Happy Air Max Month! Five years ago, Nike officially declared March 26 Air Max Day, and the entire month of March became known as Air Max Month. Since then, Nike has taken the opportunity to debut new Air Max technologies and showcase new takes on old favorites. Across the globe, Nike celebrates by hosting special interactive events for Air Max fans everywhere, with the highlight being March 26, the day the Air Max 1 first launched in 1987.
This year, I thought it would be fun to look back at Air Max technology from the early 2000s. Usually sneakers come back around and become popular again after about 20 years, but that hasn’t been the case for a lot of the early 2000 Nike running models. For whatever reason, the sneaker community is nowhere near as enamored with these models compared to those from the ’90s, which shows how truly special that decade was for sneaker technology. That’s not to say the early 2000s shouldn’t be revisited – in fact, in such a saturated sneaker market, it’s worth taking a look back at the beginning of the twenty-first century to see if there were any hidden gems that are worth a retro.
The turn of the decade represented a turning point for Nike Air Max running sneakers. There were still some familiar lines, like the Triax series, the Tailwind, Air Max, and the Air Max Plus. Each continued to live on into the 21st century after a strong run in the ’90s. For easy shopping reference, Eastbay catalogs featured technical descriptions underneath every sneaker. For the runner’s information, the sneakers were broken up into different categories: Cushioned, Cushioned Support, Support, or Lightweight. There was also a tiny diagram that showed where the Air bubbles were located – either in the heel, forefoot, or both. For reference, when going through the old pages, Eastbay labeled the month and year in the top or bottom corner underneath the page number. For instance, “0400” stood for April 2000.
In 2000, Air Max Plus technology took center stage with the massive hit Air Max Plus. Nike also released the Air Tuned Sovereign and Air Tuned Precision for women, and the Air Tuned Sirocco and Air Tuned Max for men. The Air Tuned Max and Air Tuned Precision were special because they were the first sneakers to feature full-length visible Tuned Air units. The goal of Tuned Air was to give the runner a more stable ride compared to other Air Max models without compromising cushioning.
The Air Max Tailwind line continued in 2000 with the Tailwind 5, which featured Tuned Air instead of an Air Max heel unit. There was also a visible Air-Sole unit in the forefoot, for the runner seeking great cushioning, durability, and support.
The Air Max 2000 running shoe continued to evolve with both better cushioning and support, and also featured a visible full-length Tuned Air unit. It was part of the Alpha Project – Nike’s multi-year strategy to advance technology and design in thoughtful and creative ways. The Air Max Tailwind 6 again featured Tuned Air in the heel and some pretty flashy colorways, like the glacier/navy/coast for women and the grey/maize/white/navy for men.
The Air Max in 2001 started to look much different, with straight lines instead of the zigzag pattern seen on the AM 2000. Heading into its fourth year, the Air Max Plus continued to be a hit and Nike continued to release new colorways. That year, the Air Max Plus 3 made its debut, featuring Tuned Air in the heel. It was nowhere near as popular as the original, though.
In 2002, we were introduced to the Air Max Glare for women, the Air Max Tailwind 7, the Air Max Plus 4, and the Air Max Plus Slip-On inspired by the OG.
Out of all the models, the Air Max featured in the 2003 catalogs deserves the most attention and is most deserving of retro consideration. The introduction of visible Tubular Air gave the sole a dramatically different look, and while the Tubular Air didn’t catch on it transformed into the fresh and modern sole we know today.
Also of note in 2003 was the Air Max Bambino for women, with a price tag of just $89.99. The Tailwind also returned to Air Max cushioning in the heel as opposed to Tuned Air in ’03, and Nike released a fifth version of the Air Max Plus featuring a double-lasted stretch synthetic upper.
Throughout these catalog pages, it’s worth noting that Nike was not retroing any models yet. It was pedal to the metal, full steam ahead, with all new models every year (except for a few new Air Max 95 colors and the continuation of the successful Air Max Plus). We are definitely in an interesting time period right now, where sneakerheads crave the latest models, but also want sneakers from the past. Only time will tell if consumers will continue to want the old and the new – I’m hoping it’s both.