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Nike Air Force 1

“Starting this season Air will be sold by the box.” – Nike advertisement for the Nike Air Force 1 in 1982. With an advertisement that didn’t even show the shoe itself, Nike started the campaign to push the Nike Air Force 1 as the first basketball shoe with an air unit in the heel. Named after the President’s plane, this relatively simple sneaker has been Nike’s top selling shoe since its inception.

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Leave it to Nike to find a way to sell air to the masses- but not just thin air. Surrounding the world first in-heel air unit would be a silhouette that’s tech and design made it explode onto the scene. The Air Force 1 became a phenomenon both on the court and in sneaker culture, earning its legacy as one of the most popular basketball sneaker of all time.

Let’s rewind, and discuss the development of this cultural icon. Nike’s first shoe with an air unit was the Nike Tailwind, but Nike wanted to get into the basketball shoe game. The shoe juggernaut realized the different stresses of running compared to playing basketball. In running, the activity is relatively linear, while basketball players employ a lot of cuts, pivots, jumping, and heavy landings.

Nike brought in Bruce Kilgore to design the Air Force 1. Kilgore drew inspiration for this legendary high top silhouette from a hiking boot, the Nike Approach. Kilgore slanted the cut of the shaft to provide support and flexibility. During a time that most sneakers employed the herringbone traction pattern, Kilgore decided this pattern was not cohesive for a basketball shoe. This led to him to develop the circular pattern on the outsole, which allowed players to pivot easily.

The AF1 was specifically designed for basketball in high tops only and Kilgore needed wear testers to give him feedback. One of the first testers for the sneaker was a young Nike designer named Tinker Hatfield. Hatfield took the shoes out to play basketball and was astonished by the performance of the sneaker. Many of the wear testers loved the shoe, and didn’t want to give it back. The only hiccup was some of the testers didn’t like the ankle strap, so it was made to be removable when the shoe went into production.

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Nike wanted to push this shoe hard as a performance sneaker so they signed six NBA players to help with this endeavor. The “Original Six” were Moses Malone, Michael Cooper, Bobby Jones, Calvin Natt, Mychal Thompson, and Jamal Wilkes. During the 1984-1985 NBA season, 76ers' center Moses Malone scored a career-high 51 points in an overtime game against the Pistons. Malone was able to dominant in the paint due to the pivot point on the outsole, and the responsive cushioning of the Air Max unit in the heel of his Air Force 1's.

The Air Force 1 originally was going through the same lifecycle as any other sneaker did at the time. It was released in 1982, and was discontinued in 1984. However, distributors continued to ask Nike to resume production as demand for the silhouette was so high. The idea of reissuing a shoe was unheard of at the time. Nike was in the practice of developing shoes, then discontinuing them when they created something better. However, due to the demand for the Air Force 1, Nike resumed production of the Air Force in 1986.

Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City were the early hubs for Air Force 1’s. The shoe owns its popularity to the hip hop culture in these East Coast cities. This exploded rappers started wearing them on stage and in music videos. The shoes were already a cultural phenomenon when Nelly recorded “Air Force Ones” in 2002, but the song captivated people who weren’t turned onto these sneakers yet and caused yet another boom in sales.

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As the years have passed, the Air Force 1 has been released in many different colorways. It has been produced in Highs, Mids, and Lows. Combine varying colorways and silhouettes with exclusives from rappers or fashion designers and you end up with over 1,800 different variants on this classic. However, the solid white AF1 has remained the most popular colorway helping create the clean aesthetic of all white shoes that is so popular today.

Check out our selection of Air Force 1's in High, Mid, or Low in Men's, grade schooler's, preschooler's, and toddler's.