It’s 1985. Michael J. Fox is Marty McFly in the original Back to the Future on the big screen, wearing Nike Bruins while blowing up the box office. This should be a big deal for Nike, but by orders of magnitude, it is not the biggest moment for Nike sneakers this year.
1985 saw the launch of the Air Jordan 1 (along with MJ’s basketball career), and the launch of the Nike Dunk. Now, if you name a basketball sneaker the “Dunk,” it has a lot to live up to. With Jordan as their NBA bet, Nike focused its marketing machine on college ball for the Dunk. They became the official sneaker of several Division I teams, with versions of the original high top design in colourways made to match the uniforms of schools like Kentucky, Michigan, and Georgetown. Nike dubbed the campaign “Be True To Your School.” It was no “Just Do It” (that would come in 1988, for you ad nerds), but it worked and got the Dunk off to a strong start.
Nike’s success, however, got in the way of Nike’s success (what?). The Air Jordan was bigger than anybody could have seen coming as its success eclipsed the Dunk for people who dunked professionally. If there wasn’t room for the Dunk in pro ball, what’s a shoe to do?
For the burgeoning streetwear scene, the Dunk’s silhouette, variations, and variety of colourways were just what sneakerheads were looking for. The shoe had a new home in streetwear that sustained its popularity and made sure fresh new styles sold out quick. Then, likely due to the popularity in streetwear, and almost accidentally, Nike found a market for the Dunk in a completely different sport altogether: skateboarding.
There’s an alternate universe out there somewhere, where the Dunks are called Ollies and the world makes more sense. Dunks were made for skating, it just took skateboarders around a decade to start figuring it out. The Dunk has become so popular with skaters, that there have been Nike SB releases of it, sans name change. Simply put, Dunks thrash.
It’s hard not to compare the success of Dunks next to the success of the Air Jordan over the years. They were both designed by Peter Moore, they both took cues from the Nike Terminator and Legend, and they have the same number of eyelets if you want to get really technical. The Dunk seems to have lived in Air Jordan’s shadow, but maybe not for much longer.
The Dunk is still insanely popular with sneakerheads and skaters, and its iconic silhouette and variety of colourways have helped it endure trends as a streetwear staple. Believe it or not, in 2022 more Dunks were sold worldwide than Air Jordans for the first time ever. It could be that the 2020s will be the decade of Dunks.