The History of the Air Force One

In high school and college we called them Uptowns. Other people called them everything from Forces to White-on-Whites. Nelly made a song about them and Rasheed Wallace played in them. But no matter what you called them or how you wore them or which colors you had, everyone loved them. And they still do.

The Nike Air Force One — which returns in a “Peace” colorway at Champs Sports this weekend — was not only the first shoe to ever use Nike Air technology, they were also favorites among sneakerheads in Harlem and are now the best-selling sneaker ever. Created by designer Bruce Kilgore in 1982, the shoes originally released for $89.95 and quickly found praise from basketball players like Moses Malone and Michael Cooper, launching in three different cuts to give them the versatility to do just about anything. With their simplistic design approach — even today, the white/white colorway is by far the most popular, followed by, you guessed it, the black/black — they offered great bang for their buck, and while there’s no official statistics on this, they have to be the most consistently customized sneaker of all time. Just as the adidas Stan Smith drew raves because of its clean stature and comfortable wear, the Air Force One appealed to everyone. First exploding on the East Coast in cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, it eventually conquered the country and later the world, thanks in large part to consistent co-signs from entertainers and celebrities.

Some of my close college friends bought new pairs every year, and every year — no matter what — they’d throw them out at the end of school, intent on buying them fresh all over again. They never let themselves wear a dirty or old pair. It’s a trend that’s unique to this sneaker alone. Most sneakers are bought once and cherished; not the Forces. They are rotated, over and over again, an essential that never goes away.

Not much has changed about the shoe over the last 30 years. It’s been updated, at times, and was given a makeover for its 25th anniversary that included changing the iconic lace medallion from a circular look to a rectangle. But as Wallace once said about his penchant for wearing the sneaker, “If the refrigerator ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

After seeing the success of the Air Force One, Nike followed with four sequels, the last of which dropped in 1990. But none of them ever came close to reaching the clout of the original. Get yours this weekend at Champs Sports when the shoe returns in the legendary “Peace” colorway.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney