Air Force 1

History of Nike Air Force 1s


The Nike Air Force 1 is one of the most iconic shoes in the sneaker world. Whether you go low-top, high-top or anything in between, Nike Air Force 1s are a classic option for sneakerheads everywhere.

But, how exactly did the Nike Air Force 1 go from a newcomer on the court to a fashion staple over four decades? Let’s take a deep dive into the history of one of the most popular basketball turned lifestyle shoes of all time.

The Beginning

These days, Nike is known for its diverse line-up of sneakers, but the company wasn’t always a major player in the world of basketball shoes.

In fact, when Nike first got its start in the late 1960s, it was little more than a shoe outlet in Oregon called “Blue Ribbon Sports.” A few years later, in 1972, the company launched its first-ever pair of track shoes under the Nike brand, cementing itself as a household name in the athletic shoe industry.

Nike Air Force 1s came along a bit later in Nike’s history. In fact, it took over a decade for the company to break into the basketball shoe game with, you guessed it, the Nike Air Force Is (also known as Nike Air Force Ones and Nike AF1s). The Nike AF1s first hit the shoe market in 1982 after a young shoe designer named Bruce Kilgore found a way to integrate Nike’s Air technology into a basketball sneaker. 

The rest, as they say, is history.

Just one year after the Air Force 1s launched, Nike managed to sign six top NBA players on contracts to wear the shoe’s high-top version on the court: Jammal Wilkes, Mychal Thompsen, Moses Malone, Calvin Natt, Bobby Jones and Michael Cooper.

Despite their popularity, however, Nike decided to discontinue the Air Force 1s just two years after they were originally released. In the age of constant innovation, the simple-yet-functional Air Force 1 and its slick colorways just couldn’t keep up.

From the Bench to Stardom

If you’re a 21st-century sneakerhead with half a dozen Nike AF1s in your closet, you already know full well that the shoes’ time on the bench was destined to be short-lived. Indeed, after caving to public pressure, Nike quickly reversed course on their decision to discontinue the Air Force 1s, bringing the shoe back into production just one year later.

The shoe’s re-release started in 1985 when Nike distributed three colorways of the Air Force 1s to a trio of shoe retailers in Baltimore. Within days, all 3,000 pairs of these newly re-released shoes were completely out of stock.

The immense popularity of these shoes encouraged Nike to drop new Air Force 1 colorways on a regular basis. From 1986 to 1991, the company released a new model almost monthly as sneaker culture exploded along the East Coast.

During the 1990s, Nike took its Air Force 1 design to a whole new level. With the release of the all-white Air Force 1 low-top in the 1990s, Nike cemented the shoe’s status as a true classic.

Throughout the mid-1990s and early 2000s, the company continued to ramp up production and design, releasing new limited, premium and special edition Air Force 1s regularly. Their seemingly endless ability to craft slick new colorways and designs in both the men’s and women’s Nike Air Force 1s created a whole generation of shoe connoisseurs.

Taking the Nike Air Force 1 into the 21st Century

If the 1980s and 1990s were all about making the Nike Air Force 1s into a household name, the turn of the millennium was a chance to take the shoe to a whole new level.

In the early 2000s, Air Force 1s became a staple of fashion in the music industry. This newfound status emerged after the company designed custom Nike Air Force 1s for Roc-a-Fella Records that featured the record label’s embroidered logo on a classy white-on-white AF1.

It also didn’t hurt that big-time rappers like Jay Z, Shyne, Nelly and G-Unit gave the shoes shout outs in some of their hit singles. Nike capitalized on their famous fans by creating a slew of signature Air Force 1s for everyone from Young Jeezy to Fat Joe.

As collectors and shoe fanatics the world over demanded the latest and greatest in Nike Air Force 1s, the company responded by pushing the bar ever higher. In 2007, Nike launched the hyper-premium Nike Air Force 1 Low Anaconda Lux, which came with a cool $2,000 sticker price.

By the mid-2000s, some sneaker collectors started to get a hankering for the classic Air Force 1 after years of fresh new styles. To keep things fun and exciting, Nike released the Air Force XXV for the AF1s 25th anniversary, bringing a new twist on the shoe’s original 1982 design.

Just 10 years later, Nike went big for the shoe’s 35th anniversary, crafting five new white-on-white Air Force 1s that instantly became top sellers.

The Future of the Nike Air Force 1

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Nike’s Air Force 1 development over the years, it’s that the company is always looking for new ways to keep their classic basketball shoe fresh and stylish.

By the 2010s, Nike launched their NikeiD platform, which allowed Air Force 1 enthusiasts to craft their own unique colorways to diversify their collections. At the same time, Nike gave their iconic shoe a makeover by releasing their super high-top SF Air Force 1s and their retro throwback Air Force 1 Utilities to the mass market.

Where will Nike take the Air Force 1s in the future? Well, if the past is any indication, we can expect new styles, slick colorways and plenty of excellent brand collaborations in the coming years.

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