The Nike Dunk was never intended to be what it is today: one of the greatest skate shoes of all-time and arguably the most collectable sneaker ever. In 1985, the model first gained traction on a more shiny, polished surface: the laminated floors of indoor basketball courts. Debuting alongside two new performance basketball silhouettes, the Air Jordan 1 and Terminator, the Dunk shared the former’s design language down to the patterned outsole and boldly color blocked upper. Outside of the memorable “Be True To Your School” campaign, the Dunk was usurped by the Jordan 1 in terms of popularity, always overshadowed by the shoe bearing Michael Jordan's name. Skaters, who were enamored with the Dunk’s sticky sole and cushioned upper, swooped in to save the shoe from obscurity.
The Nike Dunk would make headway in the skate world in the early ‘00s thanks to several tweaks to both its marketing and styling. Sandy Bodecker, the man who was influential in reviving Nike’s soccer category, was brought in to steer the newly-formed Nike SB brand. In his first order of business, Bodecker took the Dunk out of mass retailers and drastically reduced production numbers to create an aura of exclusivity that skaters craved.
The likes of pro skaters Reese Forbes, Gino Ianucci, Richard Mulder, and Danny Supa were tasked to be the flag bearers of Nike SB in 2002. Each received their own Dunk colorway as part of the “Colors By” collection, which effectively set the ball rolling for the newly christened Nike SB sub-division. The new Nike SB Dunk was loved by skaters and collectors alike for its unique colorways and fat tongue. Worth noting, the earliest SB Dunks featured no "SB" branding on the Nike logo tongue tag.
Also in 2002 Nike looked to Supreme, the then much-lesser-known skate brand, for a dose of its gritty authenticity. Supreme’s two elephant print-clad Dunks inspired by the Air Jordan 3 were a crossover success and tapped into a market that was gaining steam thanks to internet forums like NikeTalk and ISS.
By the mid-00s, the Dunk craze had reached a tipping point after the release of the “Pigeon” colorway by Jeff Staple caused a near riot in the Lower East Side at his Reed Space shop. The “Tiffany” makeup, along with the “What The Dunk,” and “Red Lobster” are other memorable releases from the era. The Nike Dunk’s reach extended well beyond the skate world; artists like Futura 2000 and Pushead created colorways during the silver and pink box era.
Fickle as they are, the sneaker community perceived the Dunk as a thing of the past by the early 2010s, content to reminisce over older releases. Years removed from its heyday, a new generation has come to breathe life into the Nike Dunk. Two of the major players responsible for the Dunk’s recent resurgence, Travis Scott and Virgil Abloh, wax poetic about the bygone era in sneaker culture and have done their part in spreading the gospel of the Dunk with signature releases in 2019.
Watch our video highlighting some of the greatest Dunks of all time, featuring a first look at the Travis Scott x Nike SB Dunk Low.