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RE-Fresh: Nike Air More Uptempo (1996)

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Produced by: Dan Hwang
Written by: Jesse Carr

In our third bi-monthly feature called Re-Fresh, we go back to the mid 90s to celebrate sneaker worn one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players, Scottie Pippen. After delving into two models from many years ago the 1972 Blazer and the 1984 Vandal Supreme we fast forward to a time when Nike Basketball sneakers dominated both the hardwood and the streets. Whereas the Blazer and Vandal Supreme were worn by entire teams, (like the 1977 Portland Trailblazers who faithfully wore the Blazer as part of their uniform) the sneaker world began to drift towards player signature models. In 1996, Scottie didn't have his own signature line yet, but the Air More Uptempo became the shoe synonymous with one of the game's great defenders.

Pippen spent the majority of his career in the shadow of the man whose sneakers and on-court performances were second to none. And while Pippen didn't rack up the stats that Jordan did, he is considered by many to be one of the game's greatest defenders. Pippen has the record for career assists and career steals for a forward, and he also holds the season record for steals by a forward. The six-time World Champion made the playoffs 16 straight seasons, and he was an integral part of each of those teams. It's no surprise to anyone that he was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame last year, which cements his legacy of one of the greats. In 1996, the same year that he was honored as one of the game's 50 greatest players, during the early part of the season, he wore our featured sneaker, the Air More Uptempo, and its bold styling turned heads across the league and found its way onto the feet of ballers and hustlers around the world.


Scottie Pippen wearing the Air More Uptempo (Olympics Edition) during practice at the '96 Olympics

The Air More Uptempo boasted a full length Air unit on the midsole, and the street-styled lettering of the giant "AIR" scrawled across the black nubuck upper. And while Pippen donned the original black and white model during the season, he also wore the Olympic colorway of the model in blue, white, and gold during his run on the second incarnation of the Dream Team in 1996. That Olympic model has since been retroed in its original form, including his Dream Team uniform number 8 on the heel. Since the days when 'Pip made the model famous, we've seen other players wear the model as well, and this season, Gilbert Arenas rocked the black and white pair during a game.


The AIR lettering on the site is indicative of hip-hop culture's influence during the mid-90s, the end of what some deem the golden years of the genre. Rap music had become a staple across the country, and it had just entered the "Jiggy"/Versace/Moet phase. And although New York was arguably the epicenter of all things hip-hop, other regions were beginning to put their stamp on the art form. Earlier in the decade, West Coast rappers began to assert themselves on the mainstream stage as well, and 1996 saw the eruption of a coastal war that grabbed headlines. But aside from the territorial anthems on both coasts, 1996 gave us full-fledged albums from rap juggernauts like De La Soul, Tupac, Outkast, A Tribe Called Quest, and a suave newcomer named Jay-Z. But while those artists boomed out of corporate radio stations, the independent movement was also in full swing, fueled by instrumental/breakbeat hip-hop from DJ Shadow and alternatives flows and syncopations from the likes of Company Flow and a raspy-voiced b-boy named Mos Def.


The independent spirit and the stamp that hip-hop culture had on mainstream America were both responsible in part for the aggressive street appeal of models like the Air More Uptempo. Other Nike Basketball models from '96 included the celebrated design of the Air Jordan XI (11), the Air Penny II, the Air Money, and the Air Much Uptempo, the little brother to our featured sneaker. The imagination and freedom in basketball sneaker design was in full swing. Many of the models from this era are still preferred, at least aesthetically, by many sneaker fans, and the styling of the Air More Uptempo is maybe the biggest and boldest example.