RE-Fresh: Nike Air Force 180 High (1991)

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Produced by: Dan Hwang
Written by: Jesse Carr

David Robinson played the game with fire and unmistakable poise. His on-court persona didn't, however, match his placid demeanor outside the gym. Many know him as Mr. Robinson, the moniker bestowed on him by a famous Nike campaign, while others knew him as the Admiral - a name derived from his service for the U.S. Naval Academy. Robinson dominated the hardwood, and perhaps his most awe-inspiring accomplishment was a quadruple-double with more 34 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds, and 10 blocks against the Pistons in 1994. On the court, he wore a few famous Nike models, including this segment's RE-Fresh model, the Air Force 180 from 1991. Reebok's basketball line is best known for the innovation of their Pump technology, which Nike countered with three models of its own, the Air Pressure, the Air Command Force, and the Air Force 180.

These ultra-high top sneakers showcased Nike's rugged "Force" line of basketball kicks geared for the rigors of the frontcourt. Their lighter, backcourt kicks worn by the likes of Scottie Pippen and Ron Harper, comprised the "Flight" series best known for their sleek, streamlined design. Robinson's game was refined and technically sound, as he was a powerful 7-footer with an All-American pedigree. Boasting strong grades and a degree in mathematics, Mr. Robinson was the first overall pick in the 1987 draft, though the San Antonio Spurs knew they would need to wait until he served his two years in the Navy as a civil engineer to see him on the court.

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When Robinson did join the San Antonio Spurs, his impact was immediate, as the Spurs had the single greatest improvement in wins from one season to another with 35 more victories and a playoff berth. He later earned the title of MVP in 1995 and in 1996 earned a place among the NBA's 50 greatest players. Canton, Ohio, the home of the NBA Hall of Fame, welcomed him two years ago as part of the 2009 class, cementing his legacy. He had a great mind, an impossibly rare combination of size, brut force, and quickness, and the personality of a gentleman. What he initially lacked was street credibility, as algorithms and engineering don't normally translate into marketability.

It didn't take Nike long to craft a strategy to sell Robinson to the heads on the asphalt. He was the polar opposite of Charles Barkley, who fought, cursed, and received multiple fines from the NBA. The minds at Nike decided to make a Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood series of commercials that embraced the Admiral's qualities and featured him in the role of the famous show host who shared his surname. In one commercial, Mr. Robinson had Barkley as a guest on the show. As Robinson played with a toy airplane, Barkley charged through the door and explained all the ways to avoid being fined by the league. Robinson was buttoned-up, and Nike didn't attempt to shift that perception, and they ended up with a successful campaign as a result.

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The sneaker itself features a slew of technical innovations, highlighted by Nike's version of a pump, which they called the Air-Fit system marked by cushioned bags in the ankle and under the midfoot. The wearer controlled the level of inflation of each section with the wheel that is prominently featured on the collar, which when turned helps each section to be inflated separately. The 180 Air unit promised 50% more Nike Air then had ever put into any sneaker, and the cushioning from the bags on the heel and forefoot promised a softer landing for big men like Robinson.

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The shoe maintains a legacy as one of Nike's most expensive original models. It was never re-released, as the cost of replicating the system likely outweighs the nostalgic or monetary gain of the endeavor. When it originally released in 1991, the Air Force 180 High fetched $175, and with inflation, that would mean a tag of about $275 today. So it's safe to say this model isn't high on the priority retro list. But in the resale market, this shoe can see price tags of anywhere between $1,000 and $3,000, depending on the condition of the model. There's something that can't be duplicated about a sneaker with all of these bells and whistles, maybe the only chance most people will ever have to see these will be at conventions behind plastic

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Original 1991 deadstock Nike Air Force 180 High
from Dan Hwang's collection.

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