Original Air Force 1 Colorway / Wikipedia
It was 1982 when Nike unveiled a revolutionary basketball shoe that changed the game. The Air Force 1.
The shoe was created by iconic designer Bruce Kilgore and was named after Air Force One, the plane that carries the President of the United States of America. The shoe was a groundbreaking product for The Swoosh, since it was the first basketball shoe to employ the Nike Air Technology, which was a pocket of air in the heel for cushioning and support. This technology first appeared in 1979 with the Tailwind running shoe.
The original Air Force 1 came in a white-and-grey test prototype in a high-top silhouette with a connected ankle strap and a concentric-circle tread pattern on the outsole.
Despite its 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 AF1 also rapidly became a must-cop shoe that was sported on playgrounds and the streets.
Nike, however, discontinued the shoe in 1983. 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 some 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 AF1 became a phenomenon on the streets of Baltimore, Philly, and New York. Jay-Z propelled the shoe to new heights when he rocked Air Force 1s on the stage and in music videos. In 2002, Nelly paid homage to the shoes with the track “Air Force Ones”.
During the ’90s and 2000s, Nike began to experiment with different materials and colors for the Air Force 1. It’s not surprising to find AF1s in faux snake and lizard skin, 3M reflective material, canvas, animal hair, suede and many various types of leather. The shoes also began to be offered in low, mid, and high-top silhouettes.
In 2007, the Air Force 1 celebrated its 25th Anniversary with a crocodile-skin edition that cost more than $2,000. The Swoosh also celebrated the anniversary with pop-up stores and re-released models that were voted on by fans.
Nike also created the Air Force XXV for the AF1 25th Anniversary, which was inspired by the original model. The commercial for the Air Force XXV included LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, Rasheed Wallace, Tony Parker, Jermaine O’Neal, Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Paul, and Paul Pierce, and featured the music of Juelz Santana.
While Nike hasn’t released exact sales figures, it’s been estimated that during the height of the AF1’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-cop item. It’s become a favorite amongst sneakerheads. And, it changed the shoe industry forever by transcending from the court to the streets.