The Swoosh has become a household staple, selling more than 120 million shoes last year alone. Since their birth in 1964, Nike has been at the forefront of innovative design and technological advances in their shoes. We take a look at the 20 best Nike shoes ever made.
Nike has been creating some of the best sportswear shoes for more than five decades. Phil Knight and Bruce Bowerman, Nike’s founders, have been dedicated to creating the best athletic shoes possible. The humble business started by selling Onitsuka Tigers from the back of cars, which has now grown into a $91.2 billion empire. Last year alone, Nike sold 120million pairs of shoes, to put that into context that’s about 25 pairs every second.
Here we take a look at the some of the coolest Nike shoes ever, picking out the best silhouettes and designs from more than 50 years of industry. Before we start, we need to stress that these are absolutely in no particular order. Trying to put these into some order of best to worst is simply impossible and wouldn’t be fair. So let’s take a look at the best 20 Nike shoes ever made.
Nike Air Force 1
Bruce Kilgore’s Nike Air Force 1, or AF1 for short, is undoubtedly one of the best shoes ever created. A classic shoe which was inspired by, and pays homage to, the USA’s Presidential Plane which shares the same name. Offered in low, high and mid-top shapes, the AF1 was the first basketball shoe to use Nikes iconic “Air” technology.
It was the first Nike basketball shoe of it’s kind to feature new technology like a “Pivot Point” on the sole and a tough midsole. If that’s not enough, there are more than 2,000 different versions of the AF1 and it is also the best-selling basketball sneaker of all time. A classic, right?
The Nike Foamposite exploded onto the world basketball court in 1997 and has become a fan favourite amongst sneakerheads around the globe. Inspired by a fighter jet, the Foamposite is one of the craziest shoes that the Swoosh has ever created. In fact, when Eric Avar first showed the design to executives and producers in China, nobody believed that the shoes could be made. In stepped Korean brand Daewoo who made the shoe design possible and, as they say, the rest is history.
When Tinker Hatfield’s iconic design Nike Huarache first appeared in 1991, it was a shoe that was created on the premise of simplicity. Original Nike adverts asked “have you hugged your foot today?” due to the sheer comfortability of the shoe. Inspired by ancient Mayan’s, the shoe was stripped back to bare essentials and worked on the idea that less is more. More than 25 years later, the Huarache is still as important as ever.
Undoubtedly one of the most iconic and famous shoes ever made comes from Back to the Future II. The moment Marty McFly placed his foot in the shoes and they self-laced, which was the moment that sneakerheads and non-sneakerheads alike all went “wow”.
The shoes had a small release in 2015 for a charity auction with all proceeds going to Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson Foundation. In 2016, sneakerheads finally got their wish and the shoes self-laced. Private auctions were held around the world and prices are unknown. Design and innovation at it’s absolute best.
Nike Dunk SB
After an unsuccessful venture into the world of skateboarding in 1997, Nike launched the SB range as a way to compete with other brands. The Nike SB Dunk Low quickly became a favourite amongst skaters and sneakerheads alike. With the grippy sole and hardened toes, the shoes started to get a good name amonngst other more successful skate brands. Signature Dunks like the Supreme, Jeff Staples ‘Pigeon’ and the super rare ‘Paris’ collaborations are still some of the most sought after in the world.
Nike Flyknit Racer
Without a doubt one of the most innovative shoes ever, the Flyknit Racer debuted in 2012 and took the world by storm. The shoes are stitched together using a microengineering process that took Nike ten years to perfect. This technology has carried over into all aspects of Nike’s shoes, using flyknit on football boots and track shoes alike. Weighing in at 215 grams, it’s also one of the lightest shoes that Nike has ever created.
Nike Air Max 90
A classic and without a doubt of the most iconic shoes ever is the Air Max 90. Having followed an usuccessful release of it’s predecessor, the Air Max III, as it was known at the time, had to make a big impression. Upstepped Tinker Hatfield and came up with one of Nike’s all-time classics. The Air Max 90 only got it’s official title in 2005 when the original shoe was re-released as part of the History of Air range.
Nike Jordan III
The Jordan III is what Phil Knight said “saved Michael Jordan from leaving Nike.” Designed by Tinker Hatfield, the shoe was the first of many iconic Jordan’s. It was the first Jordan to have a visible air unit and the iconic elephant print around the toes. Jordan himself said that Hatfield had won him over from leaving Nike because of the III. It is arguably one of the greatest basketball shoes and most well recognised silhouettes ever made.
Nike Waffle Racer
Bill Bowerman was sat watching his wife make a waffle breakfast one morning when he an idea that would change the world of running forever. Bill Bowerman didn’t realise it at the time, but he’d created a shoe whose legacy would last more than four decades later.
Bowerman’s wife told a newspaper years later “as one of the waffles came out, he said, ‘You know, by turning it upside down — where the waffle part would come in contact with the track — I think that might work.’ So he got up from the table and went tearing into his lab and got two cans of whatever it is you pour together to make the urethane, and poured them into the waffle iron.”
Nike Air Max 95
Sergio Lozano’s cult classic Air Max 95 received a mixed review from runners and sneakerheads alike. Air Max 95’s were widely disregarded and sat on shelves, only starting to gain notoriety as time went on. The original colourway was designed so that mud would not show as much, hence the tonal grey that is now recognised around the world. Now, this shape is one of the most popular styles of Air Max around, coming in a plethora of colourways and being a talking point amongst trainer enthusiasts.
Nike Air Yeezy I/II
NB: It was hard not to include both iterations of the Air Yeezy, we couldn’t decide which shoe made more of an impact so had to include both!
When Kanye West collaborated with Nike on the Air Yeezy, he became Nike’s first ever non-athlete to receive a signature shoe. With the original trainers being limited to a small run of only 3,000, they certainly made an impression around the world. Mr West debuted the Air Yeezy I at the Victoria Secret show, with that exact sample pair being up for sale for $75,000 from a sneaker store in America.
When the Air Yeezy II was announced as releasing, people were queuing days and in some cases weeks to get the chance at buying the shoe. Roll on an unexpected release of the ‘Red Octobers’ following Kanye’s departure from Nike for Adidas and well, the story is complete. The Nike Air Yeezy legacy is now a folklore amongst sneakerheads.
Nike Jordan XI
First spotted in the film “Space Jam” the Jordan XI was the shoe that made Michael Jordan say to Tinker Hatfield “holy shit!” Created with patent leather, it was the first basketball sneaker of it’s kind to be worn as both a Nike casual shoe and athletic shoe. In addition to the patent leather, the use of a carbon fibre foot plate and full-length Phylon midsole meant that the Jordan XI cemented itself as one of the most famous basketball shoes in the world.
Nike Air Max 97
One of the most beautifully designed running shoes ever, the Air Max 97 was a breath of fresh air when it hit shelves that year. Having completely stolen the limelight from the Air Max 96, the 97 looked at running in a different way. Taking inspiration from the Japanese Bullet Train, the shoe itself is one of the most aerodynamic shoes ever made. Christian Tresser’s incredibly well designed and manufactured shoe is now of Nike’s most sought after and collected men’s Nike sneakers on the planet.
Nike Air Jordan IV
Following on from the incredible success of the Jordan III, the Jordan IV was not as widely accepted by players and fans alike. Now though, the Jordan IV is one of Nike’s biggest hits, selling out almost instantly in iconic colourways. The features that set the IV apart from the III included a seperate mesh which allowed feet to breathe better on the court. As well as this, the exoskeletal mould around the ankles allowed support.
Nowadays, celebraties and companies alike love the Air Jordan IV. Some of the most valuable pairs come from collaborations with people like Eminem, with prices reaching up to $30,000 for a pair. As well as Eminem, UNDFTD’s auctioning off of only 72 pairs now fetch upwards of $15,000 a pair, meaning they’re rarer than rare.
Offically Nike’s first ever track shoe, Bill Bowerman’s symbolic sneaker has now been around for 45 years, celebrating it’s birthday in May of 2017. When the Cortez was first released, it struck a chord with runners and non-runners alike, gaining notoriety in LA where gangs would wear it. Fast forward to 1994 and Tom Hanks only added to the popularity of the shoe with his role in ‘Forrest Gump’ and the world famous blue, white and red colourway.
Nike Roshe Run
Dylan Raasch’s Nike Roshe Run was a massive change to the world of running when it arrived on the scene in 2011. Much like some of Nike’s previous design, Raasch’s silhouette worked on the idea that “less is more.” The shoe was stripped back to minimal design and utilises a cushioned midsole and breathable mesh for some of the most comfortable trainers.
When Raasch presented the shoe to Nike’s board they said it couldn’t be made. However, Nike head of design Andreas Harlow told Raasch to keep pushing and now, we have the Roshe Run in almost every store.
The Nike Blazer was the swoosh brands first attempt at getting into the world of basketball. Made famous by George “The Iceman” Gerwin, the blazer was a hi-top trainer for men that was designed for the court and provided ankle stability that meant Nike were starting to compete with Converse. Fast forward 44 years and the blazer is now a favourite amongst skaters, sneakerheads and even your parents.
Nike Hyperadapt 1.0/E.A.R.L
The Nike Hyperadapt 1.0 uses Electro-Adaptive Reactive Laces, or E.A.R.L for short, and is without a doubt the pinnacle of technology. Designed by Tinker Hatfield and Tiffany Bears, the E.A.R.L is a shoe that is at the forefront of innovation, utilising the Air Mag’s idea of self-lacing shoes. The shoe itself has pressure points in the heel, meaning that the lacing system automatically detects how tight the laces should be according to the amount of force placed on the sole.
It’s safe to say that the sheer creativeness that Nike have shown with the E.A.R.L will change the way that shoes are worn in the future. What started out as a gimmick in Back to The Future II has now become a reality. Take a bow, Nike.
Nike Air Jordan I
A classic shoe but with a rather ambiguous story behind it. When Peter Moore pulled out the Air Jordan I, Michael Jordan looked at Moore and said “I am not wearing that shoe, I’ll look like a clown.” Although the Jordan I was Michael’s first signature shoe, he was not a fan of them at all. However, once the commissioner of NBA, David Stern, banned them in 1984 for not having enough ‘white in them’. Every time Jordan wore the “Banned One” Nike would end up paying $5,000 a game, adding to the hype.
Nike used this idea as a sales feature and now, the banned Jordan I is now folklore in both sneaker culture and the NBA. What started out as a sales flop has ended up being one of the companies best selling shoes, thankfully.
Nike Air Max 1
Without a doubt, the Nike Air Max 1 is one of those shoes that changed the course of history. When Tinker Hatfield put the design forward to make a shoe with a visible air unit in the bottom, Nike executives said it was crazy and wouldn’t sell. However, once Phil Knight had found out that Adidas had given up on it, he was obsessed with making it work. Fast forward 30 years later, the Air Max 1 kicked off everything we now know about Air Max.
This little air pocket would be the technological advancement that Nike had kept pushing for. The Air Max 1 is, and always will be, the shoe that got people into sneakers properly. The running shoe had transcended it’s original purpose and become a way for people to connect. Three decades on, the Air Max 1 is not going anywhere.
On That Note
This was a tough list to make and many, many more shoes could have been added. We know we couldn’t get all of them and believe us, we would have tried to if we could. Nike has been at the forefront of technological advancement, innovation and creativity for more than 50 years and shows no signs of slowing down for the next 50 to come. In Phil Knight’s memoir about the origins of Nike, he said that “most people thought it was crazy.” It seems now, that Phil Knight’s has certainly come first in this race.
Feature image from Pinterest