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Reference points: Understanding the Nike Air Force

Unpacking one of Nike's Icons

by Gabriele Menozzi

Nike Air Force

The very foundation of a modern basketball shoe. The Nike Air Force 1 makes its way to every top-selling sneaker list every single year. How? Well, it’s one of the cheapest mainstream Nike models around, and it comes in new colorways and versions every year, making sneakerheads add another Air Force 1 to their collection.

Aside from the ever-so-iconic Triple White AF1 Lows, the shoe met its former glory in basketball and then took on a full Sportswear label when Nike’s newer, lighter sneakers arrived for a change. It still didn’t stop the Air Force 1 to rack up sales.

 It isn’t just any basketball shoe-turned-lifestyle sneaker, the Air Force 1 is an artist’s canvas. It has been part of various collaborations with other major brands and has been included in just about every Nike Theme Pack imaginable. Whether it was Christmas, Halloween, Chinese New Year, and even St. Patrick’s Day, the Air Force 1 will always be there.

 With that said, take a look back on some of the best colorways and most expensive releases of the Air Force 1 that ever graced the sneaker world in this complete guide to the AF1.

On-court Weapon

Nike’s basketball heritage goes all the way back to 1972 with the Nike Bruin and Blazer.

Nike’s basketball heritage goes all the way back to 1972 with the Nike Bruin and Blazer. Both sneakers featured leather and suede uppers atop a cupsole and herringbone traction. A decade later, there was another basketball shoe that dominated basketball on-court fashion and the global streetwear culture, the Nike Air Force One.

 Designed by Bruce Kilgore, the Nike Air Force 1 was the first basketball sneaker to utilize Nike Air cushioning. The Air unit ran from the heel up to the midfoot (about 3/4 length) and is encased within a thick PU (polyurethane) midsole. With performance in mind, Kilgore was very specific with the traction and ankle support as well, the first AF1s were actually high-tops with an ankle strap on the lace collar. It was comfortable enough for its time; the crispy leather makes the shoe comfortable and durable for long-time wear. The outsole features a concentric circle pattern that grips the hardwood and outdoor courts very well.

The first colorway to ever release was a White/Neutral Grey combination. The high-top basketball shoes looked so good with even higher socks that NBA players started wearing them. More team color-friendly AF1s arrived to cater to the players who wanted to rock Nike’s latest basketball shoe in the 80s.

In 1983, the Air Force 1 Low arrived. It has gotten rid of the ankle strap, the shoe has no prominent feature anymore - except there still is, the shiny lace dubrae. The “bling” is inscribed with an AF1 label on both pairs. Before the 2007 version of the AF1, the dubraes are actually circular. It was then changed in a rectangular form after its 25th anniversary.

The shoe had a respectable time on the court and was worn by some of the league’s biggest and upcoming stars. The likes of Moses Malone, Mychal Thompson, Calvin Natt, Bobby Jones, Michael Cooper, and Jamaal Wilkes, or the “Original 6”, have worn the Air Force 1 in both high and low variations. It wasn’t even supposed to be on the market for too long, the Air Force 1 was supposed to have a short but epic run, but because of the urge of Baltimore’s ultimate AF1 enthusiasts - and other local retailers that convinced Nike to create new colorways - the “Force” got stronger and continued to live a long life until the very present-day after a short hiatus.

Nike eventually stopped producing pairs in 1984. It quickly retroed in 1986 but only in select stores. Even Charles Barkley wore the Air Force 1 for the majority of his rookie year with the Philadelphia 76ers during the 1984-85 season - clearly giving the AF1 the on-court attention it truly deserves.

Back to its production story, the Nike Air Force 1 wasn’t widely available in stores during the late 80s - Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City got the biggest AF1 flock with regional exclusive pairs selling out quickly. The next few years were pretty much the same - East Coast AF1 culture continues to build up, thanks to basketball and the Harlem community, who refers to the AF1 as “Uptowns”.

The Air Force 1 continued to be an on-court staple even in the early 2000s. The most memorable NBA players who wore the shoe were Kobe Bryant and Rasheed Wallace - both players were given PEs (Player Exclusives) which are now hard to find anywhere.

Air Force 1 All Day Everyday

The Air Force 1 is such a timeless sneaker that new sneakerheads who wear them probably didn’t expect that the shoe has been around for 39 years already. Whether it was Triple Whites, All-Blacks, or the most colorful Air Force 1 sneaker available, it goes along so well with every fit - it’s like an instant boost to a hypebeast’s drip.

What made them so popular among all generations, and why does it seem like every Nike fan needs to have an Air Force 1 in their arsenal?

 Well, aside from being widely available nowadays for a low price of $90 on both Men’s and Women’s sizes of the low-cut version, the Air Force 1 has over 2000 colorways since its debut - giving the people a choice to find their preferred colorway and rock them any way they want.

While most general release AF1s can go below retail, some of the most limited pairs that are exclusively hard to buy (even with the present Nike SNKRS App) go for around thousands of dollars over on Sneakers sites. Nike AF1 collabs with the likes of Virgil Abloh’s Off-White, CLOT, and Ronnie Fieg’s Kith, spearhead the highest resale pairs of the Nike Air Force 1 Lows in the modern era.

Aside from collabs, Nike celebrates various occasions and holidays by releasing an Air Force 1 colorway that pays tribute to the theme. It’s true - there’s just about an Air Force 1 shoe for everything. It was in the ‘90s where the AF1s started to appear in new variations, the mid-cuts made its debut, the fancy jewel Swoosh has found itself on some hyped AF1 pairs, the “Force” got stronger than ever.

After becoming an exclusive release in select cities, the AF1 outlived the hype and continued to be a classic lifestyle shoe come 2000. Nike introduced women’s sizing in 2001; they were also given ladies exclusive colorways. In the same year, more colorways started to arrive in the international market. The AF1 continues to live on.

 In one of Nike’s blogs “Air Force 1 Visual History”, the brand showcased the AF1’s long journey to success - resulting in more eccentric variations to hit the shoe such as the AF1 Boot, Women’s Shadow, and in 2018 - the Air Force 1 Utility that features a buckle and a vertical Swoosh. In 2021, more AF1s were given a new and modern rendition. The most notable is the Air Force 1 React which will be talked about later.

As the new century welcomed the latest sneaker technology and design, more AF1 colorways took on a whole new identity with different materials and styles that made them rare and legendary. The “Playstation” Air Force 1 Low is one of the modern themes of the classic silhouette that was released in 2006. The shoe features a shiny patent leather upper with nostalgic Playstation brandings throughout the upper. It combined Black, Blue, White, Yellow, Red, and Purple accents, reminiscent of the original Playstation logo from 1994.

Apart from being relatively new to the eyes of AF1 fans, the Playstation AF1 was a Friends & Family exclusive that was given to Sony employees and staff - making them all the more valuable as there were only 150 pairs made in existence.

Even the late and great Kobe Bryant flexed the shoe while promoting Sony’s latest console during its time. Collectors had to bring out thousands of dollars to get their hands on a pair - 15 years later, and the value still seems to rise. 

They’re arguably considered as one of the most coveted Air Force 1 Lows of all time.

The shoe revolved for about $2,500 during the past but inflated to an average of $6,625 when it sold for $3,250 last 2020, and a whopping $10,000 resale in April 2021. All within Sneakers sites.

Four years since the debut of the OG, they eventually “retroed” and returned for another run. This time even more limited than the last, with only 50 pairs made and given to Sony partners and some charity auctions. The 2009 edition pairs were sold over at Sneakers sites for a little above $3,000.

Another highly-touted AF1 Low is the Entourage George colorway, an unreleased colorway and was a customized shoe for a 2006 episode of the television series Entourage. It features a White and UNC Blue leather upper with Black laces and a Black patent leather Swoosh that makes it look like an Air Jordan 1 Low. In the show, a designer named Fukijama designed the shoes to have golden laser-etched details on the heel and tongue panels.

Rumor has it that only a few pairs were made and given to the cast and crew of the show. Legends even told that some pairs were secretly made available for purchase in select UNDFTD stores.

Whether it was true or not, the Entourage George AF1s are hard to find and will cost a lot for collectors willing to purchase a pair. The shoe has an average sale price of $7,244 in Sneakers sites for the last 12 months.

Modern Air Force 1 Silhouettes

It was in 2010 where modern uppers such as the Foamposite, Hyperfuse, Flyknit, and Metallic, made their way to the Air Force 1. It was a fresh, new look to the old and timeless basketball shoe - but that didn’t stop Nike to bring their out-of-this-world ideas to come to life as they equip the AF1 with their latest tech.

 Pictured above is the Nike Air Force 1 Foamposite that released in 2012. Featuring a pearlized Foamposite upper, the shoe is also given a pearlized jewel Swoosh finish to pay tribute to the Nike Foamposite Pro - one of the basketball sneakers to feature Foamposite together with the Nike Foamposite One.

 The cushioning has also been upgraded, it featured a transparent full-length Air Max unit. An upgrade to the OG’s Air unit that runs 3/4 from the mid-foot to the heel. 

Custom AF1s

In the early 2000s, The Air Force 1 NikeiD has launched, causing fans to customize their own AF1 sneakers any way they want. Their shoes. Their rules. That’s the name of the game.

It brought out creative designs and matching hues on the uppers, fully giving the fans a chance to make their “one-of-one” sneaker stand out among the crowd and showcase their creations.

NikeiD has now been renamed as Nike By You wherein a lot of Nike silhouettes and even signature sneakers of athletes are available for customization and purchase. The options nowadays are even plentier than before. The Air Force 1s are still available on Nike By You, including the Highs, Lows, Mids, and sometimes even the Duckboot. Prices are slightly higher but it’s great to get a bespoke pair.

Air Anytime, Everywhere

People can probably name any major holidays or festivals, and there will be an Air Force 1 colorway paying tribute to it. Indeed, Air (Force One) is everywhere. It’s truly a big part of the sneaker world, and removing the AF1 from the picture will affect not only Nike but also everyone who grew up liking the silhouette. It’s a basketball shoe/dad shoe/lifestyle shoe/wedding shoe all in one. It’s a shoe that people could wear every day due to its durability, while for some it’s a fresh and classic kick that’s kept inside its box - in hopes of making a fortune on exclusive colorways.

 Feeling nostalgic? View some of the Nike Air Force 1 colorways that featured holidays, festivals, and other major celebrations. Included in the list are colorways that will never be forgotten, regardless of their resale value in the aftermarket.

Sporting a Christmas sweater look for 2020, this Air Force 1 High features tonal accents of green, red, and white to match the holiday colors. It released last December 2020 together with the Blazer Mid and the Air Max 90. It retailed for $120.

Here is another Christmas-themed Air Force 1, this time dating back to 2005 and featuring the iconic AF1 Low. It’s dressed in a shiny textured upper combination of white and red, reminiscent of Christmas ornaments. It may be missing any hint of green, but it’s still a worthy Christmas sneaker that is perfect for nostalgic purposes. It retailed for $90 and currently worth about an average of $225 on Sneaker Sites.

The simple yet stylish look of the Air Force 1 Low made it one of the favorite lifestyle sneakers no matter which generation. With the Christmas editions, Nike decided to add more flair to the shoe by giving it a holiday makeover. Although not annually, some of the holiday AF1s may be easily forgotten due to the flurry of AF1 collabs arriving every now and then.

It’s still nice to see Nike celebrate the last month of the year with their Christmas Packs.

Another Christmas-themed AF1 that debuted during the sneaker’s 30th anniversary in 2012, this premium rendition of the AF1 Low takes the Triple Whites to a new level. Featuring a croc-like leather upper texture, the shoe also features a white Swoosh bedazzled with silver beads. A silver heel tab accompanies the fancy look of this QS (Quickstrike) release. It’s a great alternative for the ladies who like to give their classic Triple Whites a break and bring out an exclusive pair.

After the holidays, Nike then welcomes the first few months of the new year with CNY (Chinese New Year) edition sneakers. And of course, there’s an Air Force 1 shoe included. Actually, there are a lot of CNY AF1s aside from the 2020 version pictured above.

This colorway features a white leather upper with Chinese textures all over the shoe. The colorful lining adds more details to the AF1 Low, while the translucent concentric outsole traction pattern makes up for a clean CNY sneaker - a contrasting look compared to other CNY Nikes that feature a loud blast of colors.

Released last January 2020, this AF1 Low CNY currently averages for about $227 on Sneaker Sites.

This 2019 version of the CNY AF1 Low is dressed in multiple uppers with different textures all over the shoe. The toe sports a bright floral pattern with some Swoosh. The quarter panel arrives in festival designs - also seen on the tongue, where the stitched suede Swoosh is placed upon. The rear panel features a lizard-like texture in a University Red accent. The black lining gives the shoe a clean look. The upper sits atop a white sole that houses the Air unit.

The shoe was released last April 2019 for $130, it stands on the sneaker aftermarket for just about $151.

Here's the last few CNY AF1s to be featured in this list, they released together as part of the Nike Lunar New Year Pack that released last 2018.

First on the list is a triple-white Air Force 1 Low. A golden emblem on the tongue accompanies the Swoosh that sports a mix of floral designs and fireworks aesthetics.

The next AF1 Low features an outlined Swoosh with a floral and fauna rear panel.

The last in the pack is a premium SF (Special Field) Air Force 1 High. Dressed in a white leather and mesh upper combination, this “tactical” boot has gold accents primarily on the eyelets. The ankle collar features various straps - reminiscent of military boots, for various purposes.

The translucent outsole is designed with colorful Chinese New Year details that give it a unique finish.

Released last February 2018, the AF1 Lows retailed for $130, while the SF Air Force 1 High Boot was priced at $150.

Halloween AF1s

One of the more highly sought-after AF1 models during the latter half of each year, Halloween-themed Air Forces always feature unique build-ups ranging from glow-in-the-dark soles and even sometimes the upper. Sometimes selling out in a few minutes, the only thing spooky about those AF1s is its limited availability and limited chance to purchase one for retail.

The most notable Halloween series AF1 Pack is the Skeleton Force Series, a trilogy of Air Force 1 Lows featuring skeletal foot x-ray designs on both the lateral and medial side of the upper and a glow-in-the-dark outsole. The first of the three was released in October 2018 in an all-white build-up. The skeletal foot print gave the shoe a completely new aesthetic as it hid the iconic Swoosh. It retailed for $130 and was a highly anticipated pair.

It reached a peak resell price of $678 on Sneaker Sites in March 2021, but it currently averages for about $402 based on the site’s 12-month historical sales chart.

A follow-up to the first edition, the 2019 AF1 Halloween shoe was a true reminiscent of x-ray foot scans, the white skeleton print stood out over the all-black leather base upper. A glow-in-the-dark outsole was a nice addition to the sneaker. The shoe was released last October 2019 together with matching skeleton-themed tracksuits. It retailed for $130.

It’s not as hyped as other expensive Air Force 1s, but it’s a nice seasonal shoe that can be flexed during the Halloween season.

Independence Day AF1s

Several Independence Day Nike Air Force 1 Lows have been released throughout the past decade - each with a unique construction that sets each year apart. Peep some of the “Star-Spangled” AF1s that have hit retailers throughout the course of the 2010s.

The 2014 edition features the United States flag in a spray-painted fashion. The Navy Blue eyestay and outsole gave the shoe an even more patriotic finish. It retailed for $90.

In 2015’s Independence Day celebration, Nike released a four-sneaker pack that showcased monochromatic Nike Air Force 1 LV8 (Elevate) Lows with protruding stars and diamond textures all throughout the upper. The upper is made of Vac-Tech for better durability. It was one of the most unique variations of the shoe.

 While the pack didn’t really gain much traction on the hype train, the striking details made them worth taking note of. They retailed for $100 each and were released in July 2014.

Modern Air Force 1 Silhouettes

It was in 2010 where modern uppers such as the Foamposite, Hyperfuse, Flyknit, and Metallic, made their way to the Air Force 1. It was a fresh, new look to the old and timeless basketball shoe - but that didn’t stop Nike to bring their out-of-this-world ideas to come to life as they equip the AF1 with their latest tech.

Pictured above is the Nike Air Force 1 Foamposite that released in 2012. Featuring a pearlized Foamposite upper, the shoe is also given a pearlized jewel Swoosh finish to pay tribute to the Nike Foamposite Pro - one of the basketball sneakers to feature Foamposite together with the Nike Foamposite One.  

The cushioning has also been upgraded, it featured a visible transparent full-length Air Max unit. An upgrade to the OG’s Air unit that is encased within the thick midsole and only runs 3/4 length from the mid-foot to the heel.

 It wasn’t the only Air Force 1 to receive a “futuristic” treatment, more Air Force 1s were equipped with various Nike technologies - from the upper to the midsole. Take a trip down memory lane and revisit some of the AF1 revamps below.

Nike Lunar Force 1

There was a time when Nike's proprietary foam cushioning Lunarlon was one of the most intriguing cushioning systems in performance sports. For the AF1's 30th Anniversary in 2012, Nike introduced the Lunar Force 1 - A lighter, more modern Air Force 1 that trimmed the weight of the shoe by using thinner materials. The biggest feature was the Lunarlon midsole that also houses a Nike Zoom Air unit in the heel.

The Lunar Force also released in Workboot and Flyknit versions, it also appeared as a golf shoe in 2016.

Nike Air Force 1 Flyknit

The lightest Air Force 1s to ever hit retail, the Flyknit versions took away the shoe’s smooth leather upper and used an entirely Flyknit upper build up to bring a fresh new take on the iconic silhouette. It was also the first Flyknit shoe to feature a leather Swoosh on its upper.

 The Flyknit AF1s debuted in 2016 and was a massive hit among the masses due to its toned-down build.

Nike Air Force 1 Utility

The Nike Air Force 1 Utility retains the overall construction of the shoe, only modifying the lacing system by replacing it with a magnetic buckle and a midfoot strap for easier entry. The shoe also featured an exaggerated pull tab on the heel.

It debuted in 2018 together with the Air Force Utility 270.

Female-only AF1s

Nike released a handful of AF1s that are crafted specifically for the ladies, the shoes include the Sage Low and High, the Rebel, Shadow, and the Pixel.

The Sage AF1s boast a 35% higher stack height that makes it even more fashionable than the regular model. The shoe launched together with its high-cut version and the AF1 Rebel in 2018.

In 2019, the Air Force 1 Shadow was unveiled. It was one of the most diverse AF1s to ever release with its outstanding features. The shoe boasts multiple overlays that pushed the boundaries of fashion to a whole new level. The higher midsole and cored-out outsole gave the female-specific shoe more support and made it lighter.

Image from: Nike

Air Force 1 React

One of the latest Air Force 1s in Nike’s catalog, the AF1 React featured a full-length React drop-in midsole with an Air unit in the heel for maximum comfort and impact protection. The shoe also removed the traditional leather Swoosh and instead replaced it with an outlined version to make the shoe even lighter.

The first colorway that debuted in 2020 was a tribute to Nike’s “almost” name, Dimension Six. The outsole took away the iconic stars and replaced it with the React midsole’s pattern for a modernized look.

Conclusion

39 years later, the Air Force 1’s momentum doesn’t seem to stop. It may have bumped into some roadblocks and almost ceased in production - but thanks to the avid fans of the shoe, its legendary run continues.

About 2000 colorways and versions later, it’s clear that the Air Force 1 is as versatile to change as it is for both basketball and lifestyle.


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