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Charting the Evolution of the Air Force 1 Sneaker over Last 30 Years

Dan FavaleFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 7, 2017

Charting the Evolution of the Air Force 1 Sneaker over Last 30 Years

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    Nike Air Force I's are more than just a basketball shoe.

    These kicks have become a cultural icon—sneakers that aren't just synonymous with basketball, but life in general. 

    Everywhere you go, you still see this shoe. It has changed a great deal over the last 30 years, but it is still wildly popular. Never before has something you wear on your feet been held in such high regard.

    That's part of the thrill these sneakers hold. They're steeped in both history and admiration.

    And though the sneaker itself has evolved, its reputation is still intact three decades later.

Air Force I (1982)

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    Moses Malone helped put these shoes on the map.

    The original version of the Air Force I was released in 1982, and their popularity skyrocketed when Malone won a championship donning them in 1983.

    Though the original color scheme and overall design is simplistic, the support it provides was nothing short of innovative back then.

    It added a wealth of support from heel all the way up past the ankles, and it was easily one of the highest shoes of the period.

    Since its inception, over 1,700 different color variations of the shoe have been released. 

    That's not only incredible, but also demonstrative of the popularity this particular sneaker still generates.

Air Force II (1987)

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    Nike got a little bolder when it released its Air Force II version of the heralded sneakers.

    Once again, height was preached and velcro was not.

    The sole of the shoe was flatter, which helped reach consumers who wore them recreationally. It also appears much looser around the ankle, as also to imply this was geared toward the casual consumer as well.

    That said, not much about the shoe changed between the I and II.

    The overall structure and design of it was not compromised by any means, and it still served the same multifaceted purpose.

Air Force III (1988)

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    Nike emphasized support even more with its third installment of the sneaker.

    Though the first one presented some increased support, it was sacrificed in favor of convenience in the second one. This one, however, provided much more foundational support than its predecessors.

    This was also the time when Nike seemingly began toiling with more unconventional schemes. They were not your traditional all white hightop, but instead, bled colors on most designs.

    Furthermore, this shoe caught fire in the NBA. Basketball players were wearing them left and right because they were both fashionable and effective.

    Not too shabby if you ask me.

Air Force IV (1989)

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    This version was also known as the Air Force STS.

    David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs helped make this one famous. He wore it regularly throughout his rookie season.

    Not much changed between the Air Force IV and the Air Force III, though the support at the top of it did extend slightly higher. 

    Nike continued to experiment with different color schemes here as well.

    Personally, I'm not too partial to this edition, but who am I to doubt Robinson's taste?

Air Force V (1990)

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    Barely anything changed between the Air Force IV and Air Force.

    However, the V was the first of these takes to make the shoe's air bag visible on the side heel.

    Also, this version, in Nike's never-ending quest to preach height, stretched slightly higher than any of the ones before it.

    This proved to be the last "original" Air Force model made.

Nike Air Force XXV (2007)

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    In 2007, Nike released the Air Force VI or XXV for the 25th anniversary of the line.

    This version's inspiration stemmed from its original release in 1982 but emphasized bolder colorways.

    As you may notice, the velcro came back. While the velcro strip was totally outdated by this point, it adds a classic flair to a modernized take on the 1982 Air Force I.

    Call me crazy, but this was my favorite one in the line. Maybe it was just the variation in color ways.

    Or maybe I'm just intrigued by the re-emergence of velcro. Plus, who doesn't love a commercial where both Kobe Bryant and LeBron James make a cameo?

    Regardless, this update was simply awesome all around.

Air Force 09

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    Nike released a slightly updated version of the Air Force in 2009, fittingly called the Air Force 09.

    Height wasn't preached nearly as much in this one nor was this as hyped a version. It was also originally released in just black and white.

    Boring much?

    That said, this particular color scheme/remake pictured above is still pretty cool.

    I couldn't see playing basketball in these ones, though.

    Could you?

Air Force Five Boroughs

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    Another update of the Air Force I was released in 2009.

    The height of the shoe was cut down significantly, and while you could wear it to play basketball, it was more of a casual version.

    This one certainly didn't provide as much support as the others, but the Five Boroughs was a huge hit. I personally remember seeing them all over just after they were released.

    And it doesn't matter that they really weren't ideal for playing hoops; the five different colorways that were released were simply awesome.

Air Force I 30th Anniversary Edition (2012)

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    The moment we've all been waiting 30 years for has finally arrived.

    Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration, but you get my point.

    The newest take on the Air Force line is sleek to say the least. Its low-cut design plays off of the Five Boroughs version, but it's got a debonaire look all its own.

    Again, you can supposedly wear these to ball in, but I wouldn't. It has some added cushioning, but 1) look at how low they get and 2) would you really want to scuff these?

    I know I wouldn't.

    Almost needless to say, it's 30 years later and the Air Force brand is still alive, well and kicking.

    No pun intended.

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