Nike Air Force 1: History of baskets and hip-hop

If today rappers wear sneakers, for 30 years basketball players kept flying higher, it is certainly thanks to a special shoe. Basketball, that is what it was created, to fly like planes. It also penetrated Hip-hop despite itself, without never leaving it. Collectors have full room of it, Gentlemen here is the Nike Air Force One.


In 1982 Nike releases the Air Force One, a shoe named under the U.S. president’s plane so basketball players would jump over the clouds wearing them. A humorous image still in phase with Nike’s lifelong philosophy: performance.

Air Force 1 advertisement

Dedicated to play basketball, the shoe was the first trainer to feature a special innovation, and not a minor one. It is Bruce Kilgore, designer, who created the model with the requirement of introducing this new technology: an air bubble concealed under the heel, bringing a better cushioning without loosing balance. As for the design, the AF1’s lines are simple, uncluttered with a big “swoosh” on the side, a medallion embossed with AF-1 87, and a smooth leather giving such a versatile style.


At that time, Nike wasn’t as powerful as today in marketing so the launch was botched. Two years later, in 1984, at the instigation of three shop owners of Baltimore (which have become mythical since) all specialized in sneakers: Downtown Locker Room, Cinderella Shoes and Charley Rudo’s Sports, the Air Force One will revive.


Close to the consumers, knowing their appeal for the AF1 and considering a botched campaign, they fix an appointment with Nike to convince them making a new launch, kind of a new marketing era for the shoes’ market. Then, Nike places its product at 6 basketball player’s feet: Moses Malone, Michael Cooper, Jamaal Wilkes, Bobby Jones, Mychal Thompson and Calvin Natt who will form the a “Royal Air Force”, Nike’s spearhead for this “flying” shoe. This is the birth of the “Force” campaign, later embodied by Charles Barkley.


Nike puts pressure on our three shops, forcing them to bet on a 1200 pairs minimum for each colorway (white/blue, white/brown): kind of a message to tell “you want a new launch, this is your responsibility guys!”. They take the bet and the pairs sell like hot cakes. As a result, the brand proposes them a deeper collaboration, each month an exclusive new colorway would be available in their own shop. People say, some have traveled from all across the country to get a pair at Baltimore.


Since its significant success on the NBA fields, the Nike Air Force One was released in more that 1700 colorways and many different versions: hi-top, low-top, with or without strap, then came the Air Force II (1987), the Air Force STS (1989), the Air Force 180 (1192, worn by Charles Barkley at the 92 Barcelona Olympics). Impossible to calculate the precise amount of pair sold since the beginning. To give an idea, it was around 150 millions for the year 2004 only.

Very soon, almost since it was created in 1982, the Air Force One has also become an icon for many generations of rappers. it was not thanks to the air technology into the sole, but for its style. As the hip-hop was booming, it entered b-boys wardrobes like the Kangol beret and the tracksuit. Over the years, it established as a classic, a sure bet for all rappers’ feet: Jay-z, Kanye West or Damon Dash, boss of Roc-A-Fella records figure among the shoe’s fans, and as well Nelly who dedicated the shoe a song.

In 2007, Nike had highly celebrated the 25th birthday of its iconic sneaker. An ad following the original spirit with famous basketball players: this time Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, Rasheed Wallace, Tony Parker, Jermaine O’Neal, Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Paul, and Paul Pierce were part of the team, many limited editions among which one sold for $2000 in anaconda leather, and a big party with MTV in New-York in which were invited many stars.


Another brief focus on sports. Up to date, only one professional basketball player still wears the Air Force One on the field as he did all along his career: the illustrious Rasheed Wallace, former emblematic player of the Portland Trail Blazers and Detroit Pistons, today playing for the New-York Knicks. By the way, Nike still releases custom-made editions for him (here is the Air Force One Hi Player).


To celebrate the AF1’s 30th birthday this year, Nike made things well giving the sneaker a lifting. It is now called Lunar Force One, featuring the Lunarlon sole cushioning system used on running shoes. Then, many collaborations, limited editions were release all year long. Names are prestigious and the editions beautiful: Dover Street Market, Stussy, Supreme… I won’t detail all because there are so many, you know… smart people! The full white and full black versions remains the most iconic of all, Nike still lent the shoe to many collaborations. As always, I’ve made a selection of my favorites:

Availables on the Nike Store and all good retailers.

A Kanye West song about the Air Force One

A vidéo of a $2000 version made by hand.

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