A Look Back: A Brief History of Zoom Air

A Look Back: A Brief History of Zoom Air

If you’ve ever run, jumped, zigged, zagged, cut, or just plain walked on Zoom Air, you know the feeling. If you’ve tried on a sneaker designed for KD, or Kyrie, or PG, or Giannis, or the Brodie, you’ve felt it. You’ve experienced the ultra-responsive, super-lightweight cushioning cradling your foot and then springing it forward with every step. It’s been over 25 years since Zoom Air first made its way onto the sneaker scene, and it’s pretty impressive that a once radical technology we now take for granted has been so prevalent in sneaker design for this long. Zoom Air was certainly a risk when Nike started utilizing it in 1995. After all, everyone wanted Air Max sneakers – and the more Air, the better. Why would I want a skinnier Air bag that you couldn’t even see? Why would I want my foot lower to the ground?

Like everything else Nike does, Zoom Air came as a response to the athlete’s needs. Sure, Nike Air Max cushioning was great, but it was also bulky and heavy. Smaller, quicker athletes needed something lighter and more responsive – something that would give them an edge over their competitors. Zoom Air solved that problem by introducing an ultra-thin Air bag with hundreds of tiny synthetic springy fibers inside that cushioned the foot and provided better responsiveness than Air Max. The thin yet bouncy Zoom Air allowed the athlete’s foot to be closer to the ground for quicker movement.

At first, Zoom Air was called ‘Tensile Air.’ I was first introduced to the new technology in 1995 with sneakers like the Air Go Flight LWP (for basketball players like Penny Hardaway and Mitch Richmond), the Air Challenge LWP (for Andre Agassi), and the Air Zoom LWP running sneaker. LWP stood for Lightweight Performance and featured Tensile Air cushioning inside rather than the bigger Nike Air bags. Another early basketball sneaker that featured Tensile Air was the incredibly popular Air Zoom Flight 95, which was worn by players like Jason Kidd and Tim Hardaway. Clearly, implementing the word “Zoom” in the shoe’s name was a hit, and Nike quickly changed the name of the cushioning from ‘Tensile’ to ‘Zoom.’

In 1996, Nike released models like the Air Zoom Alpha for running and the Air Zoom Flight 96 for basketball. With the ‘96 Summer Olympics in the USA, it was the perfect opportunity for Nike to showcase their newest technology with models like the Air Zoom Flight ‘96 (worn by Penny Hardaway).

In 1997, Zoom Air was incorporated into pretty much every sneaker category – from Ken Griffey, Jr.’s cleats, to Andre Agassi’s Air Zoom Ablaze, to Barry Sanders’ turf trainers, to Penny Hardaway’s Foamposite. Zoom Air was even featured in soccer shoes and hockey skates. Because you couldn’t actually see the Zoom Air through a window like you could with Nike Air Max, designers got creative and added hypnotizing circular patterns on the bottom of the sneaker soles to give you a visual idea of what Zoom Air looked and felt like.

The Air Jordan line actually took a few years to incorporate the low-to-the-ground cushioning into the soles of their shoes, but once MJ started rocking Zoom Air, he never went back. Starting with the Air Jordan 12, designer Tinker Hatfield swapped out full-length Air soles for Zoom Air. Jordan loved the cushioning so much, he convinced teammate Scottie Pippen to try them out. Scottie also loved the cushioning so much, he asked Nike to swap out the Air Max cushioning in his Air Pippen 1 for Zoom Air, which they did for him during their ‘97 playoff run.

In ‘99, Nike began incorporating visible Zoom Air into their sneakers. This way, we could see the ultra-thin fibers that were packed inside and provided the springy feel. By this time, Nike’s Alpha Project was well underway. Alpha Project was an opportunity for Nike to further test and experiment with new designs and technologies like visible Zoom Air in sneakers and DRI-F.I.T. in clothing. Some of the more popular sneakers featuring visible Zoom Air were the Air Vis Zoom Uptempo (worn by Allan Houston and Patrick Ewing), the Air Zoom Citizen running sneaker, and the Air Zoom Beyond (worn by Agassi).

For the next 20 years, Zoom Air would be incorporated into the Air Jordan line, as well as Kobe and LeBron sneakers. Basically, all the signature basketball sneakers today – from the PG’s to the KD’s to the Kyrie’s – feature Zoom Air. For running, Nike continues to tinker and improve upon Zoom Air from modest running sneakers like the Air Zoom Pegasus line to flashy and aggressive runners like the Air Zoom Alphafly Next%. Zoom Air is simply the best cushioning money can buy and has more than lived up to the hype it created over 25 years ago.

A Look Back: Holiday 2000

A Look Back: Holiday 2000

Back in 2000, the Eastbay Holiday catalogs were very, very lit. 2000 was a pivotal year in sneaker history, as we were beginning to see Nike retro some of our favorite shoes like the Air Jordan V, VI and XI for the first time. On the flip side, sneaker brands were dropping innovative new technologies and designs. Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson were dominating the NBA, but Air Jordans were still as popular as ever. Flipping through the old holiday catalogs, there are way too many sneakers to write about in just one blog post, so here are some of the highlights I think are the most memorable from the three Eastbay Holiday catalogs that dropped back in 2000:

 

Air Jordan XI Retro

It has become a yearly tradition for sneakerheads around the world to pick up the latest Air Jordan XI retro that drops every holiday season. Back in 2000, the Air Jordan XI returned for the first time since its debut in ‘95-’96. The classic ‘Concord’ colorway dropped in late October that year, and then the ‘Space Jam’ color released December 13th. I was extremely hyped, and I made sure to secure a pair of the Concords. It’s my favorite sneaker ever, and the retro was as nice as the OG in my opinion.

Air Jordan VI Retro

Along with the AJ XI retro came the first retro of the Air Jordan VI in both the black/infrared and white/navy colorways. The sample pair of black/infrareds featured in the Eastbay catalog is notoriously nicknamed the Butchered 6,’ because it features reverse infrared colorblocking on the outsole. The white/navy color was not an OG colorway, so it was the first time this version released.

Air Jordan V

As you can see, it was quite a season for Air Jordan retro releases, as the AJ V returned as well in a new white/silver/black colorway and a white/maize/royal color, which was inspired by Michael Jordan’s high school jersey. Before the ‘Laney’ 5’s came out, I had no idea where MJ went to high school, so this was a great storytelling colorway for Jordan Brand.

Jordan Jumpman Super Freak

One of the greatest wide receivers of all time – Randy Moss – was one of the first Jordan Team members. His sneaker, the Super Freak, featured a full-length Zoom Air sockliner and a zip-up upper. It was a gorgeous sneaker that a lot of people would love to see retro.

adidas The Kobe

By 2000, Kobe Bryant was a massive star in the league and had his own sneaker line with adidas. Designed by Eirik Lund Nielsen, the sneaker was inspired by the sleek, sporty Audi TT. At the time, adidas utilized adiPRENE+ cushioning and a 3D Torsion system for stability. The Kobe released November 3rd for $124.99. Sadly, the Kobe 2 would not fare as well and ultimately led to Bryant leaving adidas and eventually signing with Nike.

Reebok The Question

Even though Allen Iverson’s first signature sneaker had dropped four years earlier, it was still as popular as ever in the year 2000. High school and college teams could get the sneaker for a discounted price of just $79.99, and the Question came in basically every colorway imaginable. There was also a low version available for $69.99. 

Nike Shox

One of the greatest advancements in technology was Nike’s Shox line, which debuted in 2000. Nike unveiled a running sneaker called the Shox R4, a basketball sneaker called the Shox BB4, and a training sneaker called the Shox XT4. All three silhouettes featured urethane columns, aka “Shox,” for impact protection and energy return. Most notably, they were worn by Toronto star Vince Carter initially, and over the next few years most college and pro players rocked them at some point. 

Test Your Sneaker Knowledge

Test Your Sneaker Knowledge

Have you ever wondered how much you actually know about sneaker culture? Well here is your chance to test your knowledge. This ten-question quiz will cover some sneaker history as well as sneakers in pop culture. Click the link to get started.

A Look Back: July 1999

A Look Back: July 1999

By Drew Hammell

July – one of the best months of the year for kids. School’s out, and it’s time to hit the beach or the pool for some rest and relaxation. For the dedicated athlete, however, July is a time to work. The long, hot, humid days are the ones that separate the average athletes from the elite. The football player is up early hitting the weight room and running sprints because the fall season is rapidly approaching. The basketball player is out on the court putting up 500 jump shots before noon. And the cross-country runner is up early and getting in 10 miles before the temperature hits 90.

A Look Back: The Air Jordan XI “Playoffs”

A Look Back: The Air Jordan XI “Playoffs”

Black socks, black sneakers: a big no-no in the basketball fashion world back in the early ‘90s. The combination just looked strange, until Michigan’s Fab 5 flipped the script and rewrote fashion history with their baggy shorts, black Nike socks, and black Air Force Max sneakers in ‘93. A few years later in the ‘96 NBA Playoffs, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls would pull off the same look on their way to winning the Championship. The Fab 5 started the black sock/black shoe trend. The Chicago Bulls mastered it.

In 1995, Michael Jordan returned to the League after a brief retirement. The Bulls would make the playoffs, and together would don black sneakers on the court (except for Jordan, who liked his new white/black Air Jordan XI so much, he decided to rock them instead of an all-black sneaker. He’d later be fined and ordered by the NBA to wear sneakers that matched his teammates, so he switched to Penny Hardaway’s Air Flight One for one game, and then to his Air Jordan XI “Space Jam” colorway).

The Bulls would come up short that season, but it was only fuel for the ’95-’96 campaign. Jordan would wear his AJ XI “Concord” colorway the entire regular season, but then break out a new color for the playoffs: the Air Jordan XI black/white/red. The Bulls as a team also switched to black shoes and socks for the playoffs. Along with Jordan, Scottie Pippen wore an all-black Nike Air More Uptempo, and Dennis Rodman sported an all-black Nike Air Shake Ndestrukt. Pippen’s Uptempo and Rodman’s Ndestrukt are now both considered classic ‘90s Nike basketball shoes, but Jordan’s XI stood out the most.

Touted as “the best performance basketball shoe for the best player on earth – Michael Jordan,” the AJ XI featured a lightweight, supportive, and breathable combination of ballistic mesh, full-grain leather, and reinforced patent leather with a nylon speed lacing system. A Phylon midsole with a full-length Air-Sole unit was supported by a full-length carbon fiber spring plate to encourage elevation. The outsole was a combination of clear gum rubber and solid rubber herringbone traction inserts. This sneaker was truly a work of art, and MJ would wear it during one of the greatest runs by any team in the history of sports.

During the regular season, the Bulls went 72-10, and then crushed their competition in the playoffs. The Bulls would win their fourth championship on Father’s Day – an emotional day for MJ. After the game, he ran straight into the locker room and collapsed onto the floor – crying and thinking about his father who died several years earlier.

Back in the ‘90s, not many shoes sold out as fast as they do today. But sometimes, a shoe was so popular that Eastbay couldn’t keep them in the warehouse long enough to edit the newest catalog. This was the case with the AJ XI black/white/red.  The shoe was featured in two Eastbay Spring ’96 catalogs, but was gone by the time the second catalog went to the printers.