The History Of The Nike Dunk

The Nike Dunk has been one of the most popular and collectible trainer models on the market in the past few years. This can be attributed to its simple design and clever colour blocking but also to its long and complicated history.

With its transformation from basketball shoe to skating staple, the Dunk has had a full-force resurrection in recent years, well beyond its initial function as a college hoop sneaker by a wide margin. One thing has stayed constant, however: the Dunk's extraordinary ability to integrate art, fashion, music, and popular culture, serving as a shoe for a variety of subcultures around the world on a consistent basis. The Dunk has an extraordinarily rich history.

With a strong reputation for both performance and street style in today's world, the Nike Dunk and Nike SB Dunk have made their mark and experienced a massive rebirth in popularity in recent years. According to a study from StockX, Nike's SB Dunk has become the latest model to smash resale records on the market in 2020, with its value jumping by more than 300 percent in the process. Even the mainline, non-collaborative pairs are selling out in record time, regardless of whether they are High or Low, Nike or Nike SB, or any other style. Each and every Nike Dunk iteration is regarded as a pot of gold.

Today, we will look into the iconic model’s crazy history and look into the reasons it has made such a big come back. 

The beginnings

The Dunk was created by Peter C. Moore, who also designed the Air Jordan 1. The model’s intended name was not “Dunk”, it was modified to honour the 40th anniversary of the first ever slam dunk. 

The Nike Dunk High is a high-top basketball sneaker that was created from four previous Nike models: the Terminator, the Air Force 1, the Legend and the Air Jordan 1. The Nike Dunk's forerunners helped shape the silhouette's final design, but it was the tale surrounding the sneaker's debut release that gave it its distinct appeal.

The Dunk, designed for the NCAA (National College Athletic Association), was first introduced in 1985 and soon became a hit. And the reason for its popularity is simple, the launching of the shoe coincided with the golden era of basketball in the United States. The Nike Dunk was an instant hit in basketball circles when it was released, because of its ability to fit basketball tactics and manoeuvres like rotating and blocking. The 1985 Nike Dunk High, was advertised with the "Be True To Your School” campaign. Nike released the model in the colours of the 7 biggest American universities which meant that fans, players and fellow students would buy the shoes, making them THE shoes to have.

But the success did not last forever. As newer and more modern models were released, the Dunk lost its popularity and was relegated to sales racks.

The Skaters

But as the saying goes, one man’s trash is one man’s treasure. As the Nike Dunk, became obsolete for basketball fans and trainer collectors,  it found its way onto the feet of a different group. Skaters! 

In the late 1980s to early 1990s, skateboarding saw the dawn of a new golden age. And the Dunks were a perfect match for skateboarders for almost the same reasons it was popular with basketball players. Dunks were really good for skating as their leather provided comfort but made them strong and more resistant to scruffs and scrapes while their soles provided the right amount of grip to perform the craziest tricks. But what really cemented the Dunk’s popularity was its low price, accessibility and its versatility.

The popularity of the Dunks in the skater community came as a surprise for Nike as they had tried to enter the skater world multiple times and failed miserably each time.

In 2001, Nike released the Nike Skateboarding (often shortened to Nike SB). The arrival of the Nike SB Dunk was a big moment for the skate industry. This new model was based on the classic basketball shoe but underwent a few key updates. The brand new SB Dunk distinguished itself from the Dunk by its puffier tongue, thicker outsole broader foot radius and more durable mudguard. The Nike SB was made with skaters’ concerns in mind and delivered what the community needed: An improved version of the popular Dunk.

The crash

Nike's success had been steady since 1999, but it all began to dwindle in the late 2000s. Dunks were no longer the hottest footwear, as they had once again been replaced by newer and more modern models. Pairs that had been selling for thousands of dollars quickly lost their value and were sold for very little. Collectors began selling their whole collections in order to obtain new, trendy pairs. The public’s tastes in trainers shifted and the Dunk went back into the abyss.

There is no definite time or event that made the Dunk loose its momentum, it was the result of a the public getting over the model. 

The return of a legend

After many years of absence, the Dunk made it turn in 2015 with the original Nike Dunk High "BTTYS" reintroduction. The iconic model was brought back to celebrate its 30th birthday. Nike release an identical replica of the original to celebrate the big milestone. Despite the shoe's discreet sale performance, this release reintroduced the iconic Dunk to the world. 

In 2016, COMME des GARÇONS decided to put the Dunk on their runway, cementing the return in the spotlight for Dunks. This collaboration became a must-have for many in the fashion industry after it was released in stores. As the buzz surrounding the Dunk began to resurface, Nike began to experiment with different colorways and styles.

Since 2019 Nike has collaborated with big names such as Travis Scott and Off-White, which keeps amplifying the trainers community's enthusiasm for the iconic model. The Dunk's popularity has only grown so much in the last two years that Nike brought back classic colorways and introduced insane collaborations with Ben & Jerry's, Strangelove Skateboards, and Cactus Plant Flea Market. 

As you can see, the Nike Dunk has had a long and rich history. Dunks have made a big dent in basketball and skating culture and are still enjoyed by both groups to this day. They have come in and out of style, but most importantly, they have revolutionised the world of trainers in so many ways.

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