Sneak Peak – The Wonder Years: Nike Air Foamposite One
And one might wonder why Mike Bibby has been The Man.
Every year, hundreds of basketball sneakers are produced, issued, sold and played in on the hardwood worldwide, and for every year in the NBA, at least one star player has a special, peak season of his career–and the signature shoe that shares in his glory. That’s what Sneak Peak (pun intended) is all about–highlighting players and their sneakers from the past 25 years who shared the spotlight with iconic play and iconic style.
For the time being, the Sneak Peak series will focus on the golden era of the top sig shoes, players, and their best overall seasons, which was approximately between 1994-1997 (the period itself being the literal peak of performance basketball shoes), which I have dubbed “The Wonder Years.”
Those who are learned in the epic battles of the 1990s basketball experience, collegiate and pro, remember the good times–the really good times. The championship games, the elite players in those games, where you were, what you were doing and who was wearing what on the court. In the case of the 1997 NCAA men’s basketball championship game, I can tell you exactly those things. The University of Arizona, an up-and-coming team, played the University of Kentucky, an outfit made up of the best talents assembled (Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer, Tony Delk, Wayne Turner, Walter McCarty, Derek Anderson, Nazr Mohammed, Jamaal Magloire, Mark Pope) since the John Wooden days of UCLA. Miles Simon, Michael Dickerson and Jason Terry were part of Arizona’s squad, but they were led by then-freshman Mike Bibby, a top guard out of the ’96 class whose shooting, speed and on-court leadership had him compared to Jason Kidd and Magic Johnson as a difference-maker. I was in the seventh grade in the living room in my home when I saw those shoes on Bibby’s feet.
Those shoes I saw were fuzzy at first…then I looked, and I looked…and I looked. I saw bright electric blue as Bibby brought the ball up the court and I was flabbergasted. “What could these be?”, I thought. I didn’t see anything like them in the latest Eastbay catalog at the time. They weren’t the Air Jordan XIs, but they were so foil-shiny and groovy–not like, “that’s groovy, dude”-groovy, but they had a certain pattern inlaid on the upper that was alien to my knowledge of shoe construction. “Was there any stitching? Is there no midsole?! How is Mike Bibby wearing a royal blue shoe when his team is in navy blue?” I couldn’t figure it out and with no current news on the sneakers, I was left with curiosity until they hit the stores.
During that game, Bibby had his way with Kentucky, and became an instant superstar in the basketball world? A true freshman leading his team to a National Championship? At point guard? He was really Carmelo Anthony before ‘Melo became “CARMELO ANTHONY!” Had his team not been favored to win the next year, No. 10 could’ve declared for the ’97 Draft after that very game and been the true ambassador of the freshman one-and-done championship season. Ending that game with 19 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists, Bib was named to the All-Tournament Team and was treasured as a pro prospect (and he certainly hasn’t failed since becoming the No. 2 overall pick in 1998).
Those shoes I keep mentioning, though, were so dope…they were truly bad. The Nike Air Foamposite One, to be exact, and they weren’t even initially broken out by the signature player for which they were named (the “One”). Anfernee Hardaway being that player, it was fitting that he didn’t actually play in them first (he was already a hobbled player in that same ‘96-97 Arizona championship season), because he wasn’t seeing a whole lot of court time. Made of the famed thermoplastic Foamposite material, the shoe was, in effect, seamless (save for the eyestay strip and medial side). It molded to the wearer’s foot and it was lasted over the midsole, so that it was hidden on the outside. Given forefoot and rearfoot Zoom Air units, a clear rubber outsole, a carbon fiber shank plate (a la the Nike Air Jordan XI) and that glittering “One-Cent” logo, and the shoe retailed between $190 and $200–in the words of Ricky of YouTube fame, “UN-FORGIVABLE.” (FYI, I would post the links, but they’re so sadistic and disgracefully hilarious, I’d immediately regret my decision, I’m pretty sure.)
That game and those shoes changed lives; they changed mine in a minute way. One, Kentucky lost the ability to call itself the greatest team in NCAA history–in the old times of illegal money moves by boosters being unregulated in the college game, many of the players at UCLA were afforded some cash luxuries by playing at the school, and those very luxuries enabled the elite recruiting of the Bruins to extend their championship streak. With the modern evolution of rules and regulations, the world could see that schools such as Kentucky could still be fit to be called the greatest, despite the parity of the field. Again, the bluegrass Wildcats lost that opportunity.
Mike Bibby eventually became one of the best players at the turn of the 21st century not named to an All-Star team, and he begat one of the greatest runs for NBA championship glory with the Sacramento Kings (he’s still looking for the ring with the Atlanta Hawks). Arizona was the place to be for many years after his arrival, and Bib became a lead endorser of Michael Jordan’s Brand Jordan Nike subsidiary.
The shoes themselves took technology to another plane in the industry. Tim Duncan and David Robinson soon shared their own version of Foamposite sneakers and the ideas of overlasting midsoles and seamless synthetic uppers shot through the roof.
I, myself, swore off paying the entry retail price for any shoe north of $150 (I have kept faithful). I believed in Mike Bibby from that game on. The performance, the shoes, the cool he had…I went looking for his jersey at the Nike Outlet Store any chance I got (though I failed in acquiring the top).
Sadly for Anfernee, he doesn’t even have the intellectual rights to his own shoes with his own logo, at least as far as I’m concerned. The Nike Air Foamposite Ones were the shoes that Mike Bibby made.
Sandy Dover is a novelist/writer, artist and fitness enthusiast, as well as an unrepentant Prince fan (for real). You can find Sandy frequently here at SLAMonline, as well as at Facebook, Associated Content and Twitter.