As Jordan Brand and Warner Brothers celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Space Jam, I not only feel a little bit older than I like to think of myself, but I also like to look back and think about how the movie, Michael Jordan, and his shoes have played through history over the last two decades.
The “Space Jam” Air Jordan 11s were always one of the most mysterious shoes in the line. They first appeared on Michael Jordan’s feet in the 1995 NBA Playoffs when the Bulls took on the Orlando Magic marking the first time that MJ wore a shoe with royal blue accents in his career and also only the second colorway of the Air Jordan 11 that MJ wore on court.
Throughout the 1995-96 season, Nike released three colorways of the mid-top Air Jordan 11, but the predominantly black upper with a clear sole and blue Jumpman was nowhere to be found in the campaign. What ever happened to them?
On November 13, 1996, just like Michael Jordan himself, they came back. Appearing in the movie Space Jam, the shoes appeared again for the first time in over a year. Many people wanted to know if these would be coming out. By the time of the release of the movie, the Air Jordan 12 was already in stores and no information was known about the mysterious shoes we all saw in the film.
Fast forward a few years to the turn of the new century and on December 13, 2000, at last, the Space Jams were an attainable item for sneakerheads and Jordan fans alike.
The Air Jordan 11 was always a favorite to many sneakerheads and Jordan fans over the years, and for good reason. Not only did MJ return for his first full season after his first retirement in the shoes, but he also led the Chicago Bulls to glory once again with record-setting 72-10 regular season record and NBA Championship. On the personal accomplishment front, MJ took home an NBA All-Star Game MVP, NBA Scoring Title, and NBA League MVP – quite a year for Air Greatness.
Following the 2000 and 2001 retro Air Jordan 11 campaign, Jordan Brand went very light on the highly coveted model. It wasn’t until January of 2006 that an Air Jordan 11 mid released in a limited Defining Moments Pack and again in December of 2008 in the Countdown Pack. With limited availability and the $ 300 & $ 310 price tags of the packs, the Air Jordan 11s were out of reach for the masses – but that all changed at in 2009.
Starting in July of 2009, we got word of the eventual release of the Air Jordan 11 “Space Jam” and from that first article, we saw a gradual build up to what was, at the time, the single biggest day in our website’s history as literally tens of thousands of fiending fans for the shoes were coming to Nice Kicks for information on the release.
Also fueling momentum to the 2009 release of the Air Jordan 11 “Space Jam” was a reference to the shoes in the first line of Lil Wayne’s verse in the chart-topping song “Forever.” If anyone who listened to FM radio during that year remembers, it seemed as though this song was played every hour on not just Hip-Hop and R&B stations, but Top 40 as well.
“Ok, Hello it’s the Martian // Space Jam Jordans” – Lil Wayne in “Forever”
Coming in at $ 175, the Air Jordan 11 “Space Jam” was the most expensive retro Jordan release for a single shoe, but with elevated packaging and the insatiable demand for the shoes, retailers had bigger issues with crowd control than selling of the shoes. Several malls around the country saw over 1,000 customers lined up including at the Houston Galleria where the lineup waited overnight.
Overnight and into the early morning, the shoes gained further attention as news crews covered the first large scale nationwide release with such lineups and crowds. On Twitter, the terms “Jordans”, “Space Jams”, and “Space Jam Jordans” all trended at the same time owning 30% of the Trending Topics real estate.
The 2009 release of the Space Jam 11s was the start of an annual Jordan 11 release tradition that continued to build year after year.
As the last six holiday seasons have seen Air Jordan 11 releases for colorways both old and new, the remastered Air Jordan 11 “Space Jam” launch celebrates something both old and new. For fans of the film, it’s a wearable homage to the cartoon classic that put MJ into another world of pop culture icon. For fans of hoops, the shoe sees concord accents and #45 tagging for the first time at retail.
The shoe that sparked the retro Jordan wave as we know it is once again back and this time it looks like everyone will have a chance to score them. That’s a win in any universe and fun for the whole family in the VHS, DVD or Netflix era.
The adidas NMD is arguably the hottest franchise on the sneaker market and perhaps the biggest surprise hit in recent years. The retro rooted lifestyle model has shifted shape, color and material since its December 2015 debut, appearing consistently on the move throughout all of 2016. As the prowess of the NMD series continues to elevate, we take a look at the ever growing NMD family tree.
Defining Features: Mesh* build, full-length Boost cushioning, midsole plugs, lateral branding**
Popular Colorways: BAPE collaboration, “Triple Black”, “Raw Pink”, “Blanch Purple”, “Olive Cargo”, Black/White, “Triple White”
Made to move literally and figuratively, the adidas NMD has seen great success in its original form. Defined by a lightweight combination of mesh and Boost, the progressive lifestyle model builds off heritage DNA and today’s tech, offering the comfort of a running shoe with design geared towards everyday wear and street style.
*Though mostly made in mesh, the NMD_R1 has also been offered in wool fabrication as well as perforated styling with contrast underlays
**Ironically the adidas NMD_R1 “Three Stripes” does not sported striped branding, but rather graphic styling on a micro-rib knit base
adidas NMD_R1 Trail
Defining Features: Mesh upper, full-length Boost cushioning, midsole plugs, jagged outsole
Popular Colorways: size? collaboration
Updated to take on the great outdoors, the adidas NMD_R1 Trail takes all the original aspects of the NMD_R1 while toughening up the exterior. A jagged outsole and the occasional waterproof coating are proof to this nature revamp.
words & images // Nick DePaula:
The newest addition to the Boost family is coming soon, as the EQT Support 93/17 ushers in new possibilities and a new look for the foam-based cushioning we’ve all come to love.
Taking inspiration from the original EQT Support 93 running shoe, the modernized update from Originals features molded Boost, with three stripes along the midfoot and a beveled heel providing more contour and sculpting than we’ve seen to date. The shoe also incorporates a woven knit upper, with nubuck and midfoot webbing stripes that link through to the eyestay.
Check out the upcoming EQT Support 93/17 in detail below, first showcased last week at adidas’ grand Art Basel event, and debuting in black, white and turbo red at the start of the new year.
words, images & interview // Nick DePaula:
Ben Herath, adidas Running’s VP of Design, has a recent run of footwear designs that can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the industry.
Whether it’s on true performance merit, beloved adoption into the lifestyle space or just pure appreciation as a modern product creation, it was his UltraBoost design of almost two years ago that has helped to reset the adidas Running category and shift the consumer expectation for the brand. That first design, simply rooted in the approach to create the “ultra expression” of both Boost and Primeknit technologies, instantly became a classic of today and a timeless staple of tomorrow. The brand’s third iteration of the original silhouette is dropping yet again this weekend — in 11 colorways.
Through the course of that first year, the UltraBoost had emerged from a cult classic to a ubiquitous sneaker gracing the feet of consumers of all ages and types. Herath, a native of Adelaide, Australia who’s been with the adidas brand for over a decade and a half as an elite running designer, is both humbly proud and honored to have led the look of a model that highlights the best of the brand’s collective ability across all functions of design, engineering and marketing.
“Five or six years ago, I started working on the first Energy Boost, and I’ve been working on Boost ever since then,” he smiles. “The Ultra Boost is the pinnacle of shoes that I’ve worked on. I love sneakers, love sport and love creativity, so I’m kind of doing my dream job right now.”
As the shoe grew and grew in popularity, Herath and his co-workers in Germany began to notice a trend across social media. Myself and a few other perhaps-bored-but-curious collectors were simply cutting the shoe’s midfoot cage right off the upper. I just thought it could look sweet, so I grabbed some tweezers and mini-scissors on a random weekend. It was a process that took about 90 seconds per pair, with most of the labor coming from figuring out how to lace the shoe from there.
Over the past couple of years, adidas has touted two consistent concepts and ethos in all interviews, press releases and media — an Open Source approach to building product and being the brand for Creators. As Herath details below in this in-depth interview from the adidas global headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany, pulling inspiration from the public became a key insight to creating Uncaged. The process from there, as you can expect, took a little longer than the 90 seconds per pair that I spent to completely gut the shoe of its actual upper performance.
When the shoe officially launched earlier this summer, fans of the model seemed to appreciate the update. It was the fastest selling adidas shoe ever in America — 11,000 pairs were sold in the first hour alone. Read ahead for countless details into the design of the UltraBoost Uncaged, straight from designer Ben Herath, and stay tuned all week for even more #BoostWeek features.
CREATING UNCAGED ///
Nick DePaula: Can you walk me through the timeline of when the team first set out to update the original UltraBoost with the Uncaged execution?
Ben Herath: When we found Boost, we changed how we designed shoes. It started to be about, ‘How does it feel?’ We did little things on that first shoe, like cutting open the stroble board, and that just let you feel more of the Boost. It was a real turning moment for us. If you’ve tried Boost on and can feel how bouncy it is, it feels alive somehow. It’s incredible.
We’ve been so excited by the positive reaction from everyone around the Ultra Boost. I don’t think we anticipated that level of excitement that a shoe like that would somehow go beyond running and transcend out into culture. We always hope for something like that, that we create a shoe that people are really going to gravitate to.
As we started to grow, we started to bring people out there into our creation process. A big shift for the last couple of years is us opening up our doors. We don’t want to create things in isolation, and we always want to share what it is that we’re doing.
We want to shape the future of what we’re doing with people out there, wherever that comes from. The first step we took on that was the PureBoost X. We worked with female runners from all over the world, and brought their insights in at every step of the creation process. We asked for their help on the design, the materials and the look and feel of it. The whole way along, we were working together with them. For us, that was something new, and it also got us excited because we were able to get so much feedback throughout the creation process.
Uncaged has been such an exciting project, but it was also so inspired by people out there. Nick, you were one of the first. [laughs] You were cutting the cage off, and it was hugely inspirational to see that level of creativity that was going on out there and people customizing their own thing. The initial reaction for me was a little bit of a surprise. I didn’t think people would spend $ 180 and then cut into it. [laughs] When we started seeing all of the images popping up all over the place, and the tutorials on YouTube, that helped energize us and helped accelerate our process.
If you go back two years ago, when we first go back to the original samples of the Ultra Boost, for us it was always about drilling the design down to the absolute ingredients that you need, and challenging every ingredient on the shoe. Do we need it, or don’t we need it? We were working on Uncaged and went back to those Ultra Boost samples. On the medial side, we were looking at how much support, and we were really hacking into our samples. We’d trim down the heel counter and hacking the shoe ourselves to remove the pieces we didn’t need.
A big design ethos for us is around simplicity. I would say that as we’re looking at the design of the shoe, we kept going back to all of the parts. We went right back to the foot and removed everything off to be a naked UltraBoost. No heel counter or cage either.
We wanted to create a perfect sock for your feet. When we stripped the shoe down, we felt a collective excitement, because there was something cool about the stance and the curves – it really resonated with us. Our developer mocked up three different pairs of it and sent out the request.
“The act of deconstruction was also an act of creation.”
The act of deconstruction was also an act of creation. By deconstructing the shoe, a new shoe kind of appeared. When you start to look at all of the parts and pieces of the Ultra, we were planning and thinking about, “What’s next?” But we didn’t know how successful the shoe was going to be. [laughs]
The UltraBoost kind of almost immediately became the benchmark for Primeknit and Boost for all of our categories. It was the pioneer shoe that we all began to reference. I was getting emails from all kinds of designers in other categories that had done their own spin on the UltraBoost, and it was quite cool to have all of these ideas fueling us.
We had a collective instinct that there was something here, and when the shoe launched, your Uncaged pair and then other ones from leading trendsetters cutting the shoe and hacking it really proved to us that was the right direction, and that we wanted to release something soon. [laughs] We wanted to make it a reality as quickly as we could. It was hugely motivating and energizing. So, thank you to the people that did that. [laughs]
BRANDING SHIFT ///
Nick DePaula: The first UltraBoost had your classic midfoot Three Stripes, but when people cut the cage off that of course stripped away the logo. How did you guys look at where you’d place the Stripes for the Uncaged, and how’d you ultimately land on the toe placement?
Ben Herath: Personality played a big part of it, and we wanted to do something disruptive. When we saw people cutting the cage, it was hacking and repurposing it, but also removing the branding. [laughs] So we didn’t want to do the expected and put Three Stripes on the side for the Uncaged. We had an early sample like that, but we wanted to look at branding in a different way, that stayed with the personality of the shoe.
The other key area is when you look down on the shoe. We wanted to remind people looking down that it was a Three Stripes shoe, and it felt like the right place to do that. You’ll start to see us roll that type of fast toe branding across all categories, and the Uncaged is really the first step towards that, with a new modern take on the Three Stripes.
We love the Three Stripes in the proudest spot on the midfoot, but we wanted this shoe in a way to reflect the attitude of the streets of New York. You’re running through New York, and you’re smelling everything and feeling everything, and it’s just an experience. It’s not perfect, and we tried to reflect that in the design. There’s an imperfect graphic to the upper, and then we put the Three Stripes where you normally don’t see them. It’s an area that you see when you look down instead.
NDP: How’s the Primeknit construction different here?
BH: For the Primeknit, we have three different yarns together. Then, each of those yarns can be divied up into three yarns as well, so that gives us a total of nine yarns to tune. We can tune the function and the visual. That’s both exciting and extremely tough. If you change one little thread, a red shoe goes black. [laughs]
One of the inspirations was that the Primeknit is only going to look better with age. You can wear them, and just like your favorite pair of jeans, they have some texture and will age great. We also know that it’s a shoe that will be worn beyond the run.
We wanted to design it for people to run in, but you can also appreciate the style of it with a variety of outfits and looks. Having a shoe that almost seamlessly blends into your outfit was something that we were striving for as well. When we think about the future, and creating products for the future, we also think we have to have something with charm that you can still relate to.
DIALING THE PERFORMANCE ///
Nick DePaula: As much as I love just kicking the shoe around casually, real runners love the first one to actually run in, so you had a high bar to live up to here. How’d the process of keeping that same performance of the original go? I assume that expectation from consumers was always there.
Ben Herath: The challenge we had was, “How do we uncage the UltraBoost, but keep the great performance of the original shoe?” That was the singular goal. The tricky thing was the cage is such an integral part of the performance of the shoe.
When you remove the cage, you reduce all the structure and support of the shoe, and weaken the performance of it as a running shoe. We want people to still be able to run a marathon in it, or any distance, and it’s going to give you the same experience. That wasn’t so easy. [laughs]
We looked at re-engineering the Primekint pattern, and looked at the different support zones to strengthen the knit where it should be. We had to re-engineer the whole pattern, and it still wasn’t enough to really provide the support that you need. If we were going to guarantee it for all runners out there, we still needed to look at something that would reinforce the knit as well.
For inspiration, we looked at some of the Olympic track spikes from the London Olympics in 2012. There were some new constructions, and they’re our lightest and fastest shoes that we make for track and field athletes.
“’How do we uncage the UltraBoost, but keep the great performance of the original shoe?’ That was the singular goal.”
They went through almost four years of testing to be ready for the Olympics, and they’re our race cars. They’re absolutely the bare minimum of what we can create to make the athlete perform faster. It’s one surface, one material, with a reinforced layer that has a high strength-to-weight ratio.
We used that on the backside of the upper, and there’s a soft, seamless suede that’s bonded to the knit. It’s strong, it’s lightweight, and it feels great against your foot as well. It’s something that we knew had been validated by so many athletes out there.
For us, that was a huge step forward, because we could embed the support we needed, without disrupting the visual. The design is able to work with the foot, just like the original UltraBoost. Once we had that down, we had two key areas we wanted to look at. The first was the collar shape, because this shoe is all about the silhouette, and then letting the uncaged Primeknit breathe. We wanted to create a collar that extends the silhouette. We tried to so many options, and then landed on the simplest one that works.
The second area we looked at was how do you lace the shoe? We had typical lacing, but then we also wanted to give people options out there. The challenge is we have different foot shapes, so if you prefer a slightly different lockdown on the inside, you’re able to increase the amount of support that you get and the pull from the inside.
You can re-orient the lacing or you can create your own type of thing. That’s something I’m always excited to see.
We saw the trend of rope laces, and how people are loving those, but what we found in testing was that the flat laces didn’t have the bulk through the knit and it removes all of the irritation that might form once you start clocking past 5K or 10K. The flat laces ended up keeping the silhouette sleek as well, and that was something that all came back to performance.
“The UltraBoost kind of almost immediately became the benchmark for Primeknit and Boost for all of our categories.”
We ended up with a shoe that’s engineered to run, has 360 degree Primeknit around and all the function is embedded inside the shoe. What we also wanted to do was keep all of the key ingredients that worked, like the tooling, the Boost midsole and the heel counter.
That’s all the engine. From all the testing and feedback, we’ve heard how great the performance and the ride is, and it was always important to keep all of that, to stay true to the key ingredients of what Ultra Boost is.