A Look Back: The Air Jordan XI Low

A Look Back: The Air Jordan XI Low

Few can deny the impact the Air Jordan XI has had on the sneaker community over the past 25 years. From the very first moments we saw Michael Jordan rocking the XI’s, we were mesmerized by them. Tinker Hatfield’s genius design made them look super-sharp on and off the court. The Air Jordan XI was one of the most popular sneakers MJ ever wore, to the point that Jordan Brand started retro’ing them just five years later beginning in the late fall of 2000. We just couldn’t get enough of that patent leather goodness. 

Although Jordan Brand did release a low-cut version of the XI back in ‘96 in both a white and black colorway, these silhouettes had a different design compared to the mid-cuts. The OG lows were meant more for off-court styling, with breathable mesh weaved into the upper. It almost seemed strange at the time that Jordan Brand and Nike didn’t drop a low-cut version with the patent leather mud guard. That all changed in the Spring of 2001.

 

Drew Hammell Look Back Jordan Retro XI Low

In April and May of 2001, Jordan Brand released low-cut patent leather and super-stylish snakeskin versions of the Air Jordan XI. These shoes were meant to be rocked right away for the warm summer months. They were flashy and looked great with shorts. This low-cut version featured the same full-length encapsulated Air-Sole unit and composite shank-plate, just like the mids. There were also matching Jordan Brand shorts, caps, tees, and beanies – because back in the early ‘00s, your whole fit had to be color-coordinated from head to toe. 

In April 2001, the white/silver colorway dropped for ladies, the white/columbia and white/red dropped for men, and the white/pink dropped for girls. Then in May ‘01, the white/pink snakeskin dropped for women, and the white/navy snakeskin dropped for men. There was also a white/citrus and white/zen grey version.  

Though Michael Jordan was famous for rocking the AJ XI mids, he also wore the lows with patent leather as well. During the NBA Finals versus the Sonics in ‘96, he briefly wore the low-cut “Bred” colorway. He also rocked a low-cut patent leather “Concord” colorway during the trophy ceremony after the Bulls defeated the Sonics that year. It would have made sense for Jordan Brand to bring these classic colorways back in low-cut versions right off the bat, but we had to wait years for them to finally release to the public. 

While the holidays have always been about the AJ XI mid releases each year, the summer belongs to the lows. This spring, Jordan Brand is bringing back the white/citrus colorway, along with a low-cut version of the classic “Legend Blue”. The love for the XI’s is not going away anytime soon, so once again these models will be instant sell outs.

The Jordan Retro XI Low drops 5/7 on eastbay.com

Drew Hammell A Look Back

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

A Look Back: 10 Nike Air Max Running Shoes You Probably Forgot About

A Look Back: 10 Nike Air Max Running Shoes You Probably Forgot About

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.

Drew Hammell A Look Back Nike Air Max 2002

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

Drew Hammell A Look Back Nike Air Max Slip On

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.

Drew Hammell A Look Back Nike Air Max 2001

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.

Drew Hammell A Look Back Nike Air Max 2000

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.

Drew Hammell A Look Back Nike Air Max 98 TL

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

Drew Hammell Look Back Nike Air Max TL 99

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.

Drew Hammell A Look Back Air Max Tuned Precision

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

Drew Hammell look Back Nike Air Max Light

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.

Drew Hammell Look Back Nike Air Max Tailwind II

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.

Drew Hammell A Look Back Nike Air Max Tailwind

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 Hammell A Look Back

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

A Look Back: Nike Air in the Early ’00s

A Look Back: Nike Air in the Early ’00s

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.

2000

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.

2001

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.

2002

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.

2003

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.

A Look Back: All Conditions Gear

A Look Back: All Conditions Gear

January is one of the coldest, darkest times of the year in most parts of the U.S. The wind is biting, the snow is deep, and it feels like summer will never return again. In the mid-90s, Nike had a remedy for the bone-chilling temps and less-than-favorable traction: All Conditions Gear. Eastbay catalogs were chock full of hiking boots, trail shoes, Dri-FIT shirts, Therma-FIT pants, and Clima-FIT jackets that kept the body dry and comfortable no matter how hard the snow and sleet came down. One of the people responsible for a lot of what we saw and wore in the ’90s was designer Michael Hernandez. I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about what it was like to be part of a team that was setting the standard for outdoor apparel and functional innovative technologies.

Eastbay Outdoors Intro Page

Drew: What was your role with Nike back in the ’90s?

Michael: I was hired by Nike in 1991. During the ’90s, I held several different positions ranging from Product Graphic Designer, Art Director, Design Director and Senior Designer. I contributed on many of Nike’s sport categories during this time including Sports Graphics, Sports Marketing, Jordan, Retail (Niketown), Running, and many Special Projects. I’m a huge fan of product and brand working together to conceive and create compelling products and stories that resonate with the consumer. Product designers often find that their stories and inspiration never make it to the consumer. I was very motivated to work in collaboration with other designers and marketers with the end in mind, delivering our product with stories that inspired athletes, retailers, and consumers.

Nike Outdoors shoes

Drew: Can you tell me about the ACG logo we see on all the gear?

Michael: One of the Nike categories I worked extensively on was All Conditions Gear (ACG). ACG had been around for years and was known mostly for the innovative outdoor footwear. The outdoor marketplace was catering to more of a traditional outdoor consumer who wore a lot of brown shoes. ACG really started to push into new territories with product by innovating. Footwear started to become much more youthful and performance-driven, and the aesthetics started to be informed by trends happening in the marketplace. Consumers were migrating to products that embraced color and new materials. Snowboarding was really pushing outerwear in fun and interesting directions and ACG’s consumer was shifting.

Another brand designer and I were asked to rebrand the ACG logo. We designed for months and presented our own ideas. They choose my design and adopted a new brand direction that was more youthful, performance-driven, and modern. The new branding supported other product categories ACG was building market share in, which included mountain biking, snowboarding, and water sports. The new logo signaled that the brand was less of a granola-eating, tree-hugging product line. ACG was heading down new paths and needed to evolve to a younger mindset.

Eastbay Outdoor Boots

Drew: What was your favorite design/shoe/apparel?

Michael: That would be the Trek Mountain Bike Team uniform. ACG sponsored the Trek Mountain Bike Team and I designed a wide range of garments with sublimated graphics that the team used to train and compete in. The jersey was in tune with the new ACG logo with its streamlined, bold, and simple aesthetic. Nike had been in the cycling business prior to ACG but began investing more into competitive biking, which eventually led to Nike sponsoring the U.S. Postal Service Cycling team.

Eastbay Outdoors apparel

Drew:  A lot of the footwear had interesting names – was there any particular model that had a great story behind it?

Michael: You’re so right – ACG was known for its creative footwear names like Nike Air Rivaderchi, Pocket Knife, and Air Moc (Potato Shoe) to name just a few. I would have to say that the Air Mowabb was the shoe design that leaves the most influence over time for so many reasons. My 23 years at Nike were filled with some amazing experiences. But, most of all, I worked with so many talented people that made the most impact on my design career. I reported to Tinker Hatfield for years, working on his team and learning footwear design. I remember Tinker’s inspiration boards for the Air Mowabb. He drew everything by hand, including the logo that had a lot of personality. His ability to tell a story through his outdoor experiences (Mowabb, Utah) and design skills was impressive to say the least. The original Air Mowabb colors and material story were very fresh then and hold up to this day. This design was deemed more of an outdoor “sneaker.” ACG was leading the outdoor industry by walking away from traditional hiking designs, and running in new directions.

Nike outdoors shoes 2

Drew: There were many innovative technologies being introduced rather quickly, such as Dri-FIT, Therma-FIT, and Clima-FIT. Did you play a role in developing any of these fabrics, and if so, which was your favorite?

Michael: Yes, the Nike-FIT system of fabric technologies were being used across the Nike categories. Dri-FIT was being used in Team Sports as a first layer that far exceeded the benefits of cotton undergarments. Nike-FIT got a real boost when it was promoted through advertising and launched a new branding scheme that I was responsible for designing. I redesigned the Nike-FIT branding marks and created a menu of product trim application to marry up with the fabrics. The trim applications menu included molded patches, woven labels, reflective labels, heat transfers, and screenprints.

The benefits of Nike-FIT were also communicated with informative technical illustrations that we applied to a new Nike-FIT hangtag system and sublimated interior label packages. The new system was not confined to just apparel – footwear leveraged the fabric technologies as well. The ACG and Running categories implemented this system the deepest. The benefits of appropriate apparel layering came to a head when we educated consumers on why layering correctly improved personal performance and comfort.

Nike Outdoor-FIT apparel

Drew: What are you working on currently, and can you share a little bit about The Bruin Co.?

Michael: I started up my design and marketing consultancy, The Bruin Co. five years ago. I’ve designed footwear and other products, though the lion’s share of projects are focused on branding. I have branded and rebranded many clients’ businesses with a focus on elevating their brand and getting more strategic about how they tell their stories and focus on their consumers with more purpose.

My last role at Nike was Global Brand Creative Director. I spent a decade at Nike focused on brand design, gaining valuable experience creating and implementing seasonal global directives that included applications for Product, Retail and Digital. I also worked on content creation that included TV broadcast and web/viral content. Thanks for the opportunity to share some of my design experiences. Design is more than a slogan. You can just do it or go big or go home. Either way it’s all about the small details. The Bruin Co. is located in Salem, Oregon. Find us at www.TheBruinCo.com and on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/bruinstudio/?hl=en

Nike Outdoors full spread

A Look Back: June 2003

A Look Back: June 2003

By Drew Hammell

Summer 2003: Beyoncé, Lil Jon, Lumidee, and 50 Cent were heating up the music charts, while The Matrix Reloaded, Bruce Almighty, and Finding Nemo were hits at the Box Office. The era of baggy/bootcut jeans was coming to an end, with the skinny jeans trend on the horizon. Meanwhile, on the sneaker scene, Nike and Jordan Brand were sizzling with a ton of hot summer releases. There were plenty of brand new models, along with some classic retros. Here’s a look back at some of the highlights from fifteen years ago.

Air Jordan 18 1

Back in April of ’03, Michael Jordan wrapped up his final season in the NBA by playing in all 82 games as a 40-year-old. He would wear several different Jordan models that season, including the Air Jordan 18 Mid. Featuring double-stacked Zoom Air units and a magnetic shroud, this model is not one of his most famous. In the past year, however, Jordan Brand has been bringing back the 18 in both OG and new colorways, and the reception has been strong.