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Andre Agassi Recalls How Nike's Challenge Court Collection Shaped His Identity

Oruny Choi@@orunychoiContributor IAugust 18, 2020

Tennis star Andre Agassi is seen in action, 1990.  (AP Photo)
Jon Simon/Bettmann via Getty Images

Resentment. Ownership. Identity.

All emotions and ideals tennis great Andre Agassi experienced that made him who he is today. Agassi spoke to B/R Kicks about how taking ownership of his life during his playing days took the form of a style that evolved over the course of a career that saw him win eight Grand Slam titles.

"Tennis was never a choice for me," Agassi said. "It was always something I had to do. And then at some point, it became the only thing I could do. And I think there was a lot of resentment in that, but there were a lot of rewards in it, too. So there was a lot of contradiction and conflict and I felt like what I wore was something that I could kind of choose and take ownership of, and I chose to kind of go down that anti-establishment road, because of that resentment."

Nike is celebrating the Challenge Court collection with a new line reprising core elements of the original line.
Nike is celebrating the Challenge Court collection with a new line reprising core elements of the original line.Photo courtesy of Nike

In 1990, Nike harnessed that spirit and created the Challenge Court collection, a line of sneakers and apparel built around the bold splashes of bright colors that marked Agassi on the court. The Challenge Court logo itself was inspired by an accidental ink blot, a disruptive symbol befitting Agassi as he challenged the status quo of tennis and pop culture.

Fast-forward 30 years, and Nike is celebrating the 30th anniversary of Challenge Court by reprising the core aspects of the catalog with Agassi's help. The 2020 Challenge Court collection releases August 24.

"Going through this process all over again has been a lot of fun, handpicking some of the stuff that we crafted together, a long time ago," Agassi said. "I suppose if you wait long enough in life, everything has come back again, even, you know, even a mullet maybe one day."

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Agassi reflected on his relationship with Nike and how the two became partners in 1988.

"It's paying tribute to, you know, an unbelievable company meeting a young kid who didn't know any better, as it related to my own identity and we both were willing to search it out together. To explore it and communicate it." He described the intersection between Nike and himself as a "perfect storm."

Agassi explained he's just as much a part of the process as he was 30 years ago while admitting the collaboration's ability to stand the test of time surprised him. "It's pretty fun sitting on this side, looking back on it."

Did Agassi know the "Hot Lava" colorway of his Air Tech Challenge II signature shoe would become as iconic as it is today? "No, I didn't," Agassi said with a laugh. "I really didn't know."

Agassi is modest about his accomplishments and, even in hindsight, does not waver on the notion that with every decision and move he made on and off the court, he was true to himself.

"I don't know if I made any decisions that had a sustainable thought process to it, you know, back in the day," Agassi said. "But it was always kind of authentic. You know, I mean, same thing with me on a tennis court. It's like OK, maybe it was a good day, maybe it wasn't, but it was going to be a real day. That's for sure."

Of the many sneakers and colorways Agassi had with Nike, two remain special to him. "The black one that I wore at the U.S. Open in '94 with a black sock. There was something about that, that always, you know, always pulls me back.

The Nike Air Tech Challenge II “Hot Lava.”
The Nike Air Tech Challenge II “Hot Lava.”Photo courtesy of Nike

"But the Hot Lava with the move of the shoe looked like it was going 100 miles an hour. I always responded to that and that kind of broke the mold. You know, it's like your children. They have their strengths and their weaknesses and you kind of love them the same."

Despite all his accolades, Agassi's greatest accomplishment is how he humanized the sport of tennis and normalized the way athletes express themselves today.

The 2020 Challenge Court collection celebrates that legacy.

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