At the height of the Nike SB Dunk’s mid-aughts dominance, a colorway so bold, austere even, introduced a new concept of design that was nicknamed after the reaction one might have after looking at it for the first time. As in, “What the … are those?” It had an embroidered pigeon on the heel, a tie-dye pattern on the mid-panel, tweed fabric on the toe, plus blinding neon green laces and an orange quilted liner. And that was only the right shoe. The left shoe featured the same mash-up look in different colors, textures, and patterns. Together, they created the “What The” Dunk.
From afar, it was a lot to take in. When broken down panel by panel, it became clear where the inspiration for the crazy look came from: all of the greatest SB Dunks up to its release in 2007.
In total, 31 different colorways were featured on the “What The” Dunk, including the “Pigeon,” “Raygun, “Huf,” and “Tiffany.” The multi-colorway look would eventually cross over to some of Nike Basketball’s most prominent signature lines, including the Nike LeBron and Nike Kobe series. These days, the “What The” colorway is usually rolled out for special occasions. And that’s how we’ve arrived on the Air Jordan 5 “What The,” as the legendary silhouette celebrates its 30-year anniversary this year.
Ahead of its upcoming release on November 12, 2020, we’re breaking down the “What the” Air Jordan 5, identifying every previous Jordan 5 that’s referenced in the eye-catching design.
For starters, the all-yellow nubuck upper of the right shoe of the Jordan 5 “What The” is derived from one of the model’s rarest designs, the “Tokyo T23” colorway. Things only get more interesting from there. The look receives the nearly forgotten “Army Olive” colorway’s reflective tongue with orange Jumpman insignia and lining. Overtures to the Will Smith inspired “Bel-Air” colorway can be found on the sole unit with blue shark tooth detailing on the purple midsole. The multicolor pattern of the inner lining is taken from the “Laser” design from 2007. An embroidered emblem on the heel is also culled from the “Tokyo T23” Jordan 5.
According to rumors, the red suede Air Jordan 5 from 2009’s “Raging Bull” pack may be receiving its first-ever standalone release in Spring 2021. That feels like decades from the time of this writing, so we’ll instead be happy that we get to appreciate the popular non-original colorway on the left shoe of the Jordan 5 “What The.” The red suede upper is mismatched with the sole unit of the Jordan 5 “Quai 54” in black and neon green. The silver tongue with green Jumpman detailing and lining is taken from the “Green Bean” colorway from 2006. Like the right shoe, the left shoe also displays Chinese symbols embroidered on the heel, this time taken from the rare “Shanghai Shen” Jordan 5.
A bit of a startling design when the original “What The” colorway was unveiled all those years ago, the medley concoction is now viewed as a way for sneaker collectors to reminisce, honor, and wear some of the most popular colorways of a particular shoe all at once. Think of the new Air Jordan 5 “What The” as a piece of art. A history lesson, even. Or, at the very least, a conversation starter, because in wearing any shoe with a “What The” design, you’ll almost certainly field a few questions from people asking “What the … are those?”