Nike was in a difficult position marketing a player like Barkley. His first Nike sneaker he was known for wearing was the 1987 release of the Air Force High, and Barkley, along with David Robinson, became the face of the Air Force lineâ€”shoes designed for the powerful impact and rigor of the game inside the paint. In Sole Provider: 30 Years of Nike Basketball, the section on Barkley’s years with the brand was appropriately titled, “How to Market a Madman.” Nike knew they had a man they could market, and continued making shoes for his no-nonsense style of play. The model’s relevance has endure, as today’s sneaker market still sees releases of the Air Force 180, which has been released in many colorways, the most famous of which is a shoe which many call a game-changerâ€”the Union Air Force 180 that was released at UNION.
The Union 180 was part of the Clerks pack which allowed shops like UNDEFEATED, UNION, and Stussy to customize a sneaker. The UNION skate shop chose the Air Force 180 and gave it what became an iconic makeover with a safari print and a bright color palate which included a heel and tongue design in mottled pink, blue, and yellow. The aggressive colorway and limited production of the shoe paved the way for limited edition releases from influential boutiques in the coming years like HUF, True, Foot Patrol, and NORT. Mike Packer of Teaneck, NJ, who graciously lent us this original model for us to photograph, said this is the first release that he remembered that caused a long line and led to a lot of hype. In a way, Barkley’s impact as an aggressive style which made him one of the NBA’s top 50 players, with that, there is an unmistakable boldness and uniqueness in that was unrivaled at that time.