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If there was a defining element of #nike Basketball shoes in the ‘90s it was “larger than life,” in terms of both sneaker design and the players who wore them. From brash college programs to the likes of Scottie Pippen and Charles Barkley in the pros, the game was full of both talent and style like it had never seen. Naturally, the players needed the shoes to match.
What #nike delivered met these needs in disparate ways, from the stripped-down look of the Tinker Hatfield and Eric Avar designed Air Flight Huarache to the pop-art inspired AIR on the side of the #airmoreuptempo. Uptempo itself was a product of the ‘90s, as increasingly players bridged the gap between Force and Flight and expressed a need for shoes that provided plush cushioning, lockdown fit, and lightweight construction.
Shoes like the Air Force Max and the Max2 Uptempo met these needs, especially at the collegiate level. While Barkley romped and stomped through the NBA in the Air Force Max, college players from point guard to center donned the strapped-up Max shoe, in some cases pairing them with low-cut black socks and the baggiest shorts in the history of the game. The Max2 Uptempo made its mark at a different university, one whose tradition of winning extends to the current day, and who have, well, bedeviled many an opponent.
The #airmoreuptempo was the most literal expression of Air, from the full-length Air Max bag to the AIR lettering that actually made up the structure of the upper, branding taken to extremes and beyond. Inspired by pop art, train graffiti and architectural details, designer Wilson Smith used three letters to define the sneaker that Scottie Pippen would wear while representing another three — USA.
There was also a new expression of rough and tumble, in-the-trenches play in the #nike Shake Ndestruct. Worn by a blue collar player with an avant garde attitude, the shoe’s bombast (that offset lace) was balanced by a beefy outsole equally suited to asphalt and the hardwood. An added bonus: The heel counter served up one of the era’s great silo logos.
From the minimalism of the Flight Huarache — represented here by the new Huarache Ultra — to the maximalist More Uptempo, the common theme was that these were shoes you could recognize from a distance as nothing other than what they were. The bug-eyed Zoom Flight 95, which lends its distinctive sole unit to the Bonafide, did too. Up close or from afar, the #nike Basketball shoes of the ‘90s stood out in a crowd. In both original form and when informing new contemporary styles, they still do.
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