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RE-Fresh: Nike Driving Force (1989)

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Produced by: Dan Hwang
Written by: Jesse Carr

For this installment of the RE-Fresh series, we take a look at our third Nike Force model, the Driving Force. We’ve already closely inspected the Air Force 180 worn by Charles Barkley and the Air Force 180 High Pump model worn by David Robinson. The Force line carried sneakers meant for forwards and centers whose games demanded shoes that could handle the gritty style of play in the paint, whereas the Flight line had sneakers with a lighter build to enable guards to cross their opponents over with ease. Even without the massive “Force” logo on the tongue to clue you in, a glance at the monstrous, rugged high top lets you know which line this model finds itself in.


The sneaker released in 1989 at a time during which Nike was on top of the basketball market. With their NBA roster filled with recognizable guards and forwards, the TV and print media bustled with Nike ads, which became increasingly more omnipresent once the start of the 1990s hit. 1989 found Nike basketball models in an unfamiliar place to feature prominent sneakers – Hollywood. Though the Driving Force didn’t appear in Spike Lee‘s “Do the Right Thing” directly – other shoes like the Buggin’ Out’s Air Jordan IV, Mookie’s Medicine Ball Air Trainer III, and Radio Raheem’s Air Revolutions did get some screen time – many in the Bedford Stuyvesant setting of the film wore Nike kicks from all price points. The Driving Force was released as a strong basketball model that could hold its own without carrying the $100 price tag of the Air Jordan IV.


One prominent celebrity who was caught rockin’ the Driving Force high tops is someone who real sneaker collectors know has worn a number of classic Nike models on screen – Jerry Seinfeld. Better known for his acerbic wit than his shoe game, Seinfeld began in July of 1989 to a lukewarm audience reception. After a season or two of critical success, the show began to gain steam with widespread viewers, who would have seen Jerry’s collection of models like the Air Jordan V “Grape,” the Air Tech Challenge II (our RE-Fresh model from last month), the Nike Air Huarache Triax (which has a similar colorway to our RE-Fresh Air Flight Huarache model), and many more. He wore the low top version of the Driving Force in a similar colorway to this month’s model in a photo we’re featuring here.


Aside from the significance of this shoe and similar models in pop culture, the design itself is emblematic of Nike’s hoops kicks for many years. After evolving from the soft collar and flexible ankle of the first basketball sneaker, the Nike Blazer, Nike gradually progressed into making higher profile models with an increasing level of ankle support and durability. Our model is an original from 1989, and it features a thick and durable midsole with a midfoot in white and gray leather with a blue swoosh to match the padded, linear patterned rear collar area. The branding appears on the collar with a yellow outline similar to the UCLA Bruins team colors, the heel tab, and the oversized text on the fat tongue.

This Nike model, to us anyway, represents what the RE-Fresh project was designed to highlight – sneakers from yesteryear that may have slipped out of your memory. And if you are among the high percentage of our readers who may not be old enough to remember what sneakers people had on their feet in the late 80s, hopefully this look at a serviceable Nike model will make you dig deeper into the culture of a brand that’s still making a strong line of court-ready models. But for the current roster of Nike basketball shoes, you will be hard pressed to find any that look quite like the Driving Force.

Original 1989 deadstock Nike Driving Force

Thanks to Mike Packer of Packer Shoes.