Unlike professional and college sports and the film and music industries, the sneaker community doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all awards ceremony. If one did exist though, our vote for Comeback Sneaker of the Year of 2020 would be the Nike Dunk. And honestly, we’d have a hard time choosing any other shoe for Sneaker of the Year honors overall. It’s been that kind of a run for the Dunk in 2020.
As the year comes to an end, it’s time now to look back on all of the wildest new looks and returning classics that made the Dunk the biggest sneaker story of 2020—everything from the delicious “Chunky Dunky” to the OG “Michigan” colorway straight out of 1985.
These are the 10 best Nike Dunks of 2020.
Nike kicked off the year by reintroducing Dunks from two highly influential collections: “Concept Japan” (more on this shortly) and the OG “Be True to Your School” pack from 1985. Of the two, the “Be True to Your School” collection was specifically created for the Dunk, and it honored some of the top Nike-sponsored college basketball programs of the ‘80s, including Syracuse and Kentucky. Unsurprisingly, those were two of the most popular colorways in the original collection, and again when Nike retroed the pack as high-tops in the late ‘90s. The reception for the “Syracuse” and “Kentucky” Dunks (this time both as low-tops) was at its highest in 2020, a full three decades after the original release.
If you began the year not knowing what in the world a “Concept Japan” was, you’re not alone. That’s because the collection of former Japan-exclusive Nike and Jordan colorways were a product of the pre-social days when sneaker blogs didn’t exist and enthusiasts communicated on message boards. And sometimes even in person! And while those forms of socializing may seem archaic to some, there’s nothing antiquated about the Dunks from that era’s “Ugly Duckling” pack of 2002. Designs like the “Plum,” “Veneer” and “Ceramic” were highly sought after back then, and a breath of fresh air for collectors getting acquainted with them for the first time in 2020.
Thanks to a Michigan flavored Dunk, the original “Be True to Your School” pack represented one of the best conferences in college basketball, the Big Ten. Because Michigan State wasn’t sponsored by Nike at the time, a Spartan Green Dunk never existed back in the day. Nike made Spartans fans happy (as well as many of us that don’t particularly care about college basketball) by lacing the Dunk High in the team’s color scheme back in September. Now the Michigan versus Michigan State debate isn’t just for sports.
What do the Grateful Dead and the Nike SB Dunk have in common? Not much, if we’re being honest. But if you dig beneath the surface a little, there’s actually a parallel between the two: dedicated fanbases. The legions of people affectionately known as “Dead Heads” who travel the world to attend the Grateful Dead’s live performances are among the most passionate fans of any music act in history. And the people who have braved crappy weather and surly line-mates in front of mom-and-pop skate shops over the years are among the most knowledgeable collectors of any kind. That’s our thinking on how the Grateful Dead x Nike SB Dunk Low collection came to be, at least. Whatever the reasoning, though, we’re happy this unlikely pairing even happened at all.
Hunger usually kicks in after a long day of skating. Or on a lazy Sunday afternoon on the couch with something loud rolled up flipping between football games. It’s the latter that likely inspired the Nike SB team to reach out to Ben & Jerry’s for a collaboration that unites everyone’s favorite post-skate, post-smoke break snack. The “Chunky Dunky” is based on the Vermont ice cream brand’s whimsical “Chunky Monkey” ice cream flavor, and it's as deliciously good as the ice cream itself. There’s a drippy yellow Swoosh that appears on either side, fuzzy cow print overlays, and a cloud-shaped base. Two scoops, err, pairs, for us, please!
If there were ever a shoe game enough for a Valentine’s Day makeover, it would be the SB Dunk. After all, we’ve seen Christmas Dunks, Halloween Dunks, and 4th of July Dunks. There’s even a Thanksgiving SB Dunk (the new Concepts x Nike SB Dunk High “Turdunken”) so a Valentine’s Day Dunk is absolutely plausible. Cue up the StrangeLove Skateboards x Nike SB Dunk Low. The velvety design released during the madness otherwise known as NBA All-Star Weekend, so it was a little overshadowed by all of the other great sneakers that released all at once that weekend, but nonetheless one of the most inventive Dunks of the year.
It feels like the Travis Scott x Nike SB Dunk Low was released a lifetime ago, but it was only this past February… So yeah, a lifetime ago. Before being enveloped in the great Dunk avalanche of 2020, the Travis Scott Dunk debuted in the Houston rapper’s “JACKBOYS” music video, and people rightfully lost their minds. The design was a shift into an aesthetic that can best be described as having been inspired by a design that may have been on a shelf at Nike’s old Bespoke outpost on Elizabeth Street in New York City. The paisley print and plaid panels and thick rope laces formed an interesting contrast and were a welcomed departure from status quo, if nothing else.
Civilist, a Berlin based skateshop, has some history with Nike SB. In 2013, the two linked for an SB Dunk High that was well regarded during a particularly slow time for Dunk releases. So it’s fitting that the two brands would work on a colorway that literally matches the feverish pitch of the SB Dunk's popularity in 2020. As in, a thermochromic design that changes color when heated. At room temperature, Civilist's Dunk displays a neutral black base. After a few minutes of wear, the design shifts in color to feature the vibrant hues of the heat map. There’s never been a hotter SB Dunk.
Throughout the years, Nike SB has honored the Air Jordan 1 by releasing colorways of the iconic model reinterpreted onto the Dunk. The Jordan-to-Dunk colorways have been dubbed the “J-Pack.” J as in Jordan, of course. Since both shoes feature a similar design, the transition from the Air Jordan 1 “Royal” to a Dunk Low, for example, is predictably seamless. This year, Nike SB pulled out all the stops and dropped the “Chicago” Dunk Low, which many would agree is the best “J-Pack” Dunk yet.
The original atmos x Nike Air Max 1 “Safari” is the gift that keeps on giving. Or is it the Nike Air Safari that we should all be praising for having inspired some of the greatest Air Max 1s and SB Dunks? Either way, we have a hard time believing that the Nike SB Dunk Low “Safari” would exist if it weren’t for either of those shoes. Come to think of it, this year's Nike SB Dunk Low “Elephant” wouldn’t be around if it weren't for atmos, too. Or should we be saluting the Air Jordan 3 in this case? Sneakers never cease to keep us entertained.