Happy Air Max Month! A time when we look forward to fresh new releases from Nike and reminisce about the great Air Max running sneakers from years past. Personally, I love flipping through my old Eastbay catalogs to look for models most of us have forgotten about. The ‘90s and early 2000s were chock full of breathtaking new designs and colorways. There were so many great sneakers dropping, a lot were overlooked as the years passed by. I asked some friends what they thought of some of these models, and it’s clear I’m not the only one who would love to see some of these gems come back. Here’s a list of 10 you probably haven’t seen in a while. None have ever retroed, but hopefully we can change that over the next few years.
10. Air Max 2002
As time goes by, I find the Air Max 2002 more and more intriguing. Though the upper was nothing all that special, that Tubular Air sole was very different. The Air Max 2002 was definitely polarizing, however.
“I’d love to see Tubular Air return somehow even if it’s just as a one-off. To me, it symbolizes a time where experimentation was at an all-time boom and Nike was pumping out some incredible looking models. The quality was there and most importantly, the care was there too.” – @airmaxarchives
“These were horrible then and horrible now lol The tubular Air was funky/cool, but those uppers always killed it for me. That entire early 2000s Air Max era was kind of rudderless in my opinion. I think many ignored that era, it’s funny but there are very scarce DS examples of sneakers from that era.” – Complex Associate Creative Director @kevonmylevel
9. Air Max Plus Slip On (2002)
I don’t know why Nike hasn’t brought the Air Max Plus Slip On back yet, but it seems like a no-brainer to me.
“Slip-on TNs would go crazy. Those Stussy/Kukini/Spiridon hybrids ended up being one of my most worn pairs last year. It’s so good to have a slip-on with real cushioning/tech in the rotation.” – collector @jackzurier
I couldn’t agree more, especially since the Air Max Plus continues to be a sneakerhead favorite.
8. Air Max 2001
After switching to a Tuned Max sole for the Air Max 2000, Nike reverted back to the traditional dual-pressure, full-length Air-Sole unit for the AM 2001. The Air Max 2001 is definitely not one of the more memorable Air Max models. I completely ignored this shoe when it released, as I wasn’t really feeling the design. Seeing OG pairs 20 years later makes me wish Nike would have brought them back for their anniversary, though. The white/orange/silver pair would definitely stand out today. Maybe we’ll see them in 2026 for the 25th anniversary.
7. Air Max 2000
Talk about pressure. It’s 1999. Nike’s been crushing it with Air Max running designs for over a decade. Everyone is waiting with anticipation to see what they’ll come up with for the 2000th year of the Common Era and they drop….this? The Air Max 2000 was another underwhelming design with zero new breakthroughs. The only interesting feature was the fact they swapped out the Air Max sole for a Tuned Max one. As with all these models, I kind of like it now and would be intrigued to see how it would do in today’s market.
6. Air Max 98 TL
Whenever I post these on Instagram, they are by far the most beloved. This was my first pair of running shoes back in high school, and I was obsessed with them. So much so, I wore them to gym class and ended up severely spraining my ankle while playing basketball in them. Never play basketball in Air Max sneakers.
“The Air Max 98 TL has always been one of my absolute favorites. The colorways were bright, the Air unit was massive, and the mini swoosh always caught my eye. They always stood out to me at that time as the most comfortable pair of Air Max I had/that was out. Even the insoles were different and gave additional cushioning. I think these were overlooked at that time, making them a nice change from a lot of the more mainstream pairs. Need to push that pair, and we can’t settle for AM97 soles lol.” – @lemon_diesel
5. Air Max 98 TL (1999)
This sneaker is near and dear to my heart, as well, because I also owned this one. Nike pumped out three different Air Max models in 1998, and to make it super confusing, they all had the same name: the Nike Air Max. This particular model released at the end of ‘98 and during the first half of ‘99, but it is still known as the Air Max 98 TL (or Total Length). I wore this sneaker to school and during my shifts at Foot Locker back during my senior year of high school. I beat them into the ground, and I’m kicking myself for throwing them out years ago.
4. Air Tuned Precision (1999)
The Air Tuned Precision was the ladies’ version of the Air Tuned Max, which dropped in 1999. While we are definitely excited to see the return of the Air Tuned Max this year, it would be cool to see the Precision return as well.
“The Air Tuned Max is my favorite Air Max running model from the Alpha Project Era. Everyone is excited for the celery colorway, but I’m hoping for a retro of the firefly/storm grey colorway. Not to mention the shoe had one of the most controversial/memorable print ads of all time. The shoe is just criminally underrated, which speaks to the Alpha Project era in general.” – @nikealphaproject
3. Air Max Light III (1997)
A sneaker that was highlighted in both the men’s and women’s colorways on the iconic Nike phone ads, the Air Max Light ‘97 has a cult following and would certainly do well if retroed properly. I always thought it was cool that the Air Max Light featured Zoom Air in the forefoot and an Air Max sole in the heel. It also has a similar upper to another favorite of mine – the Air Zoom Pounce, which was worn by tennis star Andre Agassi. In my opinion, this is the coolest Air Max Light that ever dropped.
2. Air Max Tailwind II (1997)
A nice, clean runner with plenty of cushioning and a solid follow-up to the ‘96 Tailwind. Unfortunately for this model, it dropped the same year as the super-iconic Air Max 97, so it easily got overlooked. In the current dad-shoe era, I feel like the Tailwind II would thrive – especially in that crispy white/citron/black colorway. There was also a great matching track suit that paired perfectly with this model.
1. Air Max Tailwind (1996)
I really have no explanation as to why this Tailwind hasn’t come back yet. Nick, aka @ogorbust had a pair and loved them.
“They were technically my first ‘Air Max’ I got for track. Previous years were always the Pegasus or Icarus. I was really excited to see larger open Air units and would push on them quite a bit lol. (I got them when) they were a year-old model and colorway in blue/yellow hitting the sales rack, but I loved them nonetheless.”
Also of note is that there is an iconic photo of The Notorious B.I.G. rocking them. So if Nick and Biggie were wearing them, you know they were dope.
Drew is the creator of @nikestories on Instagram. Growing up in the ’90s, Drew loved playing soccer, basketball, tennis, and even dabbled in cross country running. He ended up focusing on tennis in high school and helped lead his team to multiple state titles. His favorite athletes growing up include Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Andre Agassi, and Ken Griffey, Jr. He was smart enough to save all his old Eastbay catalogs from the ’90s and loves sharing them with the sneaker community. Follow him at @nikestories