Back in the ‘90s, Gary Payton, aka “GP,” aka “The Glove,” talked the most trash, played the best lockdown defense, and rocked some of the craziest kicks on the basketball court. One of his most popular was the Air Zoom GP, which originally released in 1999. On June 16th the famous model returns in its OG white/black colorway. Here’s a look back at the history behind Gary Payton’s legendary shoe.
In 1990, Payton was drafted second overall by the Seattle SuperSonics. By 1999, the Sonics point guard had made a name for himself in the League. He was part of the ’96 squad that made it to the NBA Finals only to battle one of the greatest teams ever assembled: the Chicago Bulls. GP and the Sonics lost that series, but Payton showed how talented he was by playing Jordan tough the whole series.
In 1998, Payton wore a model called the Air Zoom Flight, which wasn’t officially a GP shoe, but definitely was considered one. The Air Zoom Flight was a hit with its glove-like fit, and the model paved the way for Payton’s first official signature model, the Air Zoom GP.
Designed by Eric Avar, the Air Zoom GP was inspired by track spikes, cycling shoes, and ski boots. The Air Zoom GP released early in 1999 and was locked and loaded with new technology. The most appealing part of the shoe was the asymmetrical lace cover with a lateral ratchet lockdown system and internal dynamic fit sleeve. The GP also had forefoot and heel Zoom Air-Sole units, and an enclosed plastic “monkey paw” on the medial ankle portion of the sneaker for super-secure fit and support. The Air Zoom GP released in white, black, and navy colorways.
The Air Zoom GP was part of Nike’s Alpha Project line. There were five small dots on the heel, as well as the five large dots along the upper. These five dots were the logo for Nike’s Alpha Project, which was basically an opportunity to launch wild new designs and technologies with the athlete in mind. The campaign lasted several years, and spanned all sport categories – from running, to basketball, to tennis, to training.
There were also Alpha Project ads and commercials for the Air Zoom GP – one featuring Payton wandering into Patell’s Oddities shop, and one with GP fighting Evander Holyfield in the boxing ring.
Going into 2000, Nike released a takedown version called the Air Believe Flight – it was a very similar sneaker, but switched out the ratchet lockdown system for a regular strap. It also only had Zoom Air in the forefoot. In addition, Nike released the Air Afterburner Flight, which was inspired by the GP with its large dots on side, albeit six instead of five.
The Air Zoom GP has never retroed, until now. Much to the delight of OG sneakerheads everywhere, the Air Zoom GP returns June 16th for its 20th anniversary in the original white/black/green colorway. It’s a great opportunity to own the sneaker that helped make GP the legend he is today. Now we just need the NBA to bring back the Sonics.