I don't consider myself a shoe expert. I don't study shoes and I couldn't tell you the names or benefit of 99% of the shoes being sold today but there have been certain shoes through the decades that have appealed to me. Shoes that just oozed "Cool". Shoes that had to be mine no matter the price. These days I go for simpler, cheaper shoes like the basic Converse All-Stars but a part of me still admires these, sometimes outlandish, shoes from the past.
The original Reebok Pump started it all for me. When these came out in 1989 my nine year old brain just knew they had to be mine. You could put these suckers on and pump them up to fit around your foot. It was like a basketball shoe from the future, straight out of Back to the Future Part 2. They looked awesome and I knew that my inability to be good at basketball was about to change forever. Of course I was way off on that and I am still waiting for some new shoes that will magically turn me into Larry Bird. The fact that these didn't improve my game didn't mean they didn't look cool on my feet and the look was about to be improved one year later.
Reebok had already won me over with their original pump but in 1990 they came out with these bad boys, the Reebok Pump Twilight Zone.
When these came out I was at the stage of my life when I needed new shoes at least once a year. I was wrecking shoes like they were going out of style. When it was time to go shopping for new shoes I knew I had to get the newest and most awesome just to outdo the Reebok Pumps from the year before.
These babies did more than just outdo the original Reebok Pumps, they upped the ante by adding just enough neon yellow to let the world know that you had left the 80's and you were now well into 1990. If the rest of the world didn't do something fast I knew I would be leaving it far behind in my new Twilight Zones.
It was time for new shoes once again and by now everybody was wearing Reebok Pump basketball shoes. I had to find something different but there was just something about Reebok Pumps that drew me to them. Luckily, Reebok was selling several different shoes with the Pump gimmick and I found one that was just different enough to warrant a purchase. They were the Reebok Court Victory 2's and they looked pretty cool. So what if they had a lame tennis ball on them and I had never even seen someone playing tennis before? These would carry me proudly into 1991 and I wouldn't have to wear the same Pumps that everybody else had.
They may not have had a pump in them and they might have been released a few years earlier by the time I got them but there is no denying the allure of the Air Jordan III's. These were some classy basketball shoes. Simple design and lack of much color would have normally been passed over by my pre-teen mind but there was just something about theses shoes that even my adolescent eyes recognized. They had the visible strip of air on the sides, letting everybody in school know these were Nike Air shoes and if that wasn't enough they had a large Nike Air logo right on the back. These were just what I needed to take a break from wearing out Pump after Pump for the past several years.
Ok, I'd had my share of non-Pumps for a year and now it was time to get my fix for inflatable foot wear again. L.A. Gear may be all but forgotten these days but twenty years ago they were a pretty popular brand with several celebrities behind them.
This shoe, the Regulator, was their answer to the Reebok Pump and it was destined to be mine. The compression button was huge and covered almost the entire visible area of the tongue and the overall design was just as rad as the 90's themselves. Another cool thing about L.A. Gear shoes back in the day was the license plate keychain that came with every pair. I would even love to have one of those hanging off my keyring right now.
This is the grandaddy of all shoes. They were called Nike Air Command Force and I have never had another pair of shoes that was able to live up to these. I was somehow lucky enough to talk my parents into getting these over priced shoes and I haven't been able to recapture that same luck again. Nike Air Command Force had it all; they were super high tops, they had the Nike Air technology and a pump system just like Reebok's. The fact that these were featured in White Men Can't Jump, an excellent 90's basketball film, didn't hurt either. It doesn't get any better than these Nike Air Command Force.
Converse may be thought of for their All-Stars and the many variants of that shoe today but I think their coolest shoe was the React shoes.
React was their answer to Nike Air but it was something much cooler. Converse used gel in the heel instead of a bubble of air. These are some of the hardest to find shoes on the secondary market these days and it seems like almost no one remembers them but in my opinion they were far better than any Nike shoes other than the Command Force. Once I discovered these I stayed with them for several years until I finally gave up on basketball shoes altogether.
Years of wearing basketball shoes without actually playing basketball must have done their toll on me because I shifted towards a desire for something simple and different. Airwalks couldn't get anymore different. They were bold, yet plain and simple.
It was now the mid-90's and I needed something less radical and lacking in neon colors. Airwalk answered those needs and I have been on the plain and simple road ever since. Maybe it's time for something a little wild again before I get too far over the hill.
Some of these shoes may never be produced again but over the past several years many of them have returned to production.
Reebok Pumps are some of the most widely available of the 80's and 90's shoes. They are available in several styles and tons of colors.
L.A. Gear has returned with a line of retro high tops that are straight out of the decade of excess.
Nike has never stopped with the Air Jordan line but they did stray far from their original designs. In recent years they have started redoing the older Air Jordans and have reproduced some great looking classic shoes.
Converse mainly sticks to the very retro All-Stars which deserve to always stick around but there is always hope that they may one day return with their line of React shoes.