In mid-1971, and in the wake of rebranding, the company formerly known as Blue Ribbon Sports and now known as Nike, was positioned at the heart of the burgeoning global footwear business. In the midst of a tense ownership battle with Onitsuka Tiger, and despite abundant opportunity ahead, Nike faced a number of challenges in expanding their footprint beyond track and running shoes. Up against entrenched players, yet unafraid of fierce competition, Nike embodied their future slogan “Just do it” and decided to enter a new market; basketball.
In the early-70s, Converse and Adidas dominated NBA court - knowing the extent to which they were outmatched, Nike looked to make a major move by poaching a star player from their competition. Enter San Antonio Spurs guard and 4-time NBA scoring champion George “Iceman” Gervin. Known for his knack for finishing around the rim and ice cold attitude, anywhere Gervin played became an instant advertisement for Nike. Having secured his services at Adidas’ expense, Nike’s basketball division saw an uptick that would set the stage for the ultimate basketball shoe yet to come.
By the late-70s, Nike’s strategic direction had shifted firmly into basketball - with the division accounting for 24% of Nike’s total revenue in 1980. By 1984, the US footwear market was facing a major existential threat. A Senate hearing in May ‘84 on the future of imported footwear threw a curveball at an industry, as scrutiny on imported goods reached a crescendo. At the same time, the development of the seminal Magic vs. Bird, Lakers and Celtics rivalry demoted the Blazer to the bench. Both Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were Converse athletes, along with other top NBA stars from Isiah Thomas to Bernard King. The early albeit short-lived success of the Iceman and the Blazer would foreshadow the eventual success Nike would achieve in basketball. This backdrop provided the ultimate motivation for the birth of the Jordan 1 in 1985, with the Blazer’s iconic collaboration fundamental to the success of Air Jordan.
To be continued…
As relevant today as it was five decades ago, the basketball shoe named for the hometown Portland Trail Blazers and worn by 70s NBA icon George “Iceman” Gervin has seen numerous interpretations and has been adopted by subcultures well beyond the basketball world for which it was originally designed. Long cemented in both sub- and main-stream culture, the Nike Blazer has become a stalwart for sneakerheads due to a number of high profile collaborations including Supreme, Off-White, and Comme des Garcons.
The Blazer fell out of favor in the 1980s as basketball sneaker and sneaker technology jumped forward, leading to a forgettable 90s for the silhouette. However, the shoe found a home in Nike’s SB program in the mid-2000s and returned to prominence following a Stussy collaboration in 2002 and a Supreme collaboration in 2006. The original rigid design of the Blazer and subsequent alterations suited it to the wear and tear that a skate shoe required.
With a new home on the skate park the Blazer’s lifespan was revitalized and with Off-White collaborations in 2017 and 2018 the silhouette has seen a resurgence. Industry insiders will tell you that the Blazer will have a place in every sneakerheads collection for years to come. With a fascinating history and clean aesthetic, the Blazer remains a seminal shoe on the court or the street.