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. 

A Look Back: the Evolution of the Air Max 90

A Look Back: the Evolution of the Air Max 90

As sneaker social media continues to grow and evolve, the month of March has been dubbed “Air Max Month” by sneakerheads around the globe. The main reason for this phenomenon is “Air Max Day” on March 26 – a day Nike has chosen to commemorate the cushioning technology that changed everything. 

A single page of an old Eastbay catalog showing Nike Air sneakers, including the Air Max 90.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the fan favorite Air Max 90. Thirty years ago, Nike launched a white, black, and bright red sneaker with a big Air Max bubble and a semi-covered Swoosh on the side. On the heel was a thermoplastic, heart-shaped tab with the patented NIKE AIR branding. Yet another stunning design by the young legend Tinker Hatfield, this third Air Max running sneaker quickly became a classic.

In 1990, the Air Max 90 originally retailed for $110 in several eye-popping neon colorways like ‘Laser Blue’ and ‘Radiant Red’. As the story goes, the sockliner featured an Air Max 1 outsole print debossed in it because Tinker Hatfield thought it was going to be the last shoe he ever designed. Like most of Hatfield’s designs, the sneaker was radical in every way and certainly was going to raise some eyebrows at first.

Over the years, Nike has re-released original colorways along with new AM 90s featuring a myriad of colors, different types of uppers, and a variety of sole swaps. Eastbay has always been the source for the Air Max 90, so here’s a look back at some of the colorways and model variations that helped make the AM 90 the cult classic that it is today.

After the initial drop in 1990, it took 12 years for the Air Max 90 to return. In ’02-’03, the AM 90 returned in the classic ‘Infrared’ colorway. Interestingly, the OG was never known by that nickname; it wasn’t until the first retro that they were referred to as ‘Infrared.’

In 2005, the Air Max 90 returned as part of the “History of Air” collection, which included the first official retro release of the AM 90 in the US. 

An old page of an Eastbay catalog showing different Nike Air sneakers and boots including Air Max 90.

In 2006, Nike released a completely new version of the Air Max 90 called the Air Max 90+ with a Max Air unit in the heel. It looked nothing like its predecessor but went along with the concept of the Air Max 180+ and Air Max 360 which were also launching that year. Additionally, the Air Max 90 ‘One Time Only’ featured the AM 90 upper with an Air Max 360 sole.

From this point on, the Air Max 90 became extremely popular and featured tons of different colorways along with updated all-leather uppers.

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In 2008, Nike dropped a premium version of the AM 90 with an ‘Ostrich’ print. They also released the Air Max Wright, which bore a clear resemblance to the AM 90 along with an Air Max LTD sole. Additionally, Nike dropped the AM 90 Current Hybrid, which combined the popular aesthetics of the Air Max 90 with the popular Nike Free sole and a full mesh build.

In 2012, Nike revamped the upper of the AM 90 again with the ‘Hyperfuse’ and ‘Engineered Mesh’ models. Both utilized the same sole with a modern twist of the upper.

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In 2015, a full winterized sneakerboot version of the AM 90 emerged, which was perfect for the cold and snowy months. In general, Nike has given the sneakerboot treatment to plenty of classic sneakers. It worked well with the Air Max 90, but many people in the sneaker community believe this model was slept on.

In 2017, designer Virgil Abloh partnered with Nike to release perhaps the most popular Air Max 90 of all time as part of his Off-White “The Ten” collection. The deconstructed model featured premium materials and plenty of interesting details that made it a new grail for many collectors.

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This year, Nike has brought back several OG-inspired colorways along with a new FlyEase model that features a flexible heel that collapses to allow for easy on and off access. They are also launching a brand-new sneaker called the Air Max 2090, which is inspired by the DNA of the Air Max 90. 

Over the past 30 years, the Air Max 90 has been retroed and reinvented time after time, which shows how beloved the model has become for sneakerheads around the world. It’s exciting to see that after 30 years, the AM 90 is still as fresh as ever. And to think, Tinker Hatfield thought it was going to be the last sneaker he’d ever design.


Check out Drew’s other Sneaker History blog posts, and don’t forget to follow his @nikestories Instagram account for more sneakerhead content.

A Look Back: Q&A with ESPN’s Nick DePaula

A Look Back: Q&A with ESPN’s Nick DePaula

Whether it’s the latest athlete sneaker signing or breaking sneaker news from around the NBA, feature writer and creative director Nick DePaula has been the industry’s trusted source for sneaker stories and information for years. From his time at Sole Collector, Nice Kicks and Yahoo’s The Vertical, to his current gig with ESPN, I’ve always enjoyed reading Nick’s articles, and he’s one of the first sneakerheads I started following on Instagram.

Nick and I share a similar passion for sneakers, especially kicks that released in the ‘90s. We grew up in an era when print catalogs and TV commercials were the main ways to get a good look at the hottest new sneaker releases. Back when the internet was young and rudimentary, we looked to Eastbay for images, pricing and tech info for every single sneaker. I thought it would be fun to ask Nick a few questions about his childhood and the influence Eastbay had on him growing up:

DH: First of all, where did you grow up?

NDP: Sacramento is home! The Kings meant everything to me as a kid, and are definitely responsible for my love of hoops early on. Purple has been my favorite color ever since. I’ve been throwing ridiculous behind-the-back passes since middle school ’cause of Jason Williams. I’d even go as far as labeling ‘How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days’ a classic movie – it’s the one time the Sacramento Kings ever made the NBA Finals.

DH: What were your favorite sports to play as a kid?

NDP: We played literally everything as a kid – that’s what kids should do. Baseball. Football. Soccer. Tennis. Golf. Street hockey. Volleyball. Ping pong. Aggressive in-line skating even, if you’re old enough to remember that phase in the ‘90s. You name it, and we probably tried it.

Nothing compared to hoops though. You could find us at 10th & P in downtown Sac every Saturday from Noon to 4 getting runs in. My brother Eric and I had a Friday night ritual growing up too: 1-on-1 on the hoop out front. First to 100, by ones.

DH: How did you get introduced to Eastbay and their catalogs and when?

NDP: The first time I saw an Eastbay magazine (we didn’t call it a “catalog!”) was at Foot Locker at the Downtown Plaza around late 1996. I excitedly signed up for a free subscription and never looked back. All through elementary, middle and even high school, I’d read the latest Eastbay and that day’s Sacramento Bee sports page with my cereal, every morning before heading off to school.

I might not have had the craziest sneaker collection growing up, but over the years, I was able to learn about every company’s technologies, design approach, stable of players and their newest innovations, all from the Eastbay pages. I’d read up on sneakers from all sports, and try to memorize the tech descriptions and even the weights listed, whether that was a pair of Mizuno volleyball shoes, specialty runners, cheerleading kicks, or the latest signature sneakers.

Checking out the latest issue with LeBron on the cover still gives me that same feeling. It’s fun to turn each page and find out what new running designs are launching, what NBA shorts Nike has in store, what gear each brand has coming out, and see all the latest lineups for every sport.

DH: What did you order from the catalogs?

NDP: I had a $40 sneaker budget in elementary and middle school, and that got upped to $50 in high school, so I had to get real nice at finding deals. I always kept tabs on the “Final Score” issues that would cycle through the mailbox every so often. Whenever I came to a page with smaller shoe pictures and red circles all over, that’s when I’d get real hopeful that my size 13 or 14 was still listed as available somewhere on the “Great Buys on Large Sizes!” page.

Early on, I was typically ordering signature gear that my favorite players wore, like Allen Iverson’s Reebok collection, 3 Stripes tees that were Kobe-approved, or a variety of Nike Basketball tees that had guys like Kevin Garnett, Penny Hardaway or Scottie Pippen pictured alongside them. This was all back in the pre-internet days, where your mom would literally call Wisconsin and read off the product number to place an order.

Something I loved about Eastbay during the turn of the millennium was how many new brands started appearing in the mag too. I remember buying a few Goat Gear tees to hoop in during high school practices, after reading up on the legend of Earl “The Goat” Manigault. Even though I lived in Sacramento, it felt like I had access to all of the best basketball gear around through Eastbay.

In 2002, I damn near had the entire Jordan two3 beach collection – yes, even the towel! I rocked the two3 Cavvy dress shoe in black to my senior prom. Durasheen dazzle and NCAA replica team shorts were a practice staple for me. Eastbay finds pretty much made up my closet all throughout my school days, even into college at the University of Oregon, once ordering online changed the game up.

DH: What is a grail shoe that was featured in Eastbay that you were never able to pick up?

NDP: Tons – tons of pairs. The first shoe that immediately captivated my attention in the pages was the neon blue Foamposite One. It looked unlike anything else out there. Back then, my boy Austin Hicks and I would take pens and just circle everything we wanted in the mag. Every once in awhile, his mom would surprise him with pairs he was after, but it took me another decade to finally track down the Foams.

The late 90s had so many amazing runners that I was never able to grab at the time. The Tailwind IIs and Zoom Citizens were incredible. Adidas had a great run with the EQT Salvation, Galaxy and Ozweego lines too. Reebok’s DMX runners were instant classics. Every so often, Eastbay would also have exclusive team bank colors for basketball models like the Air Jordan XV, Team Max Zoom or even the Flightposite II, that you just couldn’t find anywhere else.

DH: Who are some of your favorite people you’ve interviewed over the years?

NDP: So many people immediately come to mind! Penny Hardaway was one of my very first cover interviews way back in 2008, and I’ve been able to follow the design process of all of his sneakers since. We worked on a huge ‘Penny Pack’ collaboration for an amazing Sole Collector event in Las Vegas in 2011 that I’ll never forget. He’s literally the best, both with his time and access, and also his passion for the sneaker industry and input. I just was out in Memphis a few weeks ago to see him again, and it’s been amazing now to see how he’s evolved into Coach Hardaway and the impact he’s having on his hometown.

There’s an endless amount of designers that’ve also been great to talk to. Tinker Hatfield and Eric Avar are each the best designers in footwear history, and so great at storytelling around innovations, athlete insights and performance solutions. Gentry Humphrey at Jordan Brand has legendary stories for days and is a hilarious guy. Both Marc Dolce and Denis Dekovic at Adidas are great dudes as well and I love catching up with them to see all that they’re working on at the Brooklyn Creator Farm.

DH: What are you up to these days?

NDP: I’ve been super fortunate to be writing about sneakers and basketball over the past thirteen years. I helped to run Sole Collector Magazine back in the print days and got to work on almost 20 collaboration sneakers in the span of 7 years that I was there. The awesome co-founders Steve Mullholand and Alex Wang gave me a shot to write for the Mag when I was still in college and really helped shape how I view content and storytelling ever since. 

After that, I joined Matt Halfhill, Ian Stonebrook and an amazing team of people passionate about footwear and the culture around it over at Nice Kicks. I spent a couple of months working on a comprehensive Allen Iverson feature about his rise with Reebok in advaance of his 40th birthday that I’ve been pretty proud of since. (Make a couple sandwiches and give it a read…)

Now, I’m writing about the footwear industry at ESPN. It’s been amazing to see how sneakers have grown to be highlighted on a platform of that size and legacy. It’s a best-in-class team across the board. With the vision of OG Bobbito Garcia, we even recently launched a new footwear show on ESPN+ called SneakerCenter that just dropped its latest episode this week.

All along, one of my career highlights was definitely working on a few interviews and special sidebar sections for Eastbay’s 25th Anniversary issue. I really do credit all of those Eastbay magazines that I grew up reading for powering that base of sneaker knowledge that I was so excited to learn more about and add to. Once SLAM dropped the first issue of KICKS in 1998, I kind of realized that writing about sneakers could become a real thing, and have been at it ever since.

A Look Back: Back to school in the late ‘90s

A Look Back: Back to school in the late ‘90s

Back in the late ‘90s, back to school was everything. What a time it was. 20 years ago, I was a teenager who spent plenty of summer nights in August flipping through those Eastbay catalogs, thinking about all the shoes I wanted to show off in class. I was not old enough to work yet, so staring at all the sneaker options was both heaven and torture at the same time. I knew how good we had it. I knew how fire every shoe in those catalogs was — I  just couldn’t afford anything. Fortunately, as time has passed, the good people at Nike have brought back plenty of the sneakers I could only stare at as a kid.

I didn’t think much about it back then, but over the past few years, I’ve realized how many interesting variations Nike made on classic models that were made just for the youth. Here’s a look back at some of the best back to school” sneakers from the late ‘90s — made  just for the young athletes.

1996

Fresh off their incredible 72-10 championship season, the sneakers Chicago wore (and anything that resembled them) were the hot items going back to school that fall. Michael Jordan’s AJ XI had a low-cut version that was available for kids in both black and white. MJ sported the black/red model in the playoffs very briefly, but he never wore the white version in an NBA game.

Additionally, the sneaker Scottie Pippen sported throughout the ‘96 Finals, the Air More Uptempo, also featured a takedown version with a heel Air Sole unit. Gary Payton famously rocked the white Much Uptempo during the ‘96 Summer Olympic Games. Speaking of the Olympics, the Air Zoom Flight was worn by Orlando star Penny Hardaway that summer, and all the kids wanted to be like Penny back then.

1997

You may recognize the Air Jumpman Pro since they are back on shelves in 2019. The Jumpman Pro was a popular takedown version of the Air Jordan XII and was featured in some similar colorways to Jordan’s 12th model. There was also an Air Pippen model for Scottie, and the Total Max Uptempo was worn by stars like Reggie Miller. Both the Pippen and Uptempo featured the biggest visible Air Sole units Nike had ever made.

The Superturf, which was the children’s version of Barry Sanders’ Super Zoom model, was an extremely underrated sneaker in terms of design and style. It featured the new Zoom Air technology for a low-to-the-ground feel for sharper cuts and quicker acceleration on the field. And don’t forget about that Air Hawk Flight, which was made for the Sonics’ Gary “The Glove” Payton.

1998

1998 featured some of the most slept-on sneakers, including the Air Max 98 TL and the Air Pippen II. Neither of these sneakers got much love, which is too bad because they were great designs and ultra comfortable. In this particular picture, there are two Air Max running models shown: the Air Max 98 and Air Max 98 TL. The kids’ models featured different soles than the adults’ (letter “A” is the Air Max 98 with an Air Max 95 sole. Letter “B” is the 98 TL but with an Air Max 97 sole). It would be really cool to see both come back with these soles attached.

The Pippen sneaker was Scottie’s second signature model, and he won his last championship with the Bulls while rocking them. Over the years, they’ve been retroed but without much fanfare. The Air Sunder was a very popular training sneaker back in ‘98 but has fallen under the radar over the years. Anyone who owned a pair loved them and would love to see them return. They came in a ton of different colors and definitely had that wild, crazy late ‘90s vibe going for them.

1999

1999 was an insane year for back to school with two full pages to choose from. Some of the most notable sneakers included the Air Jordan XIV in five classic colors, along with the Air Jordan XIII Lo in the black/chutney colorway that has yet to retro. Also of note was the Nike Youth Air Max, otherwise known as the Air Tuned Max for adults. This model featured an Air Max 97 sole instead of the Tuned Air Max sole, and if Nike brought this exact model back, it would be a huge hit.

For Jordan Team fans, the Jumpman Quick 6 was available for the young guards, as well as the Jordan 3 Percent for the kids who liked to cross train. The 3 Percent was named after Michael Jordan’s body fat percentage, which was incredibly low. One last Jordan model was the Jumpman VINdicate made for power forwards like the Bucks’ Vin Baker.

Overall, Nike was making big statements in footwear fashion and technology, which is why so many kids chose to rock Nikes for back to school. And for those of us who couldn’t have everything back then, we’re slowly trying to cross off everything we wanted on our checklists as Nike and Jordan continue to retro more and more of these classics. It’s like we’re reliving our childhood all over again.