‘Air in a box’. That was Nike’s simple ad campaign slogan when they launched the Air Force 1. The first basketball shoe that featured a pocket filled with air in the heel for cushioning and support.
Launched back in 1982, the Nike Air Force 1 forever changed the game of basketball footwear and for Nike. The young brand had gained a little bit of traction in the game of basketball shoes, but when Nike introduced the Nike Air Force 1, the bar was raised up a few notches across the entire field of competition.
Designed by the iconic designer, Bruce Kilgore, the Nike Air Force 1 was the very first basketball shoe to feature Nike Air cushioning which was the saving grace for many ballers who quickly ditched their vulcanized or flat bottomed cup soled sneakers for something with a bit more comfort.
The name of the sneaker, "Air Force One," originated from the airplane that is known to transport the President of the United States around the world. The Air force one still remains in demand in the contemporary athletic footwear market. This classic footwear was the first sneaker to make use of the now well-known and patented Nike Air technology.
At the time, this air technology increased the level of cushioning and comfort available to the wearer of the sneaker. Although the Nike Tailwind – the first shoe with ‘Air’ in the sole – debuted three years earlier, getting ‘Air’ into a basketball shoe was not an easy transfer. Nike was fairly new to the basketball courts. Running was what the company was founded on and where they had the most experience.
When it came down to designing the silhouette the physical body of this shoe was generally readily available in three footwear styles. These styles are known as the low, mid-top, and high-top sneaker. Since its original production and release in 1982, the basic design of this sneaker has remained relatively unchanged. Like all other Nike sneakers, the Air Force One features the patented "swoosh" symbol in its logo. As a result of this famed logo, the Air Force One, and any other Nike product is easily recognizable, even to an untrained eye.
Despite its heavy price tag, $89.95, the Air Force 1 quickly won over players across the NBA. Moses Malone, Michael Cooper, Jamaal Wilkes, Bobby Jones, Mychal Thompson, and Calvin Natt were named the Chosen 1s who all proudly rocked the shoe on the hardwood. The Air Force 1 also rapidly became a must-have shoe that was sported on playgrounds and the streets.
During 1983, Nike decided to discontinue the shoe - yes you read that correctly! But, The Swoosh came to their senses and brought back the revolutionary pair of kicks in 1986. The brand changed little on the shoe except for the addition of the modern italic Nike logo with a Swoosh on the bottom on the back of the shoe.
Although many basketball players, like Charles Barkley, Jerry Stackhouse, and Rasheed Wallace, continued to support the shoe throughout their careers, the Air Force 1 found its legacy in the Hip-Hop communities mainly on the East coast. The Air Force 1 became a phenomenon on the streets of Baltimore, Philly, and New York. Jay-Z boosted the shoe to new heights when he rocked Air Force 1s on stage and in music videos. In 2002, Nelly even paid homage to the shoes with the track “Air Force Ones”.
Flash forward a couple of years, Nike hasn’t released exact sales figures, but it’s been estimated that during the height of the Air Force 1’s popularity, 2005-2006, the shoe sold about 22 million pairs! Even without exact numbers, there’s no denying that the Air Force 1 is Nike’s most popular shoe. Ever.
The Air Force 1 has become an icon in the world of shoes, fashion and pop-culture. It was groundbreaking. It was fresh. It was a must-have item. It’s become a favourite amongst male and female sneakerheads. And, it changed the shoe industry forever by transcending from the court to the streets.