Take a trip back with us to 2008.
With the NBA reaching another talent apex—LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade hitting their peaks—Nike branched out from its signature footwear projects and opted to craft a brand new sneaker and push it to the moon. It was a totalitarian approach.
The mad chemists—led by Nike designer Eric Avar—shuffled around in the lab and once they emerged, the Nike Hyperdunk was born.
The Hyperdunk was considered as good, if not better, than any signature effort on the market. The shoe also arrived during a transitional period for the Swoosh regime and men's basketball.
Bryant was the league's resident sheriff at the time, playing in three straight NBA Finals from 2008 to 2010 for the Los Angeles Lakers. Alongside King James, Nike was unloading fresh designs to a hungry, market-ready audience. To add canisters of fuel to the fire, Seattle SuperSonics rookie Kevin Durant also received his own shoe to start the 2008-09 campaign.
The Hyperdunk received special treatment, unlike the majority of non-signature kicks. Nike understood there was a rare opportunity with the 2008 Olympic Games around the corner, so it first pushed the shoe onto a marquee athlete.
"The thing that sold me on it was the technology," Bryant said when he received the sneakers, per ESPN.com's Nick DePaula.
The Hyperdunk was the first Nike basketball shoe to feature Flywire and Lunar Foam. Flywire is a series of cables woven together, used to reduce weight while increasing stability, while Lunar Foam is a lightweight cushioning platform meant to reduce the force of impact. Both became staples of Nike's portfolio.
The inclusion of these elements was critical at the time. And Bryant, with his history of pushing for new technological narratives, was the perfect test pilot for the shoe.
An Olympic Connection
Coming off an embarrassing bronze-medal campaign four years earlier, the 2008 Olympic team was focused on unleashing American fury. Bryant would ensure a successful flight.
Nike used the 2008 Bejing Olympics as the Hyperdunk's launch point. With Bryant already wearing the shoe and guiding the ship, the Hyperdunk took flight—literally—and caught the attention of consumers.
Team USA captured the gold by going 8-0, putting rival Spain away in the final contest by a final tally of 118-107. Bryant scored 20 points and dished out six assists.
Back at home, Nike wasn't only relying on the Olympics to push product. Bryant's infamous "Jumping over an Aston Martin" commercial hit the airwaves, blending reality with fiction.
The premise was executed to perfection. It put a spotlight once again on Bryant and, by default, the Hyperdunk.
Rolling out the Hyperdunk
Bryant's leap wasn't the only piece of media to accompany the sneaker's debut. Nike unleashed a full-blown marketing campaign, focusing on victims of the Hyperdunk's wrath.
The series was able to shine more of a street hoops spotlight on the shoe, pivoting away from the exclusive Bryant-related content.
A gold medal, fluid marketing plan and playable design turned the original Hyperdunk into a transcendent basketball sneaker. "Not only did the shoe set a new precedent for the future of footwear, but it was one of the best performance shoes to date," Wear Tester's Stan Tse wrote.
In 2008, when USA Basketball was anxious to stage a comeback on the international stage, the Hyperdunk delivered. Bryant wore the sneaker proudly and Nike reaped the rewards.
The Hyperdunk has taken significant strides since inception. It has served as a staple of Nike footwear, receiving fresh models on a recurring basis.
Proof of the Hyperdunk's longevity came by way of Virgil Abloh of Off-White entering the Nike design lab and creating his own series of specialty shoes. One of the models he selected to dissect was the 2017 Hyperdunk.
Abloh's "tear it down" approach helped refocus the importance of the Hyperdunk. It's a shoe that started with Olympic gold and has continued to defy boundaries of being a "non-signature" offering.
Starting with those Bejing Olympic hardcourts, landing on the neighborhood asphalt parks and peaking with Abloh's high-fashion approach, the Nike Hyperdunk remains a living, breathing testament to innovation.
All stats and information courtesy of Sports Reference, unless noted otherwise.