Produced by: Dan Hwang
Written by: Jesse Carr
1997 was a landmark year at Nike. It wasn’t just the Air Jordan XII (12) or Scottie Pippen’s first signature model (he’d worn the Air More Uptempo, which we featured as our Re-Fresh model last month). 1997 was marked by the execution of an idea that seemed impossible: attach a sole to a liquid that had been poured into mold and then hardened. The idea was to have the entire upper, mid, and outsole made from a single cast, and bringing the concept into fruition was one of the biggest challenges in the history of Nike. But, after a host of issues that blocked the progress, the Air Foamposite 1 was born, and the footwear game was changed forever.
Many may wear their athletic shoes to the movies, the mall, and maybe even the club. But the purpose of the design of a properly-conceptualized basketball sneaker is to withstand the rigors of a 6 footer who may weigh 200+ pounds sprinting, stopping, leaping, and shifting for extended periods of time over multiple games. In the history of shoe design, no one had ever made or seen anything like the Foamposite, which was designed to hold its shape that was supposed to be very close to the natural shape of the human foot and be incredibly lightweight as well.
Sole Provider, Nike’s book on the history of their basketball line, mentioned that the original mold for the sneaker cost $750,000 and has since been destroyed. Daewoo, the car manufacturer, was the first to successfully build the mold that allowed for liquid and fabric that provided the adequate stretch and stability for the material. Once it was finally made, the price tag on the shoe was close to $200, which was astronomical, especially considering that it was 1997. The price tag has stayed the same at retail for today’s retro models, but some colorways for the Foams, like Dirty Copper, have hit double the retail price when sold on ebay.
Supposedly, Eric Avar, who worked for Nike, was showing Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway shoes for Penny to explore as possible signature models. After sifting through a few prototypes, Penny asked what a cast-off bag that he never even opened held inside. Avar initially dismissed the importance of the bag, but Penny persisted—he wanted to see what was in there. Avar pulled out the completed Air Foamposite 1, and Penny exclaimed, “This is what I want!” The shoe was first released in royal blue and black to match his Orlando Magic uniform, and the rest is well-chronicled history. Penny rocked the Foamposite and it made people’s necks snap when they were released to the public. Some detested the design, while others loved the forward-thinking mold that people compared to a beetle or roach. During the University of Arizona’s championship run, Mike Bibby, the standout Wildcat point guard, wore the audacious blue Foamposites, and gave the shoe even more exposure.
Today, the Foamposite 1 remains a mainstay in sneaker culture and on the hardwood. Gilbert Arenas wore them once this season, and Ray Allen wore a different colorway, later deemed the “Pearls” in the film He Got Game. The Foamposite is a bit different in culture than many hoop shoes. As a few sneaker retail people remember from back then, the model wasn’t jumping off the shelves the way that it does today. Mike Packer of Packer Shoes told me that they really didn’t sell well until Mike Bibby wore them for Arizona. Today, many say that the model has taken on more popularity than it did during its initial release. With wristband distribution at Nike stores for the release of Foamposite 1 non-original colorways like Dirty Copper and Pewter, sneaker fans clean out the shelves when they are released nowadays and line up for many hours to get the beetle-shaped shoes. Rappers like Wale and Q-Tip have been spotted for wearing these in multiple colorways, as have others in the music industry. And like many of the models we’ve featured, the sneaker evokes memories for people who remember its initial release. Keep checking for our exciting segment and hop in the time machine for trips back to when some classics we know so well were first introduced.