By the mid 1990s a new breed of player had evolved in the game of basketball: a more versatile, multi-talented, and faster athlete that wasn’t quite a big man, and not quite a guard. Just think Penny Hardaway or Scottie Pippen. Holding down basketball players for years with the Force line for big men and the Flight line for guards, in 1995 Nike supplied the new breed with a line of shoes made to fit their on-court demands: Uptempo. Designed to offer support with ample cushioning in a speedy silhouette, the Uptempo line filled the void for those in-between players who were as quick as a guard, but also needed plenty of cushioning for their 6’5″+ frames.
This winter, three of the most popular Uptempo models of all time are back in stylish new tonal looks from Nike Sportswear, so the brand is taking a look back at the Air Max 2 Uptempo, Air Max Uptempo, and Air Max Uptempo III (now known as the ’97), each in their most iconic Originals colorways.
Nike Air Max 2 Uptempo – 1995
After the Air Uptempo debuted in early 1995, Nike brought their new Air Max2 technology—which strategically utilized multi-density Air units—to the court with the Air Max 2 Uptempo. Actually more associated with the NCAA ranks than the NBA, the shoe was most notably worn by players at Duke, Michigan, and other Nike schools—including a young Ray Allen at UCONN.
Nike Air Max Uptempo – 1996
Heralded by Nike as the “most Air cushioning we’ve ever put into a sole” when it released in 1996, the Air Max Uptempo became the first Nike basketball shoe with a full-length Air unit. Worn by players at every level of the game, and one of the hottest off-court sneaker options of ’96, as well, the wavy and bubbly design of the Air Max Uptempo has become an all-time classic of basketball sneaker history.
Nike Air Max Uptempo III – 1997
Nike managed to fit even more Air into the next evolution of the Uptempo line in 1997, with the debut of the Air Max Uptempo III (now named the Air Max ’97 in retro form). Worn most notably by Scottie Pippen, the bold design complete with raindrop shaped jewel accents in the midsole is the epitome of late-90s excess in basketball sneaker design, and it’s now firmly in place as another absolute classic of Nike Basketball’s archives.