History of the Nike Dunk feature sneaker freaker
CULTURE Published: June 1, 2020 Updated: June 3, 2020  |  WORDS: Eshwaran Subramaniam

History of the Nike Dunk: From court side to skate park

The Nike Dunk has been around since the 1980s, dropping at the same time as the legendary Air Jordan 1.

History of the Nike Dunk pink shoe box collab adrift

The sneaker has made a transition from the B-ball space to skate culture – making the history of the Nike Dunk incredibly rich.

The Nike Dunk is by far one of the Swoosh’s most recognizable sneakers. The silhouette was first introduced in 1985 alongside the Air Jordan 1. Since then, it has shifted from college basketball to skate culture and now solidified itself as a streetwear staple. Over 30 years on, a younger generation has arrived to embrace history. The Nike Dunk is officially back on the map in 2020. But before picking up your next Dunk or SB Dunk, here is a quick look at the history of the Nike Dunk.

Built for college B-Ball courts

History of the Nike Dunk college teams be true to your school

The history of the Nike Dunk began on college basketball courts. At the time, the sport was gaining massive popularity due to the rise of stars like Michael Jordan. This also caused the college basketball scene to receive a sudden boom in interest and attention. To take on the new market, Nike released the Nike Dunk – a sneaker specifically meant for college teams that were under Nike. This saw the release of the “Be True To Your School” colors. Each team would receive Dunks in their team colors.

The original design of the Nike Dunk was heavily inspired by sneakers of that time, mainly the Air Force 1. The result? A trimmed-down version of the chunky court sneaker. But unlike the Air Jordan 1s and Air Force 1s, the Dunk was a much more vibrant sneaker. It came with a whole host of colorways to choose from.

Eventually, the sneaker received a mid-life update and received a nylon tongue. This made the sneaker way more comfortable and was soon adopted by skaters and sneakerheads who just loved the silhouette.

The birth of Nike SB

The 2000s rolled around and skate culture had become a growing scene that Nike wanted to be a part of. But skaters did not want to be associated or work with Nike – they were a symbol of corporate America. It didn’t help that at the time, Nike’s line of skateboarding sneakers was not exactly all the rage.

Nike eventually tasked Sandy Bodecker with revamping the ailing department – beginning what would be the greatest era in the history of the Nike Dunk. Sandy noticed that Nike already had a presence in the skate scene. Skaters had begun buying old Air Jordan 1s that had gone on sale – they were cheap, durable, and provided excellent board feel and grip. That’s when it struck him, Nike SB did not need to create a sneaker.

History of the Nike Dunk Air Jordan 1 Skating Modern Notoriety

Sandy dug into Nike’s archives and decided to bring back the Nike Dunk. Long forgotten, the sneaker was turned into a low top, given a beefier tongue and additional padding. The end result is a classic sneaker that is customized to the needs of skaters.

But that was not enough. Skaters did not want a mass-produced, widely available sneaker. This led to Nike SB’s successful marketing strategy – producing all colorways in very limited numbers and only made available through selected skate shops. The attention finally arrived.

Collaborations unlike any other

History of the Nike Dunk Supreme collaboration foot district

Besides a clever distribution technique, Nike also invested heavily in their collaborations. In fact, the first few colorways of the SB Dunk were all designed by Pro-skaters of the time. This added a story to each sneaker and made it relatable to the community.

But it did not stop there. Nike SB kept working with skate shops from all over America. This included Supreme and Diamond Supply – two skate shops from the east and west coasts. These collaborations ultimately solidified Nike SB’s presence in the skate scene. Above all else, it created the hype culture we are familiar with today.

History of the Nike Dunk Diamond Supply x Nike SB Dunk queue

Shock drops, long queues, and collecting became a norm among fans of Nike SB. Soon enough this formula was applied to many other releases. But just like all good things, the Nike Dunk faded into the background and soon became a sneaker no one paid attention to anymore.

2020 return

History of the Nike Dunk travis scott and wale

History has a tendency of repeating itself. Safe to say, the Nike Dunk did not stay in the archives for long. Early 2019, we began to see the Nike Dunk pop up again. This time, on the feet of Travis Scott, Wale, and many other prominent rappers. Collectively, the rap scene began rocking elusive and rare Dunks from the early 2000s, bringing the sneaker back to the public’s consciousness. Eventually, Travis Scott dropped his very own Nike SB collaboration featuring the celebrated silhouette and the rest is history.

History of the Nike Dunk travis scott freshness mag

Today, most sneakerheads are aware of the hype and are cashing in. A Dunk cannot stay on the Nike SNKRS site for more than a minute before completely selling out. But instead of just jumping on the bandwagon, at least now, you’re well equipped with the history of the Nike Dunk from its beginnings as Nike’s college hoop sneaker, a skating icon to the sneakerhead grail.

When did you cop your first Nike Dunk? Share your stories in the comment section.

Feature images: Sneaker Freaker
Images: Sneaker Freaker, Foot District, Adrift, Grailed, Freshness Mag, Modern Notoriety

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