral heels with a gold dookie chain dubrae serving as the cherry on top. A killer execution celebrating one of the foundations of our modern cultural landscape makes this Run-DMC Superstar 80s a new milestone in the storied adidas x Run DMC legacy and a lock for a well-earned spot in our Top 30 Sneakers of 2011.
#22 – NIKE AIR GRIFFEY MAX 1 ‘EMERALD’
This month has been filled with hundred-million dollar contracts signed by elite baseball stars including Albert Pujols’ $254MM defection to Los Angeles. The number in that deal is close enough to remind fans of America’s pastime of the game’s first quarter-billion dollar man, Alex Rodriguez, who left Seattle for $252 million a decade earlier. Pujols’ legacy will forever outpace Rodriguez’ asterisk’d output irrespective of how many home runs they hit or World Series each wins, and it’s that kind of reverence for doing things the “right way” in baseball that makes Ken Griffey Jr. one of the game’s true super-elite.
Junior personified youthful exuberance with his backwards caps and gazelle-like grace between the gaps, and he’ll be forever remembered for a swing so sweet, it held off all but the most notorious ’90s names. Griffey spent his most productive days guiding the Seattle Mariners to heights the franchise had never before reached, including an epic run to the 1995 playoffs including a game-winning run in a sudden-death tiebreaker versus the soon-to-be-dominant New York Yankees that northwesterners still fondly recall as ‘The Double’. It was coming off that surge of momentum, along with the success of his ’95 Air Diamond Fury signature, that the Nike Air Griffey Max 1 was originally released in time for the following season’s first pitch.
We got our first run of Air Griffey Max 1 re-releases from Nike Sportswear in 2009, including a new ‘Fresh Water’ edition that offered a look quite close to the original Deep Emerald colorway. They were an instant sellout and made it to number 12 in the ’09 Top 30, but sneakerheads old enough to remember that season when The Kid played Batman to a 21 year-old A-Rod’s Robin were aware that they weren’t an exact replica of the OGs. That’s where this August’s ‘Emerald’ AGM1 comes in – a design true to the debut version whose only miniscule change was the use of the contemporary Fresh Water teal shade instead of the namesake original.
The fact that all of these Griffey retros have been greeted so warmly so as to spawn a series of hybrid mashups, proves that Junior’s contributions to baseball, as well as the sneaker game, not only stand up to the test of time, but transcend the game in a way we haven’t seen since guys like Babe Ruth and Joe Dimaggio were the nation’s biggest celebrities. Meanwhile, it’d take a Ken Jennings-like mind to recall what kind of cleats Big Mac wore while he was socking all those dingers, while those who remember Barry Bonds’ Filas continue to chuckle at the fact that only a foreign company would sign the surly slugger. It’s almost like we got it right all those years ago without even knowing it, and it’s a fitting tribute to Ken Griffey Jr.’s untouched excellence that sneakerhead demand still clears the Air Griffey Max 1 from shelves anytime they’re released – with 2011′s ‘Emerald’ edition proudly standing as a bonafide classic and the godfather of them all.
#21 – PACKER SHOES x REEBOK COURT VICTORY PUMP ‘GRAND SLAM’ PACK
At this point, we’ve seen almost every concept you can possibly think of translated into a pair of sneakers, so it’s pretty rare nowadays that something comes along that makes you say – How did no one ever think of this? New Jersey’s Packer Shoes did just that earlier this year with their four shoe ‘Grand Slam Pack’ collaboration with Reebok. A classic, but still relevant tennis model crossed with inspiration from the four major annual tennis tournaments. A no-brainer idea and simple enough concept, but it was the execution on this collection of Court Victory Pumps that elevated the endeavor from just a great idea to collectively one of the most bold and ambitious releases of the year.
In addition to each shoe taking its design nods from the respective Grand Slam events, each was released alongside its corresponding tourney, stretching the pack over the course of eight months. It kicked off in January with the Australian Open edition, featuring a flag-inspired color scheme sporting the stars on the toe guard and
even a hidden “kangaroo” pouch behind the tongue. The French Open version followed in May, featuring arguably the wildest look of the four shoes – a white canvas upper stained with simulated clay court splatter. The following month saw the Wimbledon grassy green suede Pumps that made some additional noise with their clever streaker promo. Last but not least, was the US Open in August with a crazy all blue 3M upper as a nod to the color of the court, as well as the bright lights of New York City.
From concept to final product, materials to color blocking, the Grand Slam Pack was a grand slam in its own right, selling out quickly and instantly becoming a hot commodity among fans of the pack and the Pump line alike. While some of the designs may have been a little too bold for some to actually wear, there were plenty of folks ready to rock them and no one could deny the originality or attention to detail. Concept packs come and go, but the Packer x Reebok ‘Grand Slam Pack’ will certainly live on as a standout effort and one of the best Pump collaborations to date.
#20 – NIKE HYPERDUNK 2011 – BLAKE GRIFFIN ’10.0′ PE
Last year’s NBA season was chock full of intriguing stories, but for most of the year, there was no hotter topic than the LA Clippers’ Blake Griffin. After being selected as the #1 overall pick in the 2009 draft, a pre-season stress fracture kept Blake sidelined for the entire 2009-2010 stretch, only to return last season with a vengeance and full arsenal of acrobatic power dunks. Blessed with a rare blend of size, strength and athleticism, Blake pretty much single-handedly made the Staples Center the place to be on Lakers off-nights for the first time in a long while. When it came time for Blake to suit up for his first NBA All-Star Weekend in hometown LA, it was a primetime opportunity for Nike to flaunt their newest posterboy and some new product in the process. It was all set for Griffin to debut a crazy bright red pair of glow-in-the-dark Zoom Hyperdunk 2011′s, a model that was months away from an actual release, but the night of the
Slam Dunk Contest, some technical issues with the glow charge delayed the unveiling, and he soared over a KIA on the way to the trophy in a pair of Air Max Fly By PE’s instead. Pics of the “10.0 Blake Quake” shoe had already leaked and everyone was expecting to see them on Blake’s feet during the competition, but it wasn’t until Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game that they made their official splash, and on national television to boot. In addition to its eye-popping Bright Mango paint job, the shoe featured a cracked quake pattern on various sections of the upper and the midsole, complete with a BG32 callout inside the heel window. The shoe immediately became the paramount PE release of the year, although folks had to wait until August to get their hands on a pair. As we look back, the shoe will go down as a moment in time, capturing the 2010-2011 Rookie of the Year’s official coming out party and the beginning of a potentially fruitful tenure as a Nike Basketball endorser.
#19 – NIKE LEBRON 8 V/2 LOW ‘FLAMINGO/MIAMI NIGHTS’
LeBron James’ move from Cleveland to Miami stands as one of the most publicized and (arguably) controversial stories in professional sports free agency history. The issue of The Decision’s effect on the LeBron James ‘brand’ was often discussed; would the popularity of his signature shoes experience a decline? When Sneaker News sat down to discuss the Nike LeBron 8 with designer Jason Petrie, it was one of the first issues that was aired out. Jason quickly admitted that there was a bit of worry and he pondered the possibility of a decrease in popularity, but knowing what LeBron James was capable of on the court and the quality of the Nike LeBron 8 design was enough to ease any uncertainty. The release of the ‘South Beach’, the first released colorway of the LeBron 8, put out any remaining fires, signifying the official beginning of the Miami era for LeBron James and a strong run for the Nike LeBron 8 series.
As the progression of the Nike LeBron 8 went from V/1 to V/2 to the P.S., the fourth and final variation of the Nike LeBron 8 was introduced – the Nike LeBron 8 V/2 Low. It released in June of 2011 in a number of high-energy colorways like the ‘Sprite’ and ‘Solar Red’, but those brightly-colored editions would soon appear rather tame next to the ‘Miami Nights’, which first popped up in early July. The LeBron 8 Low was already a popular pick for summer sneaker rotations, but the brilliant and kaleidoscopic colorway of the Miami
Nights instantly made it the must-have sneaker of the season. However, the release of the Miami Nights was rather hectic; it was first exiled to Asia (we’ll touch on that later) and released at Nike Basketball retailers on the other side of the globe, with circulation rumored to be just 500 pairs. The Miami Nights would eventually hit the U.S., exclusive to only one Miami retailer, and are currently floating around the open market with prices marked around $700-800.
What makes the Nike LeBron 8 Low ‘Miami Nights’ so tantalizing is that the shoe has a back-story as rousing as its design. While the name ‘Miami Nights’ stuck to the shoe like glue (that name was already internally attached to the Nike LeBron 9 version, but somehow leaked out), Nike originally intended it to be dubbed the ‘Flamingo’, a fitting icon of the exotic and festive imagery of Miami. Another one of Nike’s unrealized intentions was that the Miami Nights/Flamingo was a potential celebratory ‘Championship’ shoe for LeBron; the confetti-like graphic seen on the upper is what we might’ve seen on the streets of Miami – that’s if and only if the Miami Heat won the NBA Championship in June. Unfortunately for LeBron and Heat fans, that’s not how the story unfolded, and it may have re-directed the release of the shoe in some capacity. But like the ‘South Beach’, which arrived during its own sensitive timing, the Miami Nights/Flamingo was still a major success and a good story regardless of what may have occurred in last summer’s NBA Finals.
#18 – AIR JORDAN XIII ‘RAY ALLEN’ PE
As the longest tenured Jordan Brand athlete, Ray Allen practically invented the category of drool-worthy one-off PE colorways. If you dig deep enough to check out the snapshots from each era in his career, from the Bucks to the SuperSonics, to his current home in Boston, you’ll be hard pressed to take your eyes off the crazy footwear he’s been suited up in across the years. Matching his consistency in the shoe game is his incomparable ability to sink shots, specifically from behind the three-point line. After an accomplished career spent just outside the major market spotlight, Allen’s move to Boston finally put him with a squad capable of grabbing a ring, which they did in 2008. The championship run helped to validate his career, and with that task proudly under his belt, Sugar Ray embarked on his most epic personal achievement earlier this year – breaking the career record for three-point shots made in the NBA, with the crucial 2,612th shot finding its way to the hole on February 10th , 2011.
On Ray’s feet that historical night, were a special pair of Air Jordan XIII PE’s that immediately brought up questions in the sneaker world regarding whether or not they might actually see a retail release. To celebrate the occasion, Jordan Brand decided to spread the love around, making the Air Jordan XIII PE he wore as he broke the record available to the public, albeit in extremely limited numbers. Only the second Ray PE to hit retail after the House of Hoops exclusive Air Jordan VIII’s from 2008, these were gone in a heartbeat from the two retail spots that carried them in Boston and Miami. And with prices on the secondary market topping out close to the thousand dollar mark, we’re sure that nobody who managed to snatch these up is the least bit disappointed in their purchase. From the clean Celtics combo of white and green to the slick ‘Ray’ logo scrawled on the tongue, the Ray Allen 3-Point Record Air Jordan XIII was a player exclusive colorway done right, effectively capturing the milestone moment and providing fans with an insane commemorative sneaker memento.
#17 – CONCEPTS x NEW BALANCE 999 ‘KENNEDY’
Boston boutique, Concepts, is no stranger to calling on seaside inspiration for their sneaker collabos. First it was the Nike SB Dunk Low ‘Lobsters’, but this time around, instead focusing on the murky depths, they paid tribute to some Massachusetts heritage from above the water. Serving up an homage to sailing culture in the Northeast via the overlooked New Balance 999, these suede and mesh runners came in a luxurious and super-clean mixture of grey and khaki that pretty much nailed the preppy look you’d expect from a sailing-inspired shoe from a sneaker shop that’s right down the street from Harvard. The Kennedy’s captured the class of their namesake, with the nautical flag detailing found on the tongue tag and nylon lining standing in for JFK’s well known passion for sailing. Never one to slack on the presentation, the Concepts team even threw in a
complimentary tote bag, a few pairs of extra laces, and a dope hang tag as well as some matching apparel and accessories to make this release a complete package. In a market where sneaker companies are constantly slimming down, the Kennedy’s stood out as the product of a team who is always willing go the extra mile to make their releases stand out. Anyone who tried to pick up a pair from Concepts on the release date knows that these were a hot item, with the phone lines jammed for hours on end. Those who missed out breathed a collective sigh of relief though, when they popped up at a few other premium New Balance spots across the US to spread the love a bit. Last year, it was Burn Rubber with the MT580, and this time around, the CNCPTS x New Balance 999 ‘Kennedy’ hands down took the crown as the must-have NB collaboration release of the year.
#16 – NIKE ZOOM ROOKIE LWP
The staying power of the Nike Air Penny line continued to flex its muscles in 2011 thanks to the Nike Zoom Rookie LWP, the second Air Penny hybrid shoe in three years. The Nike Air 1/2 Cent of 2009 was ranked by Sneaker News as the tenth best sneaker of the year, as it featured a tasty recipe consisting of the most popular Air Penny models of all-time – the Air Max Penny, Air Penny II, and Air Foamposite One. 2011′s Zoom Rookie, however, touched on a particular sneaker era of Penny Hardaway’s career that may have been difficult to pinpoint for the younger generation of sneakerheads; while the beloved Air Foamposite One remained the anchor of Zoom Rookie LWP design, Nike Sportswear decided to re-introduce the Nike Air Go LWP and the Air Flight One – two high-performance Nike Basketball models of the mid-1990′s that remained in the archives until the LWP returned last year. While both of those shoes were widely appreciated during their time, would the younger generation’s lack of familiarity with the older models in some way affect the public reception for the shoe? Not likely. Between the weight carried by the Air Penny name in the sneaker world and the flawless execution in telling the Rookie story, the shoe turned heads and sparked interest from day one.
The Nike Zoom Rookie LWP first made waves in March when a Yellow/Black colorway leaked throughout the major newsfeeds on the internet, and the immediate reader response was widely positive. The signature details like the ‘swiss-cheese’ spheres on the upper and the aesthetic of the Air Go LWP were instantly recognized and the cohesive gelling of the three Nike Basketball models, as well as use of the popular Foamposite material, left many viewers hungry for a closer look.
The addition of Foamposite on the forefoot and heel and the inclusion of an inner-bootie construction were tributes to Penny
Hardaway’s personal requests, who valued a lock-down fit for his basketball sneakers; the shoe was, in fact, part of the Air Penny line, so it had to be designed within Penny’s exact specifications. The Zoom Rookie also played the role of a ‘history lesson’ of sorts in another way, as it featured an astounding four different logos; the ’1-Cent’, the ‘Flight’ from the Air Go LWP, the original ’1′ logo from the Air Flight One, and a newly designed ‘Rookie’ logo inspired by the original font from the ‘Flight’ emblem were all strategically placed around the shoe.
The design of the Zoom Rookie LWP was already praised for its intriguing design, but Nike Sportswear chose to introduce the shoe in grandiose fashion by doing with it something had never been done with an Air Penny shoe, let alone a Nike signature shoe. The Zoom Rookie LWP officially kicked off with a limited edition ‘Glow In The Dark’ colorway that was available at select retailers. After clearing out of stores on the day of its release, the immediate demand sparked a steep rise in resale prices and sneakerheads began to grow more and more impatient for the next Zoom Rookie release. Following the Glow In The Dark edition was a purist-friendly ‘Binary Blue’, which carried with it the quintessential Air Penny persona. Binary Blue, however, was a slightly darker shade than the usual Royal Blue we are accustomed to seeing with Air Penny’s, but the slight change provided some additional character to the futuristic design.
In addition to the other retail-bound colorways seen this year, a few PE’s were made just for Penny Hardaway on request; a tonal red version dubbed the ‘Memphis Express’ and an another tonal blue called the ‘Memphis Blues’ showed up at a few of Penny’s All-Star charity game events. While the Air Penny line was rather short-lived, Nike Sportswear has done a phenomenal job of keeping the story alive with the Zoom Rookie LWP – rearranging key components and rebuilding new designs, while keeping the anatomy of the original Air Penny glory days at heart.
#15 – RONNIE FIEG x ASICS GEL LYTE III’S
Campouts for an Asics release? A few short years ago such a thing was unheard of here in the US, with those across the pond and in Asia having much better access to the Asics retro catalog. So while the rest of the world got their share of Asics originals and Mita and Patta related goodies, we had to sit by idly and hope for a chance to grab a pair on eBay somewhere down the line. That has all changed at the hands of Ronnie Fieg, the Manhattan wonderkid who has been steadily cranking out collaborative releases of a premium pedigree on the split tongued classic Asics Gel Lyte III. With a solid resume of sold-out GL3 releases already in the rearview, Fieg upped the ante this year with three new Asics Gel Lyte III designs, each capturing a completely unique look, feel and personality. With each successive release, more followers were brought into the fold, along with a growing appreciation for the brand and its heralded back catalog of scintillating running silhouettes.
These three red hot releases from 2011 chronicled the progression of
both Fieg’s style and his growing influence in the footwear world. The ‘Mint Leaf’ popped up shortly after the Ultra-Marine GT-II’s, which were a brief departure from his go-to Gel model. The Mints had the signature tonal suede styling and came as the swan song in Fieg’s partnership with NYC retailer, David Z. After that, it was the Salmon Toes, which marked the opening of his first Kith location and saw Ronnie break character with the colorblocking thanks to the namesake pink hue on the front end. Then we saw the Leatherbacks, where the sneaker was flipped again and Fieg brought a smooth leather into the equation along with the premium grey suede toe. These again came at a landmark moment, dropping at the grand opening of the second brick and mortar Kith spot. He even capped off the year with the ‘Mazarine Blue’ Asics Gel Saga out of nowhere, breathing new life into a model that saw a resurrection of its OG colorways in 2011. Amidst the website crashes, the limited edition laser etched boxes, and the week long campouts, Ronnie Fieg’s Asics Gel Lyte III offerings made a pretty big splash this year and pushed Asics back into the spotlight in a major way.
#14 – NIKE ZOOM KD IV
They say things get better with age, so our message to Kevin Durant is: Conserve some energy, because your future is looking intensely bright. At the age of 23, when some NBA youngsters are just learning the ins-and-outs of the game and enjoying the freedom of no longer being victimized by customary rookie hazing, Kevin Durant has established himself among the league’s elite players and as one of the most marketable pro-athlete pitch-men in the business. Aside from his on-court success, 2011 has been an astounding year for Kevin Durant; after being hand-selected by Nike brass for the juicy role of Marty McFly in the historic ‘Back 4 The Future’ campaign, Durant celebrated the launch of his fourth signature shoe – the Nike Zoom KD IV. Designed yet again by one of Nike Basketball’s other rising stars, Leo Chang, the Nike Zoom KD IV brought a fresh addition to the sneaker game while providing balance to Nike Basketball’s signature models with its low price-point, distinct mid-cut design and all-new Adaptive Fit technology.
To kick off the Zoom KD IV launch and serve as the ‘coming out party’ for the shoe were the collective December releases of the ‘Nerf’ and ‘Weatherman’ colorways, both of which occupy a uniquely intimate back-story in regards to Durant’s life. The ‘Nerf’ was a whimsical representation of Durant’s youth and playful persona, as it was designed using classic Nerf toy colors and detailed with spray paint-like graphics on the midsole and strap, as well as the packaging – a special edition box that doubled as a functional mini-basketball hoop (with Nerf ball). The ‘Weatherman’ served a more personal purpose; with the NBA lockout putting a stop to the first two months of NBA action, Nike took the opportunity to explore the possibility of a different career path for Durant, revealing that he
once had a fascination with becoming a TV weatherman. A bold colorway of the KD IV was created, using weather-inspired graphics and a thermo-mapped scan of Kevin’s actual footprint on the bottom outsole. Interestingly enough, it was Kevin himself who stirred up the excitement for the ‘Weatherman’, stating that he personally favored it over the already mesmerizing Nerf colorway, and with that information coming right out of the horse’s mouth, sneakerheads were preparing themselves for something extraordinary.
While both sizzling releases made the Nike Zoom KD IV a sure-fire standout as one of the best sneakers of the year, it was undeniably the first time since Durant joined Nike in 2007 that a Nike Zoom KD sneaker made such a splash with the sneaker community. While Nike did whip up some great releases to commemorate Durant’s NBA Scoring Title awards and All-Star Game selections, the Zoom KD line was comparatively reserved, depending on simple and clean team-based colorways, while gaining notoriety for its low price-point. The Nike Zoom KD IV is currently set at $90 (the Nerf and Weatherman were slightly higher), which is unprecedented in today’s market for high-appeal performance basketball sneakers, and is significantly lower than the Nike LeBron and Kobe signature models. The affordability of the sneaker was a specification set by Kevin Durant himself, which we know directly reflects his humble personality and public relatability. Taking into consideration KD’s skyrocketing popularity both as an NBA player and an off-the-court figure, it was time for Nike to kick things up a notch and present the Nike Zoom KD line in such a way that would get the attention of the discerning sneakerhead community. Based on the striking design and the success of the first wave of releases, as we look into the future of the Nike and KD partnership, we can confidently forecast sunshine and clear skies ahead.
#13 – NIKE AIR FORCE 1 ‘YEAR OF THE RABBIT’
Nike has established a firm stance on tradition and culture when it comes to their themed footwear and apparel capsules. A concerted effort is made to keep consistent with current trends, while infusing some cultural and historical signficance into their sneaker releases. One such practice, the annual tradition of releasing a Chinese Zodiac themed Air Force 1 Low that began in 2002, served a rather important purpose this time around – re-energizing a trend-setting classic that had lost some steam over the last couple of years. The Nike Air Force 1 Low will always be looked at with the highest regard, but with each passing year, the shadows cast by newer Retro-inspired designs, as well as other Nike classics have taken some shine away from the Air Force 1; credit the Design Leads at Nike for expanding the NSW library while allowing the Air Force 1 to take somewhat of a breather, but it was time for the icon to make a long-awaited comeback.
As 2011 marked the year of the Rabbit, Nike Sportswear effortlessly transferred the friendly and outgoing nature of the animal to the Air Force 1 Low by creating a clean and simple design inspired by ‘White Rabbit’ candy, a popular brand of Chinese candy treats that has become a cultural mainstay of the region. White, beige, red, and royal blue material gave the shoe a crisp color profile, but it was the milky-white solid midsole and alternating color-blocking on the
chenille-wrapped Swooshes that gave these an added style punch and some real individual character. Additionally, the Supreme nature of this release gave the Air Force 1 ‘Year of the Rabbit’ a Bespoke-like quality due to the premium materials and distinguishing features we often see with those top-tier custom designs. Nike Sportswear also took the ‘White Rabbit’ candy inspiration to a personal and novelty level by releasing special candy-wrapper inspired packaging in limited numbers, exclusive to select retailers in China.
Aside from just its own status as a coveted high-profile release, what made the Air Force 1 Low ‘Year of the Rabbit’ such an important shoe is that the excitement surrounding the shoe trickled down to a variety of other Air Force 1 Low releases throughout the year. The Premium ‘Denim’, the special edition ‘John Strickland’, the BE@RBRICK collaborations, and a few more notable releases of the Air Force 1 Low were approached with a nostalgic enthusiasm that had been missing with most AF1 releases for quite some time. Not quite a hysterical rebirth, but a lucid reminder that the Air Force 1 still has the clout and cajones to turn heads and attract the attention of a community that has adapted to a fast-paced progression of footwear design and concepts. With the Air Force 1 being a significant component of the sneaker-game anatomy, the ‘Year of the Rabbit’ was a breath of fresh air to the overall system; it was a much-needed revitalization, and it could not have arrived at a more opportune time.
#12 – AIR JORDAN V RETROS
In any other year, such a heaping helping of Air Jordan V Retros probably would have ended up quite a bit higher on this list, but 2011 was no ordinary year for Air Jordan Retro releases. Especially with the Air Jordan III being so well represented, the V’s took the backseat a little bit – still receiving a warm reception from consumers, but without the hoopla you might expect to see for the fan-favorite from the classic Air Jordan era. That’s not to say that Jordan Brand wasn’t coming with the heat, fearlessly trotting out this 1990 classic in a group of new colorways, as well as a quick revisit to one of the most endearing OG looks.
The latest wave of AJV retros also brought a bit of light to what may become a permanent modification on retro releases, the bluer shade of the translucent outsoles that was quite the topic of debate among the sneaker community this past year. After the Cool Grey XI’s came with the wet look last year, the Air Jordan V’s of 2011 seem to suggest that we should expect the tinted treatment going forward. Despite the minor changes to the materials and finer details of the OG Black/Metallic Silver version, the year was filled with an eclectic slew of Air Jordan V variations that gave fans of the model plenty to sink their teeth into in the last twelve months.
The lineup we saw this year was split down the middle between general release models and a set of exclusive drops that required a bit of work and cash if you wanted to get your hands on a pair. Anchoring the pack was August’s OG Black Air Jordan V, an original colorway that last popped up in 2007. Even heads who still owned a pair from the last go-around went back to the well on these, looking for a re-up on the aforementioned icy soles. Prior to those no-brainers, we saw the ‘Wolf Grey’ back in May, a versatile get-up that went a few shades off the beaten path, switching up the ‘Cool Grey’ formula for a different approach on the smooth nubuck body. The Independence Day flavored joints came in early July with a patriotic color scheme applied to the shoe with traditional AJV colorblocking.
Then there was the upper echelon of Air Jordan V releases, including the black leather Premio version that served as the latest chapter in the high end Bin 23 series and the Quai 54 colorway that never made its way stateside; that is, except for the super limited black version that made its way to only VIP members of the Jordan Brand friends and family circle. The list doesn’t even stop there, with the gone-in-a-flash Tokyo 23 drop, featuring a stunning yellow nubuck upper reminiscent of the Air Jordan IV ‘Lightning’. All in all, we’d say that’s a pretty good way to celebrate your 21st birthday, so hats off to this set of Air Jordan V retros which comes in, perhaps unfairly underrated, at number 12.
#11 – NIKE AIR FLOW TZ
Sneaker aficionados credit the 1990′s as the decade of the most striking and visually inspiring Nike footwear, creating legendary platforms for designers like Tinker Hatfield, Eric Avar, and Mark Smith. Sneaker fiends point to the 2000′s as the era of the ‘collector’, when the Air Jordan Retro took over the game, the Nike SB Dunk garnered a quickly-flourishing cult following, and two NBA superstars in Kobe Bryant and LeBron James emerged to carry the torch left by Michael Jordan and Penny Hardaway. So how did a running sneaker from the late 1980′s, intended for marathon/long-distance running, and designed after two unassuming non-performance items become one of surprise hits of 2011, twenty-two long years of not making a peep? That shoe is the Nike Air Flow, but before we get to how this bewildering sneaker release boiled down and shocked the world, it’s time for a crash-course on a shoe so ahead of its time that it manifests itself in innovative designs today.
Designed by Bruce Kilgore, whose previous works include the Air Jordan II and the Nike Air Force 1, the Air Flow was intended to be a long-distance/marathon performance sneaker; the upper design drew upon early Nike heritage, namely the 1985 Nike Sockracer, taking advantage of the minimalist construction for a breathable upper. The conception of the midsole came from a Tuff Stuff teddy bear; upon stepping on and jumping up and down on top of the
bear, Kilgore performed a stuffing transplant (RIP, bear) and created a midsole from the material, giving the shoe a unique comfort sensation and truly a one-of-a-kind running experience. The resulting Air Flow would be quite a shock to the consumer crowd, with Nike using the ‘Run around naked. Kinda.’ slogan to market the shoe; the Flow would also serve as a precursor to some of the most revolutionary Nike Running innovations of all time, like the Air Huarache, Air Presto, Free, LunaRacer and more.
The Nike Air Flow released in mid-June in two original colorways – White/Bright Cactus-Blue Glow and Lush Teal/Varsity Purple-Summit White. This summertime blast from the past would be available at the most select Nike Sportswear accounts as it was deemed a Tier Zero release, and both versions instantly sold out to a diverse crowd of sneakerheads. Current re-sale prices of the Air Flow have reached astounding heights, eclipsing the ranks of other highly-coveted releases by demanding over triple its retail price. Due to a limited circulation of the shoe and high demand, prices continue to soar and the legend of the Air Flow is re-created and told to a fresh generation of sneakerheads that may not have even been around when the shoe first came to be known. The consumer response to the Air Flow release was surprising to say the least, especially considering Nike Sportswear’s emphasized efforts to bring back some of the oldest members of the archive has been met with a reserved acceptance. What does Nike Sportswear have in store in the coming year that would be deemed “the Air Flow of 2012″? We can only wait and see.
#10 – AIR JORDAN 2011
Thousands of sneakers are released every year, but only a select number are given legitimate consideration for the Sneaker News Top 30 Sneakers year-end list. Trust us, the task of selecting the thirty best sneaker releases of the year is much more difficult than it seems. We carefully consider a number of factors, with one of the more accurate barometers being a candidate’s cultural impact on the sneaker game. One sneaker that will always score high in its impact is the Air Jordan signature shoe, the flagship model for Jordan Brand’s yearly product output. While the brand has certainly branched out to quite a number of divergent tangents (three completely different signature shoes, performance basketball and training footwear, lifestyle products), the Air Jordan remains as the core foundation for the juggernaut brand. However, it should be pointed out that neither the Air Jordan 2009 nor the Air Jordan 2010 were selected for Sneaker News’ Top 30 lists during the two years prior; both the Air Jordan 2009 and 2010 held the aura of magnificence and resplendency expected of an Air Jordan, but lacked the ‘gotta have it’ urgency. Judging an Air Jordan in somewhat of a negative light may leave you with an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach, but that’s only because the Air Jordan is held in such high regard and anything short of amazing is, unfortunately, a letdown.
With that said, the Air Jordan 2011 set off on a mission of redemption. While the Air Jordans of the past had undoubtedly owned up to the standard of the brand in terms of engineering, performance, design, and creativity, the street-wearability was undeniably an issue. The best solution to any problem is often the simplest one, and in this case, the solution was to create a cleaner, more relevant design with a ground-breaking performance feature, which has been the age-old formula for the most celebrated Air Jordans of all-time.
At the helm of the Air Jordan 2011 concept was Tinker Hatfield, architect of some of the all-time greats, and Tom Luedecke, who
spent a good chunk of his tenure at Nike in the Innovation Kitchen, working with the likes of Mark Smith and Eric Avar. Starting with the theme of the ‘Warrior’, inspired by the blockbuster film Avatar, the designers created a stunning leather upper that emanated a level of luxury, with the pressed-leather molded graphic evoking a level of battle-ready ferocity. With the first look at the black toe, white upper first release, similarities to the Air Jordan XI were immediately evident, and that statement alone was enough to prove that the Air Jordan 2011 at least looked like a Jordan should look. And with the intriguing performance technology, it was looking like for the first time in a few releases, JB would have a hit on their hands.
This is where Dwyane Wade comes in. Jordan Brand’s marquee athlete played a major role in tuning the performance technology of the shoe, which, as many previous Air Jordans have, broke conventions of basketball sneakers by introducing something completely fresh. Cushioning is a useful gauge of measuring the quality of a performance shoe, so the Air Jordan 2011 doubled its power by featuring two independent and interchangeable cushioning systems – the Zoom-cushioned ‘Be Quick’ and the Max Air-cushioned ‘Be Explosive’. With the completed design in place, the red carpet had to be rolled out in the only way appropriate for an Air Jordan shoe. Dwyane Wade gave the world an advanced preview of the shoe by wearing it during the highly-publicized Christmas Day 2010 match-up between the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers.
A retail launch followed in February during the 2011 NBA All-Star Weekend with several colorways, as well as the limited edition ‘Year of the Rabbit’ edition. The year also saw a slew of other Air Jordan 2011 releases in intense themes, like the Jordan Brand Classic PEs and the the ‘Warrior’ Pack, and in a surprising development, its introduction to Nike iD broadened the dimensions to an incalculable degree and marked a major milestone for the brand and the line, as it became the first Air Jordan model to become customizable. While a new Air Jordan shoe will never universally satisfy the often hard to please masses, the Air Jordan 2011 has gracefully made large strides at regaining the annual Air Jordan model’s rightful place in the sneaker game.
#9 – NIKE AIR FOAMPOSITE RELEASES
Following up on 2009′s ‘Eggplant’ Air Foamposite One, the modern Foamposite era really kicked off in 2010, when Nike brought out a mixture of familiar colorways and also suited up a couple of other classic sneakers with the groundbreaking form fitting material. While the shoe already enjoyed a regional cult following in some areas, the reception to the reintroduction was uniformly positive across the board, especially with the younger generation now brought into the loop on a reinvigorated 90′s classic. What remained particularly significant, was the hype surrounding the new ‘Dirty Copper’ version, proving how eager heads were for the next wave of Foam releases.
Nike wisely took note, jamming 2011 with one hot release after another for both the Nike Air Foamposite One and the Nike Air Foamposite Pro, and even in the face of a $200 price tag in a down economy, people showed up to cop each time. By year’s end, it had become abundantly clear that Foams had clearly carved out their place at the top of the sneaker food chain, officially supplanting Nike SB Dunks as the hottest thing in the sneaker world after Air Jordan Retros, of course.
The year started off right with the return of the OG royal colorway, giving fans the chance to pick up a classic and play catch-up before the onslaught began. March saw the release of two new colorways, the vibrant ‘Electric Green’ Nike Air Foamposite Pro and the ‘Pewter’ Nike Air Foamposite One, which revisited the metallic theme of last year’s Coppers. After that, it was the House of Hoops exclusive ‘Neo-Lime’ release, where the icy soles on bottom were injected with a radioactive shade of green in contrast to the blacked out upper.
Things really heated up in the middle of the year when the ‘Retro Blue’ Nike Air Foamposite Pro had heads catching South Beach flashbacks, and the shoe was deemed a must-have for summer stuntin’. Then, just when the flashy Foam colorways were at an all time high, Nike went left, dropping the smooth ‘Dark Pine’ Foam Pros. This last release from the 2011 run proved that the Foamposite line doesn’t need loud palettes to produce a hit. Looking into next year, the Foam frenzy doesn’t show any sign of slowing, but we’re confident that 2011 will go down as a landmark year for the most prized of Penny Hardaway’s signature sneakers.
#8 – NIKE ZOOM KOBE VI
2011 was supposed to be the year that Kobe Bryant led the Los Angeles Lakers to his second three-peat and the franchise’s third overall. It was supposed to be the year when all the Kobe haters could find another MVP colorway from his Nike Basketball signature series stuffed into their collective mouths, and perhaps most important to Kobe himself, a time when all those comparisons to Michael Jordan were proven valid. But along came a Maverick owner who stuck by his big gun for over a decade in hopes of capturing Kobe’s beloved Larry O’Brien Trophy, and it was that Dallas team led by Dirk Nowitzki that not only upset the Lakers and prevented a Christmas Day rematch with the Miami Heat, but also crushed the “Big Three’s” chance at that elusive first ring. Add in a nearly six month-long lockout onto the end, and you can see that the 2010-11 NBA season was filled with left turns, and yet, in some ways, for Kobe and his signature sneaker series with Nike, it was business as usual.
Kobe amassed an impressive array of milestones throughout the year, starting back in November when he became the youngest ever in league history to score 26,000 career regular season points. Merely two months later, he followed that up as the youngest 27k scorer in NBA history and just two days after that, joined a list of six other Hall of Famers with at least 25,000 points, 5,000 rebounds and 5,000 assists. Never mind that Michael Jordan remains the quickest ever to accomplish this statistically verifiable proof of all-around greatness, or that an aging Lakers squad is perhaps now even further than last year’s team from capturing that sixth championship; like MJ, Kobe proved this past year that he’s also approaching rarefied air when it comes to moving signature sneakers. And with countless colorways of his sixth signature Nike shoe hitting shelves in 2011, Bryant did just that.
Following up on the low-cut silhouettes of the Kobe IV and V, the Zoom Kobe VI managed to both look right at home in the line and pack a boldly original punch all at once. The overall lines and design of the Kobe VI are quite similar to its predecessors, but for this go-around, in addition to the expected performance tweaks, Nike added an extra twist to establish a unique identity and to help bring a story to life in the process. Kobe adopted the ‘Black Mamba’ nickname a little while back, and while the concept made its way onto a few previous Kobe releases, Nike fully embraced the snake concept for the ZK6, constructing the majority of the shoe’s upper in a Flywire-embedded thermoplastic polyurethane snake-scaled shell. The reptilian materials were a far cry from the look of a traditional basketball shoe, but a string of imaginative color motifs would soon convert the non-believers and show just how vast the possibilities for the shoe could be.
The Nike Zoom Kobe VI debuted Christmas Day 2010 when Bryant broke out the lime green ‘Grinch’ model, which turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg when it came to crazy ZK6 colorways. The Zoom Kobe 6′s snake scale uppers lent themselves to all manner of graphical overlays, ranging from simple two-toned team-oriented looks to the more adventurous gradient, camo and 3-D releases, plus one pack in particular that served as a showcase of both the ZK6 and Nike Basketball color team’s visual capabilities, as well as Kobe’s role as All-Star 2011 host. The ‘LA Pack’ included a traditional red Western Conference color with a little extra pizzazz thanks to lenticular graphics and black sections peeking through the red scales, another take on the two-toned upper with a stereoscopic Hollywood edition offering the first ’3-D’ colorway of several to come, and two scenic views celebrating East LA and the Orange County Sunset to round out the bunch. Kobe might not have reigned supreme at the end of the NBA Playoffs last time around, but his Nike Zoom Kobe VI was the king of adventurous colorways in 2011 and suggests even wilder aesthetic possibilities for the new Zoom Kobe VII.
#7 – NIKE AIR TRAINER SC II HIGH – OG COLORWAYS
There is no doubt that Bo Jackson is one of the best known Nike endorsers in the brand’s history, and when we think back on his most identifiable sneakers from the Nike Training line, the obvious images that spring to mind are the ‘Chlorophyll’ Air Trainer 1, the ‘Auburn’ Trainer SC High and even the ‘Medicine Ball’ Air Trainer III. However, when you reminisce on Nike’s most iconic Bo Jackson ad campaign, the classic “Bo Knows” spot with Bo Diddley and an all-star squad of Nike athletes, the shoe that was featured on Bo’s feet was none other than the Air Trainer SC II, a shoe that had somehow slipped into obscurity in both the Nike archives and in the hearts and minds of those who fondly remember the shoe and the glory days that it now represents. Most of the high-profile yearly Trainer releases from the late 80′s and early 90′s have long been re-released in a number of colorways over the years, but it wasn’t until this past year that the design marvel known as the Air Trainer SC II High finally made its long-awaited retro return.
Equipped with an unmistakable aesthetic from the hey-day of Tinker’s early reign, the Trainer SC II improved upon its predecessors with a removable forefoot strap for further stability and
an interior ankle collar that created a double layer of cushioning and support in the heel and ankle. The idea was that no matter what sport you were playing or training for, the SC II High (SC = Strength Conditioning) was the premiere all-purpose athletic sneaker at the time, a concept illustrated in the famous commercial where Bo is seen playing (and “knowing”) a variety of different sports. While technology and advancements in performance have improved on the original Nike Training blueprint, there have been few sneakers since that have balanced the same high level of form, function and fun.
In 2011, Nike finally brought us the return of this super-fresh blast from the past, choosing to first release the shoe in a number of new colorways before serving up the main course with the quickstrike launch of the two OG editions in September. While several of the initial 2011 releases felt like a nice throwback to the shoe’s maiden run, there is nothing quite like the original color schemes to both stir up nostalgia for those who had been patiently waiting and to school the younger generation to a true forgotten gem. At this point, the Nike arsenal has been mined pretty thoroughly, and though there are still plenty of shoes that have never been retroed, there aren’t too many prizes of this magnitude left that are yet to have been given a second life.
#6 – AIR JORDAN VII ‘BORDEAUX’
How many legendary colorways from the prolific Nike Air Jordan era have never seen a retro release? Are you done counting? You probably are because there’s not much left to list. In fact, they can probably be counted on one hand with fingers to spare. Up until this past spring, there was one obvious answer that would likely have been the first to come to mind for most – the Air Jordan VII ‘Bordeaux.’ Originally released in 1992, the Bordeaux VII’s somehow slipped through the cracks during all of these retro-heavy years and took an astounding 19 years to make it back to store shelves. It wasn’t because the popular demand wasn’t there and it certainly wasn’t because the shoe lacked timeless style and practical relevance, but somehow it still managed to elude us for all this time.
At the time of the Bordeaux’s original release, Air Jordans were a primarily “white/red” “black/red” world, with the occasional True/Military Blue or Grape thrown in for variety. The Bordeaux came through and shattered the limitations of the yearly “non-Bulls” release with a grey/black upper accented by a splash of vibrant colors all over the tongue and outsole, with the most notable being
the wine-colored hue from which the shoe’s eventual nickname was derived. Aside from the unconventional and sophisticated color scheme and Michael’s stint in the shoe during the Bulls’ 1992 championship run, the other lasting image of the Bordeaux VII was Mike’s classic team-up with another iconic MJ. Jordan wore the shoe during his guest appearance in Michael Jackson’s video for the song “Jam,” where the two living legends faced off for a “game” of one-on-one.
So much history and yet, no re-release for all of those years. Finally in 2011, whatever stars that needed to align fortunately did so, and the last remaining un-retroed heavyweight finally returned to its adoring masses. While the year was headlined by the barrage of Air Jordan III and V releases, the VII quietly had a nice year of its own with the Cardinal, Orion and Year of the Rabbit, but it was the Bordeaux back in April that proved to be the pick of the litter and a mouth-watering missing piece to a lot of sneaker collections. For those who copped a pair, cherish the feeling, because there’s not many unturned stones left in the Nike Air Jordan OG archives and certainly none that will be likely to elicit the feeling of joy and satisfaction that a crispy pair of Air Jordan VII Bordeaux’s brought to a lot of happy folks earlier this year.
#5 – NIKE LEBRON 9
Coming off two consecutive blockbuster hits in the widely-popular Air Max LeBron VII and the ambitious three-shoe LeBron 8 series, Nike designer Jason Petrie had a rock-solid backbone to build on for the LeBron 9. So what was Petrie’s first order of business? Start from scratch. Swapping out the visually appealing full-length Air Max for a new cushion system was actually first done with the LeBron 8 P.S. and carried over to the LeBron 9, but the overall message was that the Nike LeBron 9 was a whole new direction for the Nike LeBron series. The new Zoom Air/Max Air combo unit gave the LeBron 9 a completely new profile, allowing for sleeker lines and a better form-fitting silhouette, and the cushioning unit itself was quite the engineering endeavor, as it featured a lightweight, unexposed midsole that housed the fore-foot Zoom Air, as well as a conventional midsole and carbon fiber shank plate. The LeBron 9 was also the first basketball sneaker to combine forces of Hyperfuse and Flywire, and features nylon-weave panels that allow for maximum flexion while giving the sneaker a unique figure and aesthetic appearance.
When images of the shoe first started to surface, a debate quickly rose over whether or not the LeBron 9 would proudly carry over the strong street-sensibility embodied by its predecessors and older generation-defining models from the Air Jordan and Nike Penny lines. Although there was no ‘South Beach’ release to kick things off, the exciting China/Blue Flame colorway was still a powerful first strike, converting many detractors of the LeBron 9 into avid
supporters in the process. Much like the Air Max LeBron VII and LeBron 8, the LeBron 9 was first met with criticism by the sneaker-head community, but after a slew of great releases gave consumers the opportunity to put the shoe to use, the LeBron 9 was eventually praised for its comfort, style, and ‘collectible’ appeal. Petrie and and the Nike Basketball color team for the LeBron 9 project have done an astounding job at implementing some of LeBron James’ personality, history and attitude as seen by the ‘Cannon’ and ‘Christmas’, infusing local flavor with the ‘Miami Nights’ and ‘Freegums’, and placing the LeBron 9 in the NCAA Basketball spotlight with the College Pack.
While the LeBron 9 has established itself as one of the hottest commodities of the year, that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few bumps in the road. Untimely circumstances potentially plagued the LeBron 9 from the start, just how last year’s LeBron 8 seemed to be ‘doomed’ by LeBron’s unpopular move from Cleveland to Miami. The LeBron 9 had no live platform to prove itself; due to the NBA lockout, the LeBron James show was placed on hold, but that didn’t stop the LeBron 9 from getting out to the public by (comparatively) ‘grass-roots’ methods. LeBron James himself would wear his new shoes during a number of buzzworthy All-Star charity exhibition games, and the aforementioned College Pack, which featured Kentucky, Miami, and Ohio State, would also provide some added exposure. The Nike LeBron series is no rookie to controversy, but Jason Petrie and the folks at Nike Basketball were unflinchingly confident in their product, making the NBA lockout just another notch in the belt in what looks to be the marquee signature basketball line of this generation.
#4 – AIR JORDAN 1 ‘BANNED’
Until the concept of the “retro” release was instituted, most sneaker models had a fairly short shelflife, and in many cases, still do today. Some shoes break through the pack to gain legendary status and sneaker immortality, but it’s pretty rare that the same shoe has the chance to do it twice. The nature of retro sneaker launches has grown to be rather stale and predictable in recent years, but every once in a while, a curveball still comes along to catch us off guard and put a little of the adventure back into sneaker collecting. This past spring, perhaps the hottest commodity to ever hit a Nike Outlet came out of left field to shake up the sneaker world and become one of the most bizarre shoe releases of all time.
It was all the way back in August of 2010 that we got our first look at the special edition version of the iconic Air Jordan 1 “Banned,” paying homage to the gloriously controversial colorway with some clever additions to the original design. The story of the original Nike Air Jordan 1 “Banned” is now well known in the sneaker world. Back in 1985, when the shoe was first released, the NBA had a strict policy regarding how colorful your shoes could be. For the most part, basketball sneakers were white with little more than one simple accent color. Michael Jordan’s first Nike signature shoe featured a bold all black and red upper, flagrantly violating the league’s uniform restrictions. In true rebel fashion, Michael wore the shoe anyway and was hit with a $5,000 fine each time he stepped on court in them.
Recognizing the opportunity for some killer publicity, Nike gladly ponied up for the fines, and for a time, Mike went on wearing the offending colorway, gaining some great buzz for the shoe and the still relatively young company in the process. Taking things one step further, Nike produced a 30 second ad featuring Jordan with his shoes blacked out and featuring the tagline, “On September 15, Nike created a revolutionary new basketball shoe. On October 18, the NBA threw them out of the game. Fortunately, the NBA can’t stop you from wearing them.” Michael’s charisma and basketball prowess combined with the outlaw rollout of the shoe translated into huge sales for the shoe and the birth of the most beloved signature sneaker line of all time.
The original “banned” colorway of the Air Jordan 1 has now been re-released a few times over the years, but for the special 2011 version, some slight modifications were made as a tribute to the shoe’s historical significance. At a glance, the shoe stays true to the
OG right down to the Nike Air tongue label, but a closer look will reveal some slight tweaks, like the large “X” on the heel and the two banned dates printed inside the ankle and on the insoles. Further inspection will catch some additional touches like the small X’s inside the lining, the special “Imagine if…” laces and let’s not forget about possibly the coolest thing of all – a special revamped OG shoebox, updated with subtle corresponding “Banned” graphics.
After the initial photo leaks, a few more images surfaced in the following months, but eventually rumors began to swirl that the shoe had been scrapped and would not be seeing a retail release after all. It was looking like the “Banned” Air Jordan 1′s had been banned once more, but without any official word, optimistic Jordan devotees remained optimistic that something would come through. How could one of the most intriguing Air Jordan retros in recent years not get its proper release? Well, it might not exactly have been proper, but prayers were answered and the shoe triumphantly found its way to the people.
We can pinpoint the genesis of the Banned outbreak to a Portland, Oregon Nike Outlet on May 20th. An unexplained 150 or so “B-grade” pairs of the shoes arrived at the store at a retail price of $109.99 and with a firm rule of one per customer. Word quickly spread around the Portland sneaker scene and eventually onto the sneaker sites and forums. Phone orders were taken in addition to the in-store rush, and by day’s end, the initial batch was gone, leaving the lucky bunch who got a pair feeling like they just hit the sneaker jackpot. Shortly after the Portland drop, however, the rumor mill began to churn again, and it was eventually learned that more outlets would be receiving the Banneds on June 1st, leading to what were quite possibly, the first ever Nike Outlet campouts.
With no explanation or promotion from Nike or Jordan Brand, an undetermined quantity of the shoes made it out to the public, sold only through a select few high-traffic Nike Outlet stores who were all cleared out by the end of day. It’s still not really known why the release was initially scrapped and then how they came to show up at Nike Outlets of all places. Despite the B-grade stamp on the inside label and box, the shoes showed no real sign of any defects or imperfections outside of the minor flaws that can be found in most sneakers that actually make it to release. Maybe we’ll never know how or why this happened, but those who got a pair are sure glad that it did. The end result was hands down one of the best sneaker releases of the year and the shoe will live on as one of the great stories in sneaker history…again.
#3 – AIR JORDAN III – OG COLORWAY RETROS
While most brands would celebrate the 25th anniversary of a shoe, for Jordan Brand, the 23 year milestone holds a special significance. The year was 1988 and with only a few pro years under his belt, Michael Jordan had quickly become the most exciting player in the NBA in an era filled with exciting players. Nike was patting themselves on the back for hitting the jackpot and landing Mike as an endorser. His first two signature models had been a big hit with consumers, but it wasn’t until his third shoe that we all got our first glimpse of a sneaker revolution in the making. Soon, a combination of three powerful elements would change the game forever. Elephant print. Jumpman logo. Tinker.
Nike made a bold decision with MJ’s second shoe to remove the ever-present Swoosh branding and let Michael and his original “Wings” logo stand on their own as far as carrying the identity of the model. When it came time for the Air Jordan III, then up and coming Nike designer Tinker Hatfield brought in some fresh new ideas, including a new logo that would forever symbolize Michael Jordan and his sneaker line. The Jumpman logo featured a silhouette of an outstretched Michael in mid-flight – a simple, graceful image that perfectly embodied Michael Jordan, his style and his sneakers. The Jumpman logo is now a cultural icon and has since graced every Air Jordan model that has followed, but it all started with Tinker and the tongue of the Air Jordan III.
In addition to the new logo, Tinker Hatfield introduced another element to the Air Jordan III that would be almost as legendary and recognizable as the Jumpman. In order to further separate the next Air Jordan shoe from the pack and continue to incorporate a sense of class and luxury into the line, something more than traditional leathers was needed to suit the task, and Tinker came up with just the right idea. The solution was a grey elephant skin inspired pattern
that has since made its way onto just about every different kind of shoe, apparel and accessory you can imagine, many times not even by Nike.
The material had an intangible motherload of style and originality that instantly made the Air Jordan III the first true must-have sneaker phenomenon of its kind and the spark to a new dawn of the sneaker age. Commanding a then almost unthinkable retail price of $100, the shoe was an enviable status symbol and pop-culture juggernaut and continues to be today, immediately recognizable as perhaps the most endearing reminder of the golden age of Air Jordans.
Further helped to immortality through the introduction of the memorable Spike Lee ‘Mars Blackmon’ campaign, the shoe stood as the pinnacle for sneaker design and stylishness and has arguably never been matched to this day. Now 23 years later, Jordan Brand proudly celebrated a symbolic anniversary by unofficially declaring 2011 the “Year of the III” and releasing a slew of new and OG colorways, complete with the original packaging as the icing on top. While new versions like the Black Flip, Stealth and Black History Month made some noise of their own, the obvious highlights of the bunch were the return of three original colorways.
The “Year of the III” was bookended by the White/Cement in January and Black/Cement on Black Friday, with the True Blues falling in between back in June. While the Black/Cement was released in 2008′s CDP pack and the True Blue hit Europe in 2009, the White/Cement colorway hadn’t seen a retro release since 2003. Needless to say, all three, along with the absent Fire Red, will all be more than welcome any time they return, and the bounty of Jordan III’s alone made 2011 a great year to be a sneakerhead. Everyone has their own opinion on the all-time greatest Jordan, but it’s pretty undeniable that the Air Jordan III gets the lifetime achievement award and will forever remain one of the true high water marks in the history of sneaker design.
#2 – AIR JORDAN XI ‘CONCORD’
While an Air Jordan XI release at the end of the December is hardly ‘news’ at this point, it still manages to be the most exciting, talked-about, and definitive release of the year. It’s the metaphorical ‘cherry on top’ of a year’s worth of sneaker releases and is now going four years strong with these timely, end-of-December drops, it has become an unofficial tradition for Jordan Brand – some are already taking guesses for 2012 and beyond, because the wait is just too unbearable. This ‘tradition’ of sorts began four years ago in 2008, when the ‘Bred’ XI returned after a seven-year gap, arriving in tandem with another shoe (the Air Jordan XII). The Space Jams followed in 2009, which caused near-riots, torn-down storefronts, and lengthy campouts in frigid weather. Sneakerheads smartened up with their release day tactics for 2010′s Cool Grey XI, which was calmer, yet equally as significant as its ’09 predecessor. But with Sneaker News readers appointing the Air Jordan XI ‘Concord’ as the greatest OG Air Jordan colorway of all-time during our March Madness Tournament earlier in the year, there was no way to predict what would go down during the official release date.
Sixteen years ago, Michael Jordan was a retired NBA player at the age of 32. Three championships and trophy-cases filled with every conceivable award had already been compiled in his career up until that point, but for Michael, it wasn’t about the achievements, but feeding his love of the game. He returned to basketball in April of 1995, but the game was a different horizon than the one he left; four Eastern Conference teams had catapulted the Bulls in the ranks during Michael’s absence, and when the Playoffs rolled around, the Bulls were no longer a lock for the NBA Finals. After sweeping the Charlotte Hornets in three games, Michael and the Chicago Bulls faced the Orlando Magic, which featured a young and exciting roster and arguably two of the best players in the game in Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. Some shaky late-game play by Michael in Game 1 led to a loss for the Bulls, so for the rest of the playoff series, Michael decided to controversially tweak his look by switching back to his ’23′ jersey number and wearing his brand-new Air Jordan shoe – the Air Jordan XI in the White/Black colorway. The design and
patent leather materials stunned the crowd, leaving sideline reporter Ahmad Rashad amazed at how a simple sneaker could be such a visual spectacle. The legend had been born.
The buzz around the new Air Jordan shoe was already beginning to mount, and even while Michael was fighting to keep the Chicago Bulls alive in the Playoffs, the Air Jordan XI still rose as a topic of conversation. The sneaker was in fact designed by Tinker Hatfield, who had a unique ability of finding inspiration from the most unlikely of sources; as luxurious and aesthetically advanced as the Air Jordan XI was, it was designed after a garden tool – a bumbling lawnmower of all things. Above the performance aspects of the shoe, the patent leather gave the Air Jordan XI a strikingly handsome appearance and Air Jordan fanatics made the XI the must-have sneaker of that time, coming out in droves when it offically released in 1996 and eventually becoming a go-to tuxedo complement for weddings and proms, fulfilling a prediction made by Michael back when the shoe was first being developed. Even after a re-release of the Concords in 2001, as well as a similar Defining Moments Package edition in 2006, the Air Jordan XI ‘Concord’ of 2011 still evoked the excitement from its original release, easily becoming one of the hottest topics of the year on sneaker blogs and forums.
From the moment the Air Jordan XI ‘Concord’ was first confirmed on Sneaker News, to the final moments before the December 23rd release, the online sneakerhead community had openly discussed the various features of the release, like the high-end packaging that first started with the Air Jordan XI ‘Space Jam’ and the polarizing blue tint on the outsole. The box itself was identical to the ones includes with the ‘Space Jam’ and ‘Cool Grey’, but the White/Black contrast used to decorate the box accentuated the inspired design. Jordan Brand certainly followed the ‘best for last’ idiom once again, solidifying the notion that the Air Jordan XI is considered by many to be the premier Air Jordan shoe of the entire legacy. For its abundance of history and prestige, the agonizing wait and the looming impact it had on the entire year since the Cool Greys vanished from stores, the Air Jordan XI ‘Concord’ made a strong case for sneaker release of the year before our number 1 selection abruptly showed up from the future/past to push it to runner up.
#1 – NIKE MAG 2011
What occurs in the past often shapes the future, and that is especially true for the Back To The Future saga. The direct influence it has had on pop culture as well as comedic science fiction in film and television solidifies the true impact that a fictional story can have on reality, even when the story involves a high-school teenager traveling backward and forward through time with the help of a mad scientist. Marty McFly and Emmett ‘Doc’ Brown are the two unforgettable names and lead characters of the Back To The Future franchise, but how do those names tie into sneaker folklore? As the sequel was being written, the producers of the movie approached Nike with a question: What would a shoe look like in 30 years? A Nike design team headlined by Tinker Hatfield came up with the Mag – a super high-top, power-lacing, brightly lit pair of futuristic sneakers that would help Marty hoverboard around the city with ease in the year 2015. Since the release of the movie, the Nike Mag has been immortalized as one of the great icons of film and sneakers, enjoyed only through watching the film. Nike would later use the Nike Mag as the design inspiration for one of its greatest footwear designs in the Nike Hyperdunk, releasing a special edition ‘McFly’ colorway that now demands a pretty penny.
On September 7th, 2011, Nike invited select members of the media to join together in Los Angeles for a clandestine event. The select few who made the trip out West were given no details regarding what was in store; all that was provided to them was a mysterious black box, holding inside it the only hint they would need – a pair of metallic silver shield glasses. Those who were quick to realize that it was the same prop used by Doc Brown in Back To The Future II figured out soon enough that the hints that surrounded them were a bit more obvious than they initially perceived; along with the glasses, which contained the cryptic message of ‘It’s About Time’, the host of the event was none other than Tinker Hatfield. It was undoubtedly the greatest secret ever kept by Nike, especially considering today’s worldwide popularity of sneakers and the leaky tendencies of the internet, but we were finally treated to a legitimate teaser when YouTube user DocEmmettBrown88 gave us a quick look into McFly’s closet; inside it were 1,500 pairs of the Nike Mag 2011!
It’s been twenty-three years since the Nike Mag appeared in Back To The Future II, and since then, the Mag has been chronicled as one of the greatest sneakers to have never been released. Now, Nike was ready to pull out all the stops to launch this fabled piece of sneaker mythology, and who better than Michael J. Fox himself? The first and only Marty McFly appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman on the night of September 8th, bringing the Nike Mag 2011 and the true message of the ‘Back For The Future’ campaign; by bringing together three independent focus groups – the Parkinson’s community, the Back To The Future trilogy fanatics, and the hardcore sneaker enthusiasts – Nike and the Michael J. Fox Foundation would purposefully embark on this historic endeavor to create a future without Parkinson’s Disease through donated dollars and increased awareness.
As the story goes, the self-lacing Nike Mag would be available in the year 2015, but with the release of the shoe being four years ahead of time, Nike created a ‘lost’ episode titled ‘Back For The Future’, in which Doc Brown would mistakenly travel to the year 2011 while encountering the youthful Kevin Durant and funny-man Billy Hader at a store inside Lone Pine Mall. It is then that Doc realizes that he is in the wrong ‘time’, because the Nike Mags he is looking for do not power lace! (Well, at least not until 2015, according to Tinker Hatfield.) Nike pulled out all the stops to recreate this ‘lost’ chapter of the action-packed saga, bringing back the original creative team from the Back To The Future franchise, as well as Christopher Lloyd, the original Doc Brown. With the Nike Mag 2011 now introduced to the world and the eBay auctions about to commence, the biggest sneaker release of the year, and arguably the last two decades, was about to go down in the history books.
The Nike Mag 2011 auctions officially began on the night of September 8th at Nike Sportswear’s Montalban Theater, where hip-hop artist Tinie Tempah kicked off the madness with a $37,500 final bid on the very first pair. Live auction events would be held at other major cities such as Amsterdam, Tokyo, London, Paris, Las Vegas, and New York City, all of which featured the time-traveling DeLorean parked out in front of the venues; for those who were limited to the confines of their homes, a 10-day, 1,500-pair auction extravaganza provided the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own the most long-awaited sneaker release in history. Tempah’s $37,500 purchase would prove to be just the tip of a massive iceberg of philanthopists, sneakerheads, and combination of both, as the first night of auctions would bring in more than $900,000, with the final tally after ten days totaling an astounding $5,695,190.53. Combined with the pledge made by Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife Anne Wojcicki, the entire Nike Mag 2011 Limited Edition auctions resulted in one of the most successful charity auctions in history.
The excitement and hype around the shoe made gripping headlines all across the globe, making it not just the top sneaker story of the year, but one of the most fascinating topics in the crowded pop culture news-wire. Sneaker websites, tech and gadget blogs, even the most mainstream media outlets could not resist exploring the mystique behind the Nike Mag 2011. The Mags were an immense celebrity draw as well; on top of Tinie Tempah’s lofty final auction bid, Kanye West, Kid Cudi, San Francisco Giants pitcher Brian Wilson, Theophilus London, Soulja Boy and more all threw down the necessary dollars to obtain their own Mags, and some obtained multiple pairs. Of course, there were a few controversial matters to have risen from the event, like the opening-day auction that rose to a jaw-dropping $75,000 (it would be pulled by eBay), and the influx of collectors cashing in on Back To The Future memorabilia (one of the miniature replicas sold for over $1,000) amidst the booming hype. Other sneaker collectors and Back To The Future fanatics found the price a bit too high to pay, even for an item that was considered a ‘must-have’ in both circles. But when it was all said and the done, the Nike Mag 2011, twenty-three years in the making, proved to be worth the slow and steady ride into the future, and is without a doubt the top sneaker release of 2011.