words & images // Nick DePaula:
It’s been a full twenty years since Scottie Pippen took the court on the Olympic stage, in one of the most heavily-branded sneakers the industry has ever seen.
Originally styled by legendary and longtime Nike designer Wilson Smith III, the Air More Uptempo was the first hoop shoe to feature a full-length Air Max unit, and Nike was sure to let you know.
Shoes like the Air Max CW, aka the Air max Sensation, incorporated heel and forefoot Max before it, but this shoe now included midfoot Air as well. (Which may or may not even be necessary.)
Each side of the shoe’s upper then famously spelled out A-I-R in bold fashion, with a 360 design that featured wrapping rectangles from letter to letter underneath the outsole.
After winning his 4th NBA title in a more subtle Black/White colorway of the model that same spring, Pippen and his fellow “Dream Team II” teammates flexed their global dominance at the ’96 Atlanta Summer Games.
They outscored opponents by an average of 32 points per game, as teams around the world were still a few years away from elevating their play to compete against America’s pro-laden teams of future Hall of Famers.
Several of the Olympians on that team headlined featured sneakers of their own, like Penny Hardaway’s Zoom Flight ’96 and Grant Hill’s Fila GH2, but it was Pippen’s Air More Uptempo that stole the show. The grand irony of course, was that while it was the first shoe Pippen would singularly lead, he didn’t necessarily have design input on it.
He wore full-length Air in both the Air More Uptempo and Air Pippen 1, but made sure to wear Zoom Air through the rest of his career from his second shoe and on.
“I was never a Max Air guy, and always wanted to play closer to the floor,” Pippen admitted to me a few years back.
Regardless, the design was iconic, and the legacy of the shoe has lived on ever since, as the #8-affixed Air More Uptempo has enjoyed a triumphant re-release both at the 2012 Olympics and once again this summer.
Check out an original size 16 pair of the Air More Uptempo, made for Scottie, in our latest edition of “Top Shelf” below. Where do these rank in terms of all-time best Olympic sneakers?