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Thursday, August 13th, 2009 at 2:27 pm  |  43 responses

Sneak Peak: Nike Air Flight One

A legendary sneaker for a Magical season.

Nike Air Flight One

Every year, hundreds of basketball sneakers are produced, issued, sold and played in on the hardwood worldwide. And at least one star NBA player has a special season at peak of his career, and a signature shoe shares his glory. That’s what Sneak Peak is about—highlighting players and their sneakers from the past 25 years who shared the spotlight with iconic play and iconic style.

by Sandy Dover

For a number of reasons, ‘94-95 was a big season for the NBA.

The Houston Rockets were defending their title in the West after the Chicago Bulls assumed championship series control for the first few years of the 1990s; Michael Jordan came back from his somewhat-capricious retirement; and the NBA’s new version of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was setting up residence in Central Florida—that tandem was the duo we know as Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and “Shaq Diesel.”

While Shaq was “Attaq”-ing the basket, everyone and their mother was growing to love the young man from Memphis with the No. 1 jersey. Hardaway was breaking out right before everyone’s eyes and his sneakers were making a huge impression on the masses—and they weren’t any of the signature “Pennys.”

While Anfernee had comparably better seasons, the man whose grandma named him Penny enjoyed a sophomore season that ended up being his best overall season from an individual and team perspective. Starting at point guard but getting spot duty at small forward at 6-7 and 195 pounds, Penny played and started 77 games in ’94-95, averaging 7.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds, while scoring 20.6 ppg with a .512 field goal percentage. He brought fans to life with his array of drives to the basket for fast, crisp dunks and evasive layups around big men in the paint.

While he didn’t excel from the three-point line like his backcourt mates Nick Anderson and Dennis “3-D” Scott, Penny had one of his strongest seasons from behind the three with a .349 percentage. In short, Hardaway was a bad boy, as his combination of size, quickness, court vision and ball-handling enabled him to earn his first All-Star appearance (in Phoenix) and a berth on the All-NBA First Team, while simultaneously leading the Magic to the 1995 NBA Finals. Not to be outdone, Penny had a pair of fresh new signature sneakers that made huge impressions in the basketball world, so much so that a legend would even wear his shoes as a form of flattery.

The Nike Air Flight One was Penny’s premier shoe and the first that introduced Nike’s early version of its patented Zoom Air into high-performance basketball footwear. Released in late 1994, the Air Flight One was visually marked by its dual foam pods on the sides of the shoe, a Nike LunarLitePenny Hardaway & BJ Armstrong-like midsole and a durable Nubuck synthetic leather that added class and low-maintenance style to its black/black-white colorway. A rear plastic jewel heel tab in the shape of the number 1 and a black neoprene/spandex tongue with white pinstripes gave the shoe a visual share to his Magic uniform.

While relatively unknown at the time, Nike inserted a full-length Air unit, which was then known as Tensile Air, that drastically cut the weight of the shoe and made it a speedy set to play in; the performance test was successful and Nike renamed it Zoom Air. It played the host-cushioning role in the Nike Air Jordan XII, the first Jordan to implement the Zoom Air setup. Above all, the Black Cat himself played in the Air Flight One against Hardaway in Game One of the ’95 Eastern Conference Semifinals, before he made his stunning debut in the monumentally known Nike Air Jordan XI (“The Spats”).

(I bought the Air Flight One in a white/white-black colorway as an overly excited 12-year-old in 1996 as a sixth-grader. The shoe was on sale for practically nothing in a hometown sporting goods store in southwest Ohio. As soon as I tried on the shoe, it was like heaven on my feet. The shoe literally weighed next to nothing, and I played on that shoe until the rubber stripped off and the Air unit in the forefoot blew out—literally. I’ve mourned that shoe ever since…)

Though he and his series of Nike Air Pennys went on to enjoy success in future years of his career, No. 1 wasn’t able to exceed or even duplicate the on-court spoils that he enjoyed in ’95. It was a bad sign that his caricatured puppet and his corresponding shoes started to outdo his ability to play the game of basketball.

While kids of all ages and sexes and grown men alike enjoyed the wise cracks that Chris Rock employed in front of the camera and the flashy bright blue shoes and dinosauric Air Max heel units that became standard for the PennNike Air Flight Oney look, the man himself eventually struggled to even put a full season together. His later Orlando teams failed to stay together and play at an elite level, as Shaq got jealous of his point guard, Anderson became depressed by a haunting Finals performance, 3-D became a deranged lunatic at a youth basketball camp, and Horace Grant left to eventually win a post-three-peat title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2001.

A devastating knee injury left Penny semi-crippled for the duration of his career on the court and after tiring of being bored as a point guard, he demanded a position change to off-guard (which won his team fewer games), and he was eventually traded to Phoenix for a failed “Heaven Cent” backcourt with Jason Kidd. New York and Miami proved unkind to him as well, as he shrunk into the background (reportedly hanging around the University of Memphis in the ‘08-09 season, tutoring Tyreke Evans off and on). His memory is sadly found in the retro releases of his Air Penny shoe line.

It’s just too bad they won’t revive the Air Flight Ones. He never enjoyed a healthier and more successful season in anything else.

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  • riggs

    EW, that sh*t looks half finished and lopsided

  • Captain Jean-Luc Picard

    Loved Penny’s game, the shoes not so much.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Dude those kicks look fudgin’ AWESOME. These are the kicks that made Nike basketball shoes fresh, not like most of the stuff they put out today. Like come on, what the heck is a hypermax?

  • Pingback: Jordan Shoes | All Days Long

  • Hussman25

    Look a hear… I fondly remember these shoes! 9th grade in 1996, I missed school to go to the sneaker store to get these shoes (In white and blue though). Then had the nerve to go to B-Ball practice right as the bell let out for the day… Walked in the Gym with my practice uni on and went to work… My Coach knew I didn’t go to school that day, but still allowed me to practice. One of the best days I had in H.S. He knew why I missed school because fo how my teammates swarmed me tryin to find out where I got the shoes and how much the shoes were… These and the Foamposites were his best shoes! Too bad though for Penny, he was truly never Heaven Cent… he was an mirage of what should have been (especially the 94-95 season anyway!) Another nice write up Sandy as always!

  • http://allanzuss@yahoo.com Mendel

    i dont know they look shoe carnivalish

  • cramzy

    The 2ND penny’s were thoed as hell. I really wish he could’ve stayed healthy. He was that dude at one point.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Chris O’Leary

    When I saw this pic, I was hoping there’d be talk of this shoe being retroed. I’d love to see these and the Air Thrill Flight get a re-issue.

  • Syk

    these are horrible.

  • http://www.stonesthrow.com/madlib Michael NZ

    Still my all-time favorite player. Had it all.

  • Dre

    That injury kept Penny from being one of the all time greats.

  • Dre

    That injury kept Penny from being one of the all time greats. He is still my favorite player of all times.

  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com BETCATS

    Chris: why retro it? As a sneakerhead, you should know that its all about the OG shoe, retroing it usually results in the same shoe mold with different material/different feel to it. Sh!t, i was in pampers when these shoes were out, but even i could tell you its all about the OGs, fu(k the retros!

  • http://www.associatedcontent.com/sandydover Sandy Dover

    It’s really shame that Penny’s shoes ended up having a better career than he did. The thing about Penny, though, was that he could’ve done himself a favor in prolonging better productivity by staying at point guard. He had that “comeback” year in ’97-98, which was led by him exploding in the 1997 Playoffs after his entire ’96-97 year was so-so, but that change to shooting guard left him a better-than-average player at best, because he no longer had the advantage, matchup-wise. His quickness was in short supply and height was no longer a tough cookie attribute next to 6’5″ and 6’6″ guys. He sadly contributed to his demise in that way, but that knee injury was the straw that broke the camel’s back. To be honest, I saw so much of the post-injury Penny, I don’t even remember what it was like to see Penny at his best, even though I know I was watching him in those great early years :/

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com Blinguo

    Nice informative write-up on Zoom Air, and this shoe. I had the Air Maestro from 96-97 that looks like it took a ton of cues from this Penny, but probably wasn’t as light with more plastic pieces instead of simple all foam-and I assume regular air instead of Tensile/Zoom. The pinstripe elastic tongue came back for the Air Penny one’s too, the shoe that looks great but is not good for performance, even w/ that minimal tongue.

  • larrylegend

    i wore those kicks back in the days, not great ones, but light. just bought them, because it were penny’s…

  • CASHVILLE

    Words can’t express the love I had for this cat. Moment of silence…………………

  • http://www.slamonline.com 24 Karat Gold

    Everybody stop reminiscing and start hyperizin!!!

  • theoryhazit

    you must of gotten these gems at meeks… i remember wearin these til the sides busted out

  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    Forgotten just how ridiculous Penny’s numbers got at the peak of his career. Shame about the injuries – and the shoes though.

  • http://www.associatedcontent.com/sandydover Sandy Dover

    Theoryhazit: MEEK’S it was! And they had Air Jordan 2 Retros for like $19! I wasn’t hip to those as a pre-teen, so I passed.

  • ENDS

    sigh

  • theoryhazit

    i remember them havin the jordan 1′s and 2′s back then too.. i must of been 13 or somethin.. its a shame no one picked those up back then before the retro craze hit

  • rob stewart

    Shout out to my main man B.J. Armstrong pictured above guarding Penny.

  • The DDB

    Man, I had these when I was 14 in the white, black, blue colorway. After a season indoors, i played in these until they fell apart when I was like 17.

  • L

    Even though he will never end up in the HOF, there was still that one year when he was arguably the best player in the world. Much love Penny..L

  • jay

    first off for about 2.5 years penny was one of the best in the game..his sig shoes were 2nd only to his airness! for the late nineties sans the jordan xi and the jordan xiv..the penny sig line and foams were ridic! this shoe or the air go should be brought back and kobe should market these..he likes light shoes and after seeing the kobe V..this shoe or an updated air go design wise would be crazy…just not feelin the design of the kobe V so this would be perfect!

  • LA Huey

    chris and michaelnz: I feel you. I still rock the #1 on my jersey if someone doesn’t beat me to it.
    These kicks are weak tho. But the Penny I, II, IV were dope.

  • http://www.shoenut.blogspot.com ShoeNut

    I had those back in the day. They are not the most stylish shoes, but really comfortable and extremely light.

  • e

    RETRO THESE PLEASE betcats talks foolishness there is practically no one who has these in good condition on this planet of course a retro is needed nike please retro for 2010

  • Duthie

    I will dunk over Dover no matter what shoe he’s wearing.

  • http://slamonline Negetivekreep

    I remember jockn’ them sh1ts hard way back inna day! Damn i miss the old school.

  • http://www.associatedcontent.com/sandydover Sandy Dover

    Duthie, you’re gonna talk trash on SLAM?! I’m gonna get you the next time we ball, son!

  • DS44

    MJ even wore these once,great shoes.

  • real

    penny for 1 or 2 seasons was the greatest and most versatile player ever…and his shoes were sickkkk

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    These shoes are okay. The Air Penny 2′s were gorgeous, though.

  • http://www.shoenut.blogspot.com ShoeNut

    I would have to say that the Penny originals are the best.

  • http://www.waterwalkinwear.com WaterWalkinWarrior

    These shoes were the best indoor shoes I ever played in. The fat outer edge saved me from many ankle turns. Light too. Man I miss them.

  • sneakerking

    Loved these shoes got them when I was in 5th grade favorite shoe of all time. I’m from Memphis so penny was like my childhood hero. Hope they make a retro soon.

  • tjay

    yo i am major penny hardaway fan and i would love to add these kicks to my collections

  • oo

    Jordan wore them end of story!

  • EddStorm

    Excellent article, definitely accurate about Penny’s ’94-’95 season. Have to disagree about the sneakers though. Although the sneakers were the lightest on the market, the durability was terrible. Most kids who played outdoors (who had a gym to go to all the time?) found that the soles fell apart due to the lightweight material. The kicks had no ankle support, although it compensated by having a nice wide base. I always felt like I was going to walk out of them.

  • jayb

    these are dropping in 2012!!! heaven cent…no pun intended!! want either the black or home orlando!!

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