Nike Presents: 20 Designs That Changed The Game

August 13, 2012 BY

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Over the course of the last three weeks or so, Nike Basketball revisited twenty of their most game-changing designs that surfaced over the last two decades. Each installment served a valiant purpose in the evolution of Nike Basketball, from the first Air Force 180 Low and the expanded Air unit, to 2012’s Nike Lunar Hyperdunk+ and the advanced technology of Nike+. Before Nike kicks off another twenty years of game-changing designs, let’s spend a moment and look back at Nike’s retrospective of the amazing basketball-centric models to have come out of the Innovation Kitchen – all of which we’ve compiled below. It’s a worthy exploration of one of Nike’s most progressive sectors of design and function, so if your sneakerhead tendencies go beyond buying whatever’s hot and into the field of study, take a moment to review Nike Basketball’s 20 Designs The Changed The Game below.

20 Years Of Nike Basketball Design: Air Force 180 Low (1992)

Nike Air Force 180 Low, 1992

“Technology has always been the thing that drives, motivates and consumes us. The Air 180 is the product of that obsession.”- Phil Knight

Catering to powerful players by redefining Air, the Nike Air Force 180 Low represented a significant evolution and extension of Nike Basketball’s design language. At the time of this shoe’s release, Nike Air was almost 14 years old and Visible Air was five. How do you build on those pressurized foundations? By adding 50% more cushioning. Strapping down the player for superior support, it was clear that the 180 and power basketball went together like Barkley and controversy. When this Force hit the hardwood during the summer of 1992, victory was guaranteed. While the shoe has seen plenty of colors, that red, white and blue with a fade to gold represents an iconic moment in sneaker and sporting history. The Nike Air Force 180 Low is a classic shoe —cushioned to protect, but built to intimidate.

20 Years Of Nike Basketball Design: Air Flight Huarache (1992)

Nike Air Flight Huarache, 1992

“If the shoe fits in with other things that are going on culturally, you get a perfect storm.”- Tinker Hatfield

The Nike Air Flight Huarache’s aesthetic swagger was in what it stripped away. A swoosh? No need for one — it’s not like this shoe could have been made by any other brand. That Dynamic Fit, exoskeleton, leather and neoprene combined to make this one of the purest expressions of performance to date. While a maverick team — led by intuitionist Tinker Hatfield, and assisted by Eric Avar — worked behind the scenes to translate the Huarache running technology to the courts, it took a crew of collegiate game-changers to give the Nike Air Flight Huarache an extra ascent in terms of publicity. That leads to the eternal question: what came first – this rebel shoe like no other, eclipsing a previous decade of bulk, or basketball’s completely new attitude and aesthetic? This shoe would have caused a storm either way, urging those from as far away as the nose bleeds to ask, “What was that?”

20 Years Of Nike Basketball Design: Air Raid (1992)

Nike Air Raid, 1992

“That X strap was about strapping up to go into battle, because you’re going to get knocked around the frickin’ cage and you need to strap yourself in.”- Tinker Hatfield

Blame the yellow sticky. It took a small paper note to instigate the most hardwearing Nike shoe to date. Delivered from the very top, it was less a request and more of an instruction — make a shoe for outdoor basketball. That meant now. With Tinker Hatfield sketching and fellow designer Mark Smith deployed to New York the following day to capture the look and mood of the city’s concrete battlegrounds, it became clear that this was a completely different game. This was where big league heroes could be humbled by local legends. That ‘X’ arrived at a moment when knowledge of self and roughneck aesthetics united. Through sheer coincidence, movements converged and a bubbling culture spilled into the Nike Air Raid’s DNA almost unconsciously.

20 Years Of Nike Basketball Design: Air Max2 CB (1994)

Nike Air Max2 CB, 1994

“This became more and more overt as a composition. We wanted to capture Charles’ game and his personality.”- Tinker Hatfield

Charles Barkley had been a Nike athlete since the days of the 1987 Nike Air Force and the low-cut Nike Alpha Force. However, it took a while for him to get that all-important signature model. Maybe it was that on and off court attitude, the team switch or the fact that he’s just “not a role model.” One underlying theme of the shoes Charles endorsed was the need for constant lockdown to tether a force of nature during moments of on-court insanity. The Nike Air Max2 CB incarcerated the foot for its own safety with straitjacket-inspired support straps, reinforced lace locks and teeth-like outriggers.

20 Years Of Nike Basketball Design: Air Max Penny (1995)

Nike Air Penny, 1995

“What was great about Penny was that he was always expressive and always willing to push the limits in terms of aesthetics and expression.”- Eric Avar

How do you cater to the player who can’t be defined by an existing category? You create a new lane. Penny’s Hardaway’s strength and athleticism preempted a contemporary style — so much so that his debut Nike signature model, the Nike Air Penny, birthed the Uptempo line. Speed and strength couldn’t be pinned down to a solitary technology, so Penny got a pair of performance aids — a Max Air bag for impact protection and the newly-developed Tensile Air, later renamed Zoom Air, for court feel. The former at the rear and the latter at the front delivered the best of both worlds for a proven combination that’s echoed in contemporary Nike Basketball designs. That 1Cent logo and crystal swoosh exuded confidence, hinting that this was just the start of a relationship rooted in expression and experimentation.

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