Sneaker Theater: Above the Rim

Backed by one of the greatest film soundtracks of all time and featuring plenty of outstanding basketball scenes–plus a mesmerizing role from the late, great (but still relevant) Tupac ShakurAbove The Rim is an indisputable hood classic. More important than the slang used, the storyline (which did feature some head-scratching moments, including Nutso’s cause of death at the beginning), the basketball and even the music was the way director Jeff Pollack and his team of writers captured how trendsetting urban youth dressed at the time. From Tupac’s signature bandana look and clothes so baggy they hindered the way he walked, to the way the kids wore their hats–backwards and cocked halfway to the side, always–to being dripped in gold chains, the characters in Above The Rim were a direct reflection of the way kids were dressing out on the streets.

Above The Rim didn’t miss a single detail when it came to the popular streetwear of the day and special attention was paid to what the actors were wearing on their feet during some of the most pivotal scenes. Reebok was added as a partner to the film and their influence is seen throughout with ad placements and different sneakers on the feet of the movie’s stars. (No wonder cats like Kendrick Lamar grew up enamored with the brand.) Despite the partnership, Reebok wasn’t the only sneaker brand featured in the film. Buzzing brands like British Knights, Pony, and Nike all had a chance to shine in the gritty movie as well.

After breaking down the swag and sneakers of Space Jam, here’s a look at some of the best footwear from Above The Rim in this edition of Sneaker Theater.

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adidas Pro Model
The final basketball game pits Georgetown-bound Kyle Lee Watson and the Bombers against the Birdie-coached, Motaw-led Birdmen in the Shoot Out tournament finale. When Shep, who is revealed to be Bridie’s brother, shows up out of nowhere and takes over the game on both sides of the ball, Birdie is beside himself with anger. We won’t give away the ending for those who haven’t seen the flick but we will point out that when Motaw and Shep matchup on court, it’s an old-school vs. new-school sneaker matchup as Shep keeps it classic with the high-top adidas Pro Model.

adidas Pro Model white

This sneaker made a super brief appearance in the iconic basketball scenes of the film’s climaxing basketball tournament at Rucker Park. It’s memorable not only because it showcasing a point in time where ASICS wasn’t just about running shoes, but because of the man who wore them: James “Speedy” Williams.


Meanwhile, Motaw, who is Birdie’s enforcer, rocks the British Knight Dymacel, made popular by the bruising Derrick Coleman.

Converse Chuck Taylor All Star
This classic silhouette shows up briefly in the infamous first scene of the movie, where Thomas “Shep” Sheppard and his friend Nutso played a game of one-on-one to the death. Literally.

Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star

Nike Air Force Diamond Turf
Nike Air Ballistic Force

With the way Nike dominates the sneaker market in 2015, it’s surprising to see the Swoosh take a backseat to other sneakers in a film. Despite Above The Rim’s partnership with Reebok, Nike still managed to creep into a few of the basketball scenes and if you keep a close eye out, you’ll catch the Air Force Diamond Turf (made hot by Deion Sanders) and the Air Ballistic Force (made popular by Charles Barkley). Not sure how these made it past the production team considering every other squad in the Shoot Out was draped in Reebok but Nike surely wasn’t mad about the free publicity.

Nike Air Ballistic Force

Pony had a nice run in the NBA and had its shining moment when Spud Webb won the 1986 Dunk Contest wearing a pair of low-cut City Wings. Along with Spud, Darryl Dawkins wore a pair of Ponys (not without controversy) while dunking with such ferocity that he tore down a backboard, and David Thompson gave the brand a run early on in his career but the brand fizzled out in the NBA once the new decade hit. A few of Kyle’s teammates balled out in high-top Ponys in Above The Rim but none showed the bounce like Spud did in ‘86.

Reebok Satellite Mid
Reebok Pump Vertical
With an amazing handle and a silky smooth jumper, Kyle had the ability to take teams on one-on-five, much to the dismay of his teammates and coach. On his feet during most of his games were a crisp pair of Reebok Satellites that he was able to afford thanks to Birdie lining his pockets with money.

Fresh out of the penitentiary, Boogs, played by Marlon Wayans, was always quick with a joke but couldn’t leave the street life behind and drags Kyle into his world by introducing him to Birdie. Bugaloo could ball a little bit himself and is seen hooping in Reebok’s classic Pump Vertical. The Pump Vertical was one of Reebok’s hottest sneakers and was worn on the NBA hardwood, however it was Above The Rim that gave it the street cred necessary to help elevate Reebok’s line to the next level.

Follow Peter on Twitter at @Peter_M_Walsh