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The Most Influential Dunks
HISTORY OF THE NIKE DUNK
The Nike Dunk needs little introduction as its monumental history spanning over 36 years has trailblazed footwear, fashion, and lifestyle culture. The sneaker’s yearlong paradigms have shifted the way we’ve looked at footwear and because of its great impact, we’d like to visit the origins of the silhouette in addition to its significant designs and releases.
A young and hungry team of innovators were looking for the next basketball sneaker and with the recent release of the Air Jordan 1 and the growing popularity in the sport, it became difficult to declare a new and innovative design. Amongst the team was Peter Moore, a footwear designer that is now accredited as one of the greatest as he has developed the first Jordan sneaker. Instead of recreating a sneaker from the ground up, they combined the workings of the Air Force 1, The Terminator, and the Air Jordan 1 into one sneaker. When combined, we are introduced to the original Nike Dunk. A shoe made with a leather base with corresponding overlays that stand out against a rubber outsole and padded high-top collar or sleek low-cut design. Because the Dunk resembled the Air Jordan 1, they wanted to attract a basketball audience, and to do so they aimed for D1 universities in hopes to showcase a new side of the sport.
1985 is known as the Golden Year for basketball as a young Michael Jordan dominated the hardwood court and showcased impeccable athleticism unseen in previous players. The sport was hot and Nike knew that this was the time to introduce their Dunk sneaker. The first-ever debut of the sneaker came in a series titled, ‘Be True To Your School.’ A collaborative effort between Nike and D1 universities in hopes that the newly designed sneaker would take off. Each sneaker would be given corresponding colors to the universities and can be worn by not only the players but also the fans. The University of Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Georgetown, St. John’s, UNLV, and Syracuse were the first colleges to confirm Dunk High as their official team shoe. Nerves began to grow as the release date neared but they soon dissipated as they became a ‘slam dunk.’ This was a non-traditional marketing strategy that landed with consumers as the shoes both supported the players and college at the same time. The ‘Be True’ pack would put the Dunk on the map (and as we fast forward to the present, it will become one of the most coveted sneakers of all time.)
As time progressed, so did footwear technology and the Dunk would become overshadowed by Jordan releases and upcoming brands. But instead of instantly falling to its demise, Nike would have a plan to reenvision the silhouette in hopes its longevity would prevail; and in 1999 the Dunk Pro B will make its debut but instead of honing down on college athletes, they would give the sneaker a new market that was not only experimental but a true test to Nike’s name.
NIKE DUNK PRO B
Nike has always been well versed in the world of athletics. Continuing to dominate a variety of sports, their umbrella grew as they included running, basketball, ice hockey, soccer, and golf into their portfolio. When the millennium drew closer, Nike wanted to include a market that was deemed as difficult to obtain due to their unconventional attitude towards fashion and footwear- that would be the skateboarding community. Nike would try in previous years to create a skate shoe but they never made the cut as they truly didn’t speak to skater’s needs. This was a hard time for Nike as they were showcasing progress in other markets but falling short within the skate department. In a very last attempt to connect with the group, Nike would revisit a sneaker that grew instantly upon release. The Dunk was known to the public and beloved by many but as basketball outgrew the sneaker, Nike believed it had the capability of finding its new home with skaters as they saw an influx of sales attributing to these athletes. They saw the Dunk as a diamond in the rough due to its durability, comfortable fit, low price tag, and its distinctive low cut that was perfect for the sport.
In 1999, the Dunk Pro B would launch and feature tweaks of the original that is more tailored to the needs of a skateboarder. Introduced in a low variant, the Pro B contained a durable suede upper with gum outsoles for increased traction and grip while on the deck. The fat tongue was a spectacle but highly desired as it offered optimal cushioning and protection during times of wear. Known as the ‘Smurf,’ the first-ever Pro B model will grow in popularity and showed Nike the potential they had with skateboarders. This particular version brought the Dunk back to life, giving Nike more room for updating the signature model. Since 1999, the footwear giant has released inimitable styles that are now extremely coveted and sought after. In addition to the, ‘Be True’ series, we’d like to reminisce on some of the most influential Nike Dunks in footwear and fashion history.
‘CO.JP’ SERIES 1999
In 1999 as the Dunk started to gain traction again, Nike looks towards Japan to release an exclusive that could only be obtained at specified shops in Japan. Known as ‘CO.JP’ or Concept Japan, Nike knew how eager the country was for sneakers and loved the Dunk long before its SB counterpart. Nike appreciated the Dunk community and decided to exclusively release the ‘Ultraman’ colorway which was inspired by the Japanese sci-fi hero. Resembling the same colorway of the UNLV Dunk from the ‘Be True To Your School Pack,’ this particular sneaker was predominantly grey and featured a classic slim tongue and perforated toebox. This sneaker kicked off the Japan-exclusive series but it was also the first shoe that garnered popularity across the globe as people from other countries were trying their best to secure a pair.
‘UGLY DUCKLING PACK’ 2001
Similar to the ‘Ultraman,’ Nike continued to release exclusives with Japan and in 2001 the ‘Ugly Duckling Pack’ hit the shelves. This pack was unique in comparison to previous pairs as it introduced the Pro B line of Dunks; highlighting the fat laces and suede overlays. Three colorways were introduced and they all contained unorthodox color blocking that contrasted the typical tonal palettes; ‘Plum’ featured purple, grey, and red, ‘Ceramic’ is dressed with a brown base and bright green and blue overlays, and finally ‘Veneer’ championed colors of orange and green that perfectly contrasted the black upper. The pack isn't officially paired together but when introduced many grouped them due to their eccentric palette and materials. With little hope on seeing another release, Nike brought back a retro version of the ‘Plum’ in 2020 and is rumored to release similar variants of the other colors.
FUTURA X NIKE DUNK HIGH ‘FLOM’ 2004
Leonard Hilton McGurr, also known as Futura, is famed for being one of the founding fathers of the graffiti movement in New York City. Beginning his artistic journey in the 70s, Futura belonged to a group of emerging artists which contained Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. In 2004 the opportunity was presented to McGurr to create an exclusive pair of Dunks that would only be available to friends and family. The sneaker would be given the nickname ‘FLOM’ as an acronym for, ‘For Love Or Money.’ Designed with different denominations of money from around the world, the sneaker was designed with fat laces, suede overlays, and exclusive branding at the heel and tongue. It would be extremely rare to come across this pair but many still dream of acquiring it within their collection.
PHARRELL X NIKE DUNK HIGH ‘N.E.R.D’ 2004
With the signing of Michael Jordan in 1985, Nike set the bar when it came to athletic collaborations and as the early 2000s drew near it was rare to see footwear companies pairing with notable names. But as always, Nike wanted to try something new and begin a collaborative project with Pharrell and hip hop group, N.E.R.D. When put together, they were able to create a sneaker that brought an alternative and fresh finish to the classic shoe. A reptilian leather base is detailed with a smooth silver Swoosh while the traditional cotton laces are given a bold touch with a bright red complexion. With only 1,050 pairs, the esteemed design is held in high regard due to its successful release. This sneaker would also be the one and only Nike sneaker with Pharrell’s name as he eventually would join forces with Adidas.
SOLE COLLECTOR X NIKE DUNK HIGH ‘VEGAS’ 2006
Respected sneaker publication, Sole Collector, was well versed in footwear for a very long time. OG collectors would immerse themselves in forums and magazines to stay up to date on all the latest styles and releases. To showcase the dedication of collectors and the community- Sole Collector would hold yearly events at NikeTowns across the country. In 2006 Sole Collectors would hold their grand finale event within Ceasar Palace’s NikeTown in Las Vegas, Nevada. Enthusiast and collectors would come together and present their collections, showcase rare sneakers, and rejoice with similar individuals. During this event, the duo would come together to produce 400 pairs of an exclusive Nike Dunk High that would only be available if you waited in line to secure a pair. The Dunk High was designed with crocodile leather and patent overlays with 3M reflective material.
When the sneaker is exposed to light, the upper would unveil different images throughout sneaker culture. When the sneaker hit the internet, many were completely in awe as it took the sneaker to the next level. In addition to the High, winners of the event were given a Low version with similar reflective details but a pink and black color palette. It is unknown as to how many were given out but it is rumored to be under 10 pairs. These moments were trivial in sneaker culture as they grew the community even more.
NIKE DUNK VS NIKE SB DUNK
With the growing popularity of the Dunk Pro B, Nike needed to start making moves and in order to do so, in 2001 they dubbed Sandy Bodecker the GM for Nike SB (skateboarding). It was during this time that Bodecker was given the task to completely revamp Nike’s reputation in skateboarding. Knowing its steady growth with the Pro B, they continued utilizing the model and kicked off the rebranding with the Dunk Low Pro SB. Very similar to its predecessor, the SB variant’s large tongue came with an elastic strap and a new sockliner created with foam and a Zoom Air unit in the heel. In totality, Nike wanted the structure to optimize performance, comfort, and safety.
This model would see many variations over time but when it was first released it was appreciated by many as athletes started to realize the dedication Nike had towards the sport. As a final solidifying mark, the SB division would also create a team with dignified names including Danny Supa, Gino Iannucci, Richard Mulder, and Reese Forbes. When they signed onto the team, they were all given their own signature colorways and this collection would be titled, ‘Colors By.’ The series would include Gino Iannucci’s ‘Long Island New York’ Dunk, Richard Mulder’s ‘Los Angeles’ Dunk, Reese Forbe’s ‘Wheat’ Dunk, and finally Danny Supa’s ‘New York City’ Dunk. Because the sneakers were tied to the athlete the silhouettes were immensely sought-after by fans and aspiring skaters. The success of this launch was reminiscent of the 1985 ‘Be True’ introduction and Nike saw this as a home run.
With room for experimentation, Nike wanted to make sure the SB wing was unique and would always appeal to every generation of skaters and collectors. Taking their sneakers to the next level, Nike would make special boxes that would represent the era it was released in. This would be known as the ‘Box Color Eras’ which was created by mastermind developer, Michael Hernandez. Every SB sneaker produced would come in a box that correlated to the year; the most notable years being the ‘Orange Box,’ ‘Pink Box,’ and the ‘Teal/Tiffany Box.’ The ‘Orange Box’ started it all for Nike SB and because of its initial success with Nike’s signed skaters, they believed that collaborations and experimental designs were the keys to growth. Breaking the mold and pushing the boundaries was a concept that was always in place but thinking out of the box was a priority when it came to the SB Dunk. From its revival in 2000 to the present day, we’d like to touch on the most influential and notable SB Dunks throughout history to commemorate the iconic silhouette.
ORANGE + SILVER BOX ERA
The Dunk’s rise in popularity during the early millennium was noticed by a skateboarding brand that was also gaining traction from the same market. Supreme was founded by James Jebbia in 1994 and was catering to skaters within Manhattan. As Nike started taking skate more seriously, Supreme saw this as an opportunity and in 2002, Nike SB would introduce its first-ever collaboration with the legendary skate brand, Supreme. Together they rendered a basketball design, the Jordan 3’s, and made it applicable to the skate sneaker. Elephant print overlays were placed against a leather base allowing the ‘Cement’ colorway to stand out. The sneaker was exclusive to Supreme and was only offered in their brick and mortar locations at the time which were Tokyo and New York. With only 500 pairs available, the sneaker was incredibly limited but was adorned by die-hard skate enthusiasts.
Offered in three colorways, the success of the lows brought Supreme and Nike together again the following year to create a high-top version but with a twist. Pushing the boundaries a little more, the hightop version was seen in 2004 and included crocodile leather overlays with a gloss finish and panels decorated with a star pattern. In addition to the bold design and colors, Supreme opts for a gold lace lock highlighting their name and commemorating the collaboration. Just like the lows, the highs were also coveted by skaters but also started trailing in casual wearers as Supreme’s fashion brand applied to other markets. The Supreme collaboration will always be known as the first Dunk project with other brands but the following era would introduce a new set of sneakers. From 2003 to 2004, the Silver Box would contain hyped colorways including ‘Homer’ which was inspired by The Simpson, ‘Heineken,’ and the ‘Jedi’ SB Dunk. Nike wasn’t afraid of pushing its limits and because of this, each sneaker had beloved and unique characteristics unseen on previous pairs.
PINK + GOLD BOX ERA
Nike took a chance when launching the Pink Box as the dainty color had a stigma, but many can agree that this era held some of the most notable Dunk silhouettes in history. This had to be one of Nike’s strongest SB eras especially after partnering with Diamond Supply Co. in 2005. The ‘Tiffany’ Dunk SB Low was extremely hyped as you had to be in cahoots with certain skate shops or stay up to date via MySpace. With only a limited number produced, the sneakers didn’t have a set release date but instead a release month- making them unpredictable. A bold mix of tiffany blue and black decorate the sneaker in commemoration of Diamond Supply’s distinct brand color and origins. With the success of this skate partnership, it was only right that Nike also join forces with Stussy. Released that same year, the ‘Cherry’ Dunk Low Pro SB was developed by Stussy’s, Robbie Jeffers.
Inspired by Neapolitan ice cream, the sneaker features a pink leather base, brown overlays, a smooth vanilla-colored swoosh, and the final cherry touch on the tongue. The collaborations only continued in this era as Nike SB felt a close relationship with the art industry and teamed up with Medicom Toys. Reminiscent of Danny Supa’s ‘New York City’ Dunk, the Dunk Low Pro SB ‘Medicom 1’ features familiar colorways but ultimately is exclusive to the Japanese toy brand as it was only given to registered Medicom members at the time.
With solid releases making their debut, you would think Nike would have a hard time outdoing themselves but instead, they got even more creative and recruited famed shoe customizer Methamphibian to create the inimitable ‘Rayguns’ SB Dunk. Inspired by Nike’s fictional ABA team, the Roswell Rayguns, the primarily black sneaker features a yellow and orange tonal construct that highlights a woven character at the heel. This silhouette would take the sneaker game to a new level as Nike also introduced grade school and toddler sizing to the sneakers; allowing parents to give their children a taste of their own personal style. With a solid year of releases, Nike SB would introduce their Black Box Era in 2006, some of the most notable silhouettes to come out of this time include the Dunk High Pro SB ‘Quasimoto’ and the ‘Three Bears Pack’ which included a low, mid, and high Dunk and shined a light on textural elements.
When looking back at the previous styles, we realize how memorable each pair is. During the Gold Box Era, Nike would pay tribute to the nostalgic styles and create the ultimate sneaker titled, ‘What The Dunk.’ Making its debut in October of 2007, the sneaker was seen in a campaign known as ‘Nothing But the Truth.’ In this full-length video, the sneaker features 31 Dunk designs ranging from its original release in 1999 to the debut of the sneaker in 2007. Because of its meticulous and intricate construction, Nike decided to produce limited amounts thus the sneaker was extremely exclusive. Its out-of-the-ordinary design was innovative and was a reminder to both sneaker enthusiasts and skaters of the Dunk’s origins and respectable heritage. Nike would continue the mismatched tradition by introducing Paul Rodriguez's version in May of 2021.
MOST RARE + PRESENT DAY
When we revel in the past and take a moment to realize the monumental impact Dunks had in history, we realize that this particular silhouette created a platform for different sub-cultures to thrive. The unique compositions and limited releases began an unprecedented community that has one thing in common: Nike Dunks. Because of this love and hype surrounding the sneaker, some of the designs have become immensely coveted and are extremely rare. These silhouettes are hard to come by and one of the first-ever SB Dunks to see this type of rarity is Reese Forbe’s Dunk Low Pro SB ‘Denim.’ Originally debuted in 2002, the sneaker is composed of raw denim throughout its upper as a reference to Forbe’s distinct jeans that are typically worn when skating. Red details pop against the blue hues for a unique take on traditional Americana palettes. Sold originally at $65, the sneaker holds a price tag that ranges in the thousands.
Another golden sneaker with a similar price tag is the ‘Paris.’ Making its debut in 2002, the silhouette was a part of a traveling art exhibition that eventually landed in the city it was named after. With only approximately 150 to 200 pairs, the sneakers were extremely coveted and instead of making their debut with the exhibition, the sneakers were later distributed to selected sneaker boutiques throughout Paris. Many of the Parisians wanted this particular model as it showcased artwork from French painter Bernard Buffet who recently passed away in 1999. Each silhouette was completely unique as the overlays showcased new artistry but when put together with other pairs they all have a cohesive style.
Just like the ‘Paris,’ one of Nike’s rarest designs includes a Dunk particularly made for a charity event in partnership with the online platform eBay. Given the nickname, ‘eBay’ or ‘Charity,’ the design includes a mesh base with patent overlays of red, blue green, and yellow for a bright finish. The ‘eBaY’ version made its appearance in August of 2003 and sold for $30,000. The money compiled together for the sneaker was donated to the Tim Brauch Foundation and also supported skate parks in Portland. With one pair known to exist, the sneaker was then later destroyed- making it completely unattainable by anyone else. Its patent leather and distinct color blocking were a distant memory until recently when Sandy Bodecker announced in 2018, that he was gifted a singular pair to commemorate his retirement. Individuals hope the sneaker could someday be released to the public.
Knowing that there is only one ‘eBay’ dwindles the hope in many knowing that there isn’t a chance of obtaining the sneaker, but when Nike was set to release a horror-inspired design many anticipated the release as it applied to both footwear and movie fanatics. Taking inspiration from Nightmare on Elm Street villain Jason Vorhees, the shoe featured striped panels with splattered overlays. But right before its release, a cease and desist later was given to Nike from New Line Cinema for copyright infringement and before you know it, the sneaker was completed pulled just before it was sent out to retailers. But rumor has it that some mischievous employees sneaked a few pairs and a shop in Mexico also mistakenly sold the sneaker before they were apprehended. It is unknown to the public how many pairs are roaming the earth but many keep this sneaker on the down-low due to its coveted background. The rarity continues as Nike and graphic designer Jeff ‘Staple’ Ng joined forces on a project that transformed the culture of sneakers into the hyped heritage we see today. The ‘Pigeon’ was based on New York City and their state bird; neutral greys are met with bold oranges while an embroidered image of the animal can be seen at the heel. Exclusively released at Ng’s shop in Manhattan, the sneaker would be only given to 150 lucky individuals. But as the release date drew near so did sneaker collectors and enthusiasts as they started to crowd and camp in front of the brick and mortar. The event turned out to be a complete frenzy as the crowd grew larger and fights started to emerge in hopes to secure a pair. This moment in history was a pivotal time as it solidified the hype behind the silhouette and the potential releases had in the future.
As we move towards modern days and relish in the days of the past, Nike and their SB division continue to work towards creating just as memorable models. In addition to partnering with artists and athletes, SB would extend its arm to notable musicians and Travis Scott is no stranger to the Dunk as he can be seen supporting the brand and the particular footwear style. In 2020, Scott was given the opportunity to create his own version of the beloved pair and eagerly joined forces with Nike SB to showcase the paisley and plaid sneaker. A nubuck upper is designed with removable paisley and plaid overlays for a versatile style that isn’t typical for traditional shoes. Classic laces are switched out for distressed rope for a neutral take that allows the patterns to speak for themselves. Pink and black colored Swooshes are apparent at the side panels while traditional ‘Cactus Jack’ branding is embroidered against the padded tongue. This sneaker revived the concept of the Dunk SB and reminded enthusiasts of the Dunk’s origins when it comes to collaborations. It is rumored that Travis Scott is in the works once again with Nike to release another Dunk silhouette.
The widespread phenomenon of the Nike Dunk has overturned the way we looked at sneakers and has infiltrated the mainstream for the better; as it has become a necessary addition to many closets and lineups. Nike’s continual influx of releases keeps us on edge as every sneaker is a reminder of the past but ultimately celebrates the heritage of the world-renowned; Nike Dunk. Stay up to date on all upcoming releases by following us on Instagram and show us your favorite Nike Dunk by tagging #MyFeature.