Four decades after the inception of the slam-dunk, Nike was just over 10 years old and basketball’s popularity was surging. The year was 1985. It will go down as one of the most pivotal years for Nike Basketball as it marks the year the Nike Dunk was born.
When the Nike Dunk hit stores back in 1985, perhaps it was Nike's way of being fashion-forward with its large colour-blocking abilities, or maybe it was merely a marketing move for the company looking to cement themselves in the highly competitive sneaker industry. Either way, when the Dunk hit the basketball sneaker scene 30 years ago, it provided an aesthetic shift while merging existing technologies.
Originally sketched by designer Peter Moore and called the College Colour High, the Nike Dunk was an artistic mash-up of different shoes, a common design practice at Nike for ‘80s basketball shoes. The Dunk’s outsole resembled the same traction design of the Air Force 1, which launched just months before. The Dunk’s upper took cues from the Air Jordan 1 and the Nike Terminator; interestingly, the three shoes were all developed by the same design minds. The Dunk drew its eventual name from the shoe last on which it was created―the same last used to make the Nike Legend, considered the best fitting basketball last at that time.
With the Air Force 1, Air Jordan 1, Terminator and Legend all playing a role in creating the design of the Dunk, it was the college game that gave it a real persona. In the 1980s, college basketball was reaching new heights among a wide age range of athletes and fans. From east to west rivalries were strong and network TV brought college hoops to the masses.
During the summer of 1985, Nike delivered footwear in the school colours of popular basketball programs allowing fans to support their favourite teams from head to toe. The Nike College Colours program was officially established. The advertising tagline ‘Be True to Your School’ emerged and centered around 12 key schools. Pearl Washington of Syracuse University and Mark Jackson of St. John's University both wearing the Nike Dunk in team colours on Feb. 1, 1986.
The memorable ‘Be True to Your School’ print ad features the Nike Dunk as the centerpiece of Nike’s College Colours program, the first campaign featuring bold colours on basketball shoes. College Colours teams included UNLV, Arizona, Iowa, Georgia, Syracuse, Georgetown and Kentucky. It was introduced as part of an August 1985 basketball campaign that included colour-coordinated footwear, apparel and bags.
The Dunk’s acceptance spread beyond basketball culture when the skateboard community gradually adopted the style making it a skate icon. Identified for their low profile midsole and the same performance characteristics that made them a progressive basketball shoe — lateral support, cushioning and special traction for pivoting — the Dunk served the skate scene well. For the same versatility and comfort, Nike Dunks introduced between 1998 and 2000 featured a nylon tongue, which further endeared the shoe to skateboarders for their versatility and movement for skate. A skate specific design, the Nike Dunk SB, was eventually launched in 2002. The SB versions were modified to further cater to the demands of skateboarding, with special padding and traction features.
Well-known in the sneaker world for its crossover appeal and powerful colour blocking, the Nike Dunk was born 30 years ago on the backs of other sneaker lines. But giving the Dunk its own aesthetic helped give the shoe enough personality to stand on its own.
Check out the latest colourways of the Nike Dunk available at Shelflife: