Let’s perform a social experiment: go outside (get some fresh air) and watch the feet of those that pass by… Which types of sneakers do you see? There’s a good chance 2-3 street steppers had sooooome type of Nike SBs on-foot. But why? When did Nike SB become one of the most approachable sneaker lines in the land?
The history and impact of Nike SB is one of many topics our friends at The Colorways seek to explore. The Colorways is a Portland, OR-based festival that highlights the vibrancy of streetwear culture and the sneaker community as a whole. Their objective is to promote dialogue, entertain and spark new ideas. We’re all about sharing sneaker knowledge and initiating conversation here at Sneaker History, so The Colorways festival is something we can most def stand behind! If you’re in the Portland Area July 4-7 then be sure to come through! Learn more about the event, HERE.
In anticipation of The Colorway’s 4th Of July, Weekend-sneaker-learning-extravaganza lets take an early dive into Nike SB’s origins; and what the melding of skaters and sneakerheads meant for the sneaker community and the ‘sneaker game’ as a whole!
Nike SB blew up because it brought together two prominent sneaker consumers – skaters and sneakerheads. Unfortunately, like most things in life, Nike SB had to fail early in order to lean success.
Armed solely with a young Bam Margera, Nike Skateboarding first debuted in 1996 as a way to tap into the growing “extreme” sports category. We don’t know what the heck Nike Skateboarding was thinking in the early days because the first three silhouettes were hideous with three horrible names: the Nike Choad, Snak and Schimp (honestly, wtf lol). It was drops like these that made skaters skeptical of Nike in the first place; to them [skaters] Nike represented the establishment, Nike was ‘the man’, and skaters sniffed them out quick.
As you can probably guess… the Air Choad didn’t kill it at retail. The Swoosh needed a real mission behind their skateboarding initiative with a real team; so that’s exactly what Nike did in 2002 when they officially rebranded their skate division Nike SB, and signed a roster of skaters that would change everything.
The inaugural Nike Skateboarding team consisted of Richard Mulder, Danny Supa, Gino Iannucci, and Reese Forbes – four Skater’s Skaters. These OG members of the Nike SB family pioneered what would become a global phenomenon with their skills and Nike’s resources.
Skateboarding’s essence is naturally rooted in authenticity, and a skater can point out a poser with ease. For Nike to approach the sport successfully the second time around they needed to put respectable, genuine, skaters on their roster. With great success, Nike picked the right guys for the job. Each riders’ first signature shoes caught fire instantly and have aged beautifully (both in terms of construction and return on investment; ie. if you any of the 1st generation signature SB Dunks then you’re sitting on a goldmine).
Richard Mulder was skating Nikes way before the SB wave formed. He’d skate in white/ blue Tennis Classics back in ’94 and liked them so much that he used their look to directly inspire his first signature SB Dunk Low.
Danny Supa simply wanted his Dunks to be clean and dope. The freshest colors that came to mind were the ones used by his hometown NY Knicks.
Those are just two very early, digestible, examples of SB’s authenticity – their products were truly for skaters by skaters, and that connection allowed Nike SB to succeed. By 2009 Nike SB would splice in top-tier, marquee, skaters like Paul Rodriguez and Eric Koston to their roster, and created unique signature shoes for both respective elite skaters. As the 2020s approach, Nike SB is poised for continued greatness because they sponsor (arguably) Earth’s best skateboarder right now – Nyjah Huston.
Technology and attention to athletic needs immediately set SB apart from competitors too. Nike brilliantly repurposed the 1985 Dunk by chopping it down to a low-top, adding triple stitching, padding on the tongue and injecting Zoom Air into the midsole. The Dunk served as the blueprint of Nike SB’s repurposing (protro-ing in a way) of historically non-skate shoes into viable instruments of kickflipping.
Mark Gonzales and Steve Caballero both messed with Jordan 1’s heavy back in the day, and Lance Mountain & the Bones Brigade had been down with the Nike Blazer since the early ’90s. So Nike re-tooled both shoes [AJ1 & Blazer] for skating in the 2000s, and now they’re not only great skate shoes, but certain CWs are cherished and highly sought after.
All of this, literally all of it, happened under the watchful eye of Sandy Bodecker whom was hired as the head of Nike SB in 2001. Sandy captured those authentic, real-life skate stories we covered above, and implemented a winning strategy. Athletes like Paul Rodriguez are considered the LeBron James equivalent of skateboarding, and Bodecker understood that dynamic. Not all heroes look the same. Not every superstar throws a football… a superstar can be someone like P-Rod 360-flipping a 6 stair. Channeling the star power of their skateboarders (and collaborators like Supreme, De La Soul, Stussy, etc) allowed SB to carry more intrinsic value to consumers aka hype and product lust; the “I need these” mentality.
Sadly, we lost Sandy earlier this year from a battle with cancer; but his legacy will live on through his work, family, and friends he impacted.
Sandy created the hype formula: limited quantities, compelling storytelling, and exclusive distribution. Sounds like the modern sneaker game, right? The formula was tested multiple times in the early 2000s and it worked. Ever. Single. Time. They. Wanted. It. To.
Of course, the Nike SB Dunk x Supreme drops of 2002 (and ’03) shattered the Earth in terms of quantity vs. demand and established the earliest recorded instances of extreme hype.
Fast forward to 2005 and you’d find insane SB releases like the riot forming ‘Pigeon Dunk’ by Jeff Staple and the ‘Tiffany Dunk’ by Diamond Supply Co. These two drops, in particular, grabbed headlines outside of the sneaker news bubble and put hyped sneakers on the map. Sure, “normal people” must’ve always found sneakerheads a little weird and compulsive with their sneaker habits, but the frenzy surrounding these two Dunks put the sneakerhead mentality on full blast. For the first time, a wider audience heard the term ‘sneakerhead’ all because of these prolific sneakers by Nike SB. Nike quickly learned that the hyped SB formula Sandy created could work on any shoe – birthing the modern sneaker landscape. The shift was slow at first up until about 2008… that’s when everything flipped. From 2002-08 exclusive sneakers were hot comedies to a niche group of collectors aka post-2000 sneakerheads (the combined forces of shoe crackheads and skaters), so copping a pair of shoes was hard because you were dealing with a small(er) dedicated group of people. Once ‘other’ people learned that money could be made from these rare SBs (and other limited releases like Air Jordans) then the competition for kicks grew… and grew… and grew… Resulting in the buying/selling sneaker culture of the present day.
More recent examples like last year’s ComplexCon have shown that the insane demand for coveted Nike SBs hasn’t gone anywhere even though the line’s overall popular might’ve weaned over the last decade. Diamond Supply Co.’s latest collaborative Dunks got so crazy that the Complex Con release had to be shut down due to security concerns. Next time you get salty about missing out on a limited pair of Supreme Tailwinds or limited edition Jays then thank Nike SB, and think back to what Sandy Bodecker and SB did for the game… the changed everything!!!
Be sure to read up on your SB history because it’s a really deep and interesting segment of sneaker history; and don’t forget to check out The Colorways this Fourth of July Weekend in Portland, OR!! Tickets will be on sale soon!!