A brief history of the Nike Air More Uptempo

Nike Air More Uptempo 'Olympic' 2020 414962-104 (Lateral)

Photo: Nike

The Nike Air More Uptempo is one of the most popular basketball shoes to date, but even though it didn’t have a famous name tied to it, its popularity was significantly increased by the high profile wearers of the model. Known for its bold looks, the sneaker is nothing short of iconic.

The Nike Air More Uptempo traditionally comes in either a Durabuck, or leather upper, and the main feature of the sneaker is the oversized word Air written in bubble writing across the shoe. The sneaker also features a lot of branding, with Nike swooshes on the heel, outsole, midsole, toe, and tongue. The midsole contains full Nike Air cushioning, as the name suggests, and the last interesting detail are the accentuated pull tabs on the heel and tongue.

The Nike Air More Uptempo was first released in 1996, and was created by famous designer Wilson Smith. Also known for designing the Air Jordan 16 and 17, and the Air Max CB34, Charles Barkley’s signature shoe, Wilson Smith is a veteran designer that was even given the Oregon College of Design’s highest honor, yet the Air More Uptempo is debatably his biggest achievement. In a time where branding started to become more subdued, and Michael Jordan was trying to separate his sneaker line from Nike, the overt Nike Swoosh’s and the word Air written across the entire shoe was quite the statement.

It is important to also remember the celebrity’s behind the shoes success, as the Nike Air More Uptempo has also been a regular sight in the public eye. In its lifetime, the sneaker has been worn by everyone from Serena Williams and James Harden, to Wale and Rick Ross, but the man who started the craze off, was Scotty Pippin. Jordan’s right hand man was the main athlete behind the sneaker, and famously wore the sneaker in the 1996 Olympics, where Pippin won gold with the USA. In a similar way to how the Air Jordan 7 became more popular thanks to its involvement in the 1992 Olympics, the Air More Uptempo is often linked to its appearance in the event 4 years after. Many colorways of the Nike Air More Uptempo take inspiration from the 1996 Olympics, such as the Air More Uptempo “Olympic” that has retro-ed on a number of occasions, but also more recently the Air More Uptempo “Spirit of ’96.”

The 2010’s have also seen a resurgence of the classic basketball sneaker, as its chunky build and braggadocios Air branding have caught the attention of many influences in the fashion community. This popularity reached its peak back in 2017, when popular street wear brand, Supreme, collaborated with Nike on the shoe. Two colorways were created, with one coming in all-gold and the other in red and white, and the public loved them. The difference with these editions, as well as their unique colorways, was that the oversized lettering on the upper read Supreme, instead of Air. They also released around the time Supreme saw a massive increase in popularity, and as a result, the gold model, as well as the the red and white edition now resell for $600 and $1200 respectively.