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The Making of the Foamposite

By the year 1997, Nike was already sitting pretty. They'd been achieving record breaking success for years with kicks like the Air Force 1, the Air Max line, and obviously Michael Jordan's pro models. They had more than enough popular models to stay successful without ever taking a risk again. After all, didn't they already do that multiple times over? Thankfully, Nike's dedication to innovating sports footwear was genuine, and they weren't going to rest on their glory. The world was about to see just how far they'd go to advance basketball shoes in a major way. It may have had to sidestep a few naysayers, but Nike’s Foamposite was coming.

It all started in the previous year when Eric Avar began designing a shoe with Scottie Pippen in mind. He found inspiration in the exoskeletons of beetles, in particular their aero dynamics. His basic looking shoe would revolutionize basketball footwear, but would take some serious technology to make happen. Though the idea of creating a product of simplicity that utilized complex technology excited the execs at Nike, Avar's actual vision was not welcomed with open arms. Upon seeing the original concept, designers and manufacturers alike both voiced their concerns about the possibility of creating such a shoe due to the radical materials and composition involved. The idea of taking a liquid, hardening it in a mold, and attaching a sole to it just seemed a little too dicey.

We'll get into the specifics of how the Foamposites are made a little later, but you get the picture for now. A bit dejected, Avar put the Nike Foam shoe project aside and got back to work on more "practical" shoes. Luckily for sneakerheads everywhere, this hiatus was not going to last long.

Flash forward a little bit to a meeting between Avar and four-time NBA All Star Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway to discuss possible options for a signature sneaker. After sifting through a few samples, Penny realized that none of these were particularly wowing him. As he was entertaining the lackluster designs he inquired about a sealed bag that Avar had brought along. Avar knew the bag contained the Air Foamposite One prototype, so assured him that there was nothing of importance inside, which of course did nothing but raise Penny's curiosity. After some time he was told he could open the bag and knew from the jump that that had to be his shoe. Thanks to Penny's persistence and dedication to the previously discarded idea, Nike agreed that they would try to figure out how to get it done.

Nike was right to think that this would be a serious challenge. Initial meetings with major companies proved to be frustrating in that no one seemed to think a mold could be created to bring Avar's big idea to life. Finally they got the answer they were looking for from the Korean-based corporation Daewoo, who were already widely known for their automobiles and televisions. They could create a mold to produce what Nike needed, flexibility and stability included, but it would not be cheap by any means. This turned out to be true, as the original Foamposite mold ran the Swoosh upwards of $750,000. At this point we should all take a moment to thank Penny, and his obvious importance to Nike.

At long last, the first Nike Air Foamposite One, nicknamed the "Dark Neon Royal," was released to the public with the then outrageous price tag of $180. In Nike's defense, the high cost was necessary after they considered the high production cost. That $750,000 sum we threw at you earlier didn't count cost of labor, packaging, shipping, marketing, or much of anything else really. The debut colorway was safe enough, borrowing heavily from Penny's Orlando Magic uniform, but its polyurethane-based upper and prominent carbon plate looked like it had appeared straight off of a spaceship.

Simply, people had never seen a shoe like this before, so to say that it blew minds while simultaneously stirring intense controversy would be a huge understatement. It seemed that for every fan of the Air Foamposite One's technical advancements there would be a detractor that claimed it would ruin the footwear world forever due to its lack of traditional materials such as leather and stitching. In fact, it quickly became blatantly obvious that even after the Nike Air Foamposite 1 triumphed over adversity in being created, the road was still going to be extremely rough. Consumers weren't the only ones tripping either. Much like Jordan's debut sneaker, the NBA decided that they weren't going to approve the shoe because they felt it did not contain enough black to match Penny's uniform. The problems were really starting to add up.

All of the negative attention the Air Foamposite Ones were receiving did nothing to help sales. From the League's restrictions to the dismayed public who couldn't accept the innovation in front of them, most stores were having a seriously hard time moving units. Many retailers were forced to lower the price in hoping that customers would eventually catch on, they felt charging $180 was not helping one bit. Nike obviously had to step their marketing up on this one. Just when things were looking pretty bad, several key things happened. First, a University of Arizona Wild Cat by the name of Mike Bibby became the first player to rock the Foams on the court.

This happened on March 23, 1997, at which time Penny was still rocking his beloved Nike Air Penny 2 in the pros. Seeing them in action began sparking some interest in consumers, and in Penny himself, who began wearing them just a few games later. Rather than ask Nike to change up the colorway Penny decided to fill the grooves in the sides of the Air Foamposite One with a black Sharpie marker. This allowed him to adhere to the NBA's 50/50 color rule that had stopped him before this was a true sneakerhead move. Again, all of this on court love was contributing to a rising fan base for the Air Foamposite One, but Nike decided they needed an even bigger push. This came in the form of exclusivity, a then-novel but now guiding principle behind almost all of Nike's releases. One famous example is the entire country of Sweden receiving only 150 pairs of the sneakers, which they knew would create a higher demand than if they were readily available to all who were interested.

While all of these tactics helped sell the Nike Foamposite One in decent numbers, the shoe never truly shook its polarizing effect on sneaker fans. Not too long after its release Nike used the mold yet again to create the Nike Air Foamposite Pro. This was essentially the same sneaker minus all Penny-branding but plus a side Swoosh on the previously baron lateral heel. They retailed this model for $170 as opposed to $180 for the Ones. While people oftentimes confuse the two sneakers, a true fan can easily spot the difference. The latter received a handful colorways in its initial run, but still ran into the same set of problems as the One had earlier in the year. After this, Nike decided to discontinue the Foamposite line. In doing so they destroyed the aforementioned $750,000 mold, since they clearly had no intentions to retro them in the future. While the project had definitely seen some pretty miserable days, this actually appeared to be the end.

By 2002 the folks at Nike figured that maybe the world's taste could now handle the Foamposite design. The Air Foamposite Pros were the first to be retroed, seeing a better response than they had the first time around. Four years later, in 2006, a promising young NBA star by the name of LeBron James' fourth professional sneaker utilized the Foamposite technology, further cementing its "cool," and building more hype around a retro version of Penny's Foamposite One. Finally, ten years after their initial release, Nike decided to retro the Air Foamposite One in 2007. Again, the response was way better the second time around, proving that despite being a fantastic design from the beginning, people were just not ready to take that big of a leap yet. Today both versions of the iconic silhouette are in rotation, garnering a bigger and bigger following as time goes on. Though it appeared that the idea would never truly catch on, the Foamposites have both joined the ranks of Jordans, Air Max 1s, and Nike SB Dunks as some of the most highly sought after and collectable shoes that Nike has. Like we said, hindsight really is a funny thing.

History & Facts of the Foamposite

As we discussed earlier, the idea behind the Foamposite model was so radical that it almost got the project nipped in the bud. While we brushed past it in the history section, here we can devote a little more time to why the idea seemed so gnarly and introduce you to some other key players in the shoe's rich past.

The undisputed father of the Foamposite is Eric Avar, but like most great undertakings there was no way he could have done it alone. Enter John Tawney and Toren "Tory" Orzeck, guys who had previously helped out on other Nike gems such as the Air Footscape. They were part of Nike's Advanced Product Engineering team, and Orzeck actually had a background with GE Plastics, so their help was a beyond crucial in getting the Foamposite off paper and into reality. Their expertise in the design field, coupled with Daewoo's $750,000 mold, are the two spearheads the project needed to be the success it ultimately became.

Okay, so we've established that the idea behind the Foamposite project would be to create a liquid based upper that would then be attached to a sole. The liquid needed to be in a viscous state, at around 80-55 degrees Celsius. This liquid would then be poured into the mold which was equipped with specific measurements for each side. This proved problematic even after the expensive mold was purchased, because traditional stitching and glue were just not strong enough. After realizing that the shoes would fall apart, they headed back to the drawing board. They discovered that by making the midsole five times stronger than that of the average sneaker, the molded upper would have no issues staying attached to the sole. Not speaking strictly about Foamposites here, but think about the impact this "pushing of the limits" had on future footwear! Pretty amazing.

Instead of attempting to type out all the specific steps, including the addition of an inner bootie, outer & sole unit pieces, a series of super gasses, and thermoplastic urethanes, we'll illustrate the process in pictures. These etchings were unearthed by Gary Warnett from the original patent, "Method of Making Footwear with a Pourable Foam," which was filed on August 21, 1996.

Air Foamposite One "Doernbecher."

First up we've got the Air Foamposite One "Doernbecher." The Doernbecher series is named after the children's hospital of the same name in Portland, Oregon. The idea behind the series is that children suffering from severe illnesses help design a colorway for a popular shoe, in order to raise awareness. The Foamposite One "Doernbecher" was released on November 23rd, 2013, and was designed by 14-year-old Elijah Diggins, a baseball fanatic who suffers from Burkitt's Leukemia. His Foam tells a story through the plethora of fine detailing throughout. For starters, his smiley face graphic spells out his initials when viewed sideways. The fiery red and black color suite sends a shout out to LeBron James, who just so happens to be Diggins' favorite basketball player.

The intricate chain link graphic on the sockliner is symbolic of the silver bracelet he received from his parents before he underwent chemotherapy. The Japanese characters stand for courage, something he is pretty familiar with. Fans of the colorway also jumped at the windbreaker and hat that completed the set. Currently on eBay they're going for a ballpark figure of $700.

Air Foamposite Pro "Army Camo"

The Air Foamposite Pro "Army Camo" proved that sometimes the art is in the packaging. Released on Jun 8th, 2013, the "Army Camo" holds the distinction of being the first to bare the $250 price tag after the model took a brief hiatus. Its upper features an iconic camouflage print in black, Army Green, and Light Brown that is complimented nicely by Upper Maize and black accenting. All of this sits nicely on top of a clean Gum sole, giving it a real gritty feel. Like we said though, the real highlight here is the packaging.

While most were shipped out in regular Nike Sportswear boxes, some lucky locations received special edition green army carrying cases to house their new Foams. Included within the box was a "New Special Ops Team" card that added a real official feel. Just how important was the extra effort in presentation? A quick eBay search shows that pairs with a regular box are going for anywhere from $400-$500 while pairs with the carrying case are selling for upwards of $1500. Yikes!

The Air Foamposite One "Oregon Ducks"

The Air Foamposite One "Oregon Ducks" might be a new addition to the Foam family, but they're already making one hell of a splash. Released on December 30th, 2013, the "Oregon Ducks" features an in-your-face design to replicate the Duck's powerful offense. The upper is adorned with an all-over reflective wing pattern, receiving help from bright green hits for the sockliner and laces. The left back tab has a yellow "Oregon" while the right one has a yellow "Ducks." Likewise, underneath the left tab gets a pair of yellow duck feet and under the right tab sits a big "O."

Duck branding on the tongue and a silver speckled translucent outsole cap the look off. Ready for the real crazy part? At the time of its release, it was priced on eBay between $1000 - $1500. Imagine how much this pair would be worth now? We shudder to think.

Air Foamposite One "Paranorman"

The neon colored Air Foamposite One "ParaNorman" was a collaboration between Nike and Laika Studios that dropped to coincide with the release of the film by the same name on August 17th, 2012. The catch? There were only 800 pairs made and they weren't available in stores. To obtain a pair, one had to follow specific contest steps. Since the pairs were designed for "weird kids," you had to follow ParaNorman's Twitter account and post an odd childhood photograph of yourself along with the hashtag "#WEIRDWINS ParaNorman Foamposites." Due to the extremely limited stock, we're going to go out on a limb and say there were more than a few let down fans.

As for the shoe itself, these things had "must have" written all over them! A black and green neon printed smoke graphic adorned the Foam's shell-like upper, influenced by the film's zombie grave-escape visual effects. Electric green glowing outsoles and signature carbon fiber shanks held the shoe down to further its spooky affect. The back pull tabs each featured half of the phrase from the contest, "Weird Wins," and just underneath them sat a film-related graphic and a Swoosh, respectively. There are some still on eBay for $2500, but we've heard some rumors about multiple pairs going for up to $4000. To further the craze, we'll leave you with a trailer for the associated film, ParaNorman.

The Air Foamposite Galaxy

Ah yes, finally, the Foamposite "Galaxy." Forget comparing these to other Foams, because these might just be one of the most hyped sneakers Nike has ever released period. This one dropped on December 24th, 2012 and utilized a NASA/space theme along with several other Nike models in order to celebrate the 2012 NBA All-Star Game. What makes this Foam so special? Well, for one this is the first time a graphic print had been placed on an Air Foamposite One, which by now is a pretty commonplace practice. Secondly, the shoe looked great! Its dark, starry metallic upper sat upon a black base which gave way to the signature carbon fiber shank and killer glow in the dark outsole.

Just how big was the hype around this shoe? We think you might have heard a thing or two over the years, but if you haven't let's just leave it at "huge." In fact, the release of this Foam has been credited with changing sneaker culture forever due to the plethora of crazy lines, violence, and out of this world resale prices. You can find pairs on eBay for only a few grand, which to put it lightly, is absolutely nothing compared to how crazy things had gotten for a while. *Cough Cough* $96,750 *Cough Cough.* We'll talk more about crazy fan hype later, so don't think you've heard the last about the "Foam Galaxy" from us!

Who Wore It Best

Everyone knows a good ad campaign can work wonders, especially when done with Nike's collective creativity, but sometimes there's just no substitute for seeing the right player rocking the right kicks during the right game. Throughout the Foamposite's release history, there have been a few crucial games where players looked so cool rocking them that people just couldn't help but take notice. Whether you're talking about groundbreaking earlier performances that showed the world how good they were for the court, or more recent ones that reminded us just how stylish they can look, there are some players who really sold us on them. Either way, here are five players that we feel did the Foams proud.

Four time NBA Most Valuable player and member of the Boston Celtics Rajon Rondo makes the list for being a serious supporter of the Foamposite movement, by rocking some of the most exclusive colors on the court like the copper and chrome foamposites. You can catch Rondo rocking the "Fighter Jet" and Foam "Galaxy" colorways in some very big games during his career. His notable use of the former against the Atlanta Hawks on January 5th, 2013 was noteworthy because his on-court agility and lightning quick darting skills brought his squad back for the win in the second half. His half court alley-oop to LeBron James in 2012's NBA All-Star game in the "Galaxy" foams was also amazing. Today there are still people out there who cry every time they think about a pair of those babies getting taken out of the box.

Andre Iguodala

Golden State Warrior Andre Iguodala is something of a renaissance man when it comes to Foamposites. While he's rocking the "Copper Foamposite" colorway in this picture, the real highlight came way before this. We're talking about when he rocked a pair of the original "Dark Neon Royal" Foamposite to the 2005 NBA "Rising Stars" game. No one even knew where the hell he found them, because the Ones hadn't even been retroed yet! Apparently the University of Arizona, his alma mater, has an equipment room full of rare old Nike goods and he managed to get a pair of the classics. Iguodala held his own against LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and others, and reminded everyone how ill the debut Foam really was.

Nick Young

Currently a member of the LA Lakers, Nick Young is young talented scorer who has played some of his most memorable games in Foamposites, most notably the "Metallic Red” Foamposite. During his April 29th, 2012 game against the Memphis Grizzlies he brought his then team, the Clippers, back from being down 27 points for a victory. His 19 points, two rebounds, and one assist were great he also shot 75% from 3-point range. Plus, from a sneaker standpoint the metallic red foamposites never looked so solid!

Mike Bibby

Considering that he was the first person to rock the blue Foamposites on the court, you know we couldn't leave out the then-Arizona Wildcat Mike Bibby. To debut a shoe, as a college freshman, and have the whole world take notice? That takes some serious skill, which is definitely what came through during the March 31st, 1997 game against the Kentucky Wildcats during the NCAA finals. After 19 points, nine rebounds, and four assists, he was named to the All-Tournament team for his amazing efforts. Sneaker fans couldn't get their eyes off of his feet though, tripping out on how great the Foams looked during their first on-court appearance. Mike Bibby went on to play for six different NBA teams after being drafted to the NBA in 1998. After this game it was still a long hard road for the Foamposites, but they would be nowhere without this incredible head start into the collective conscious of sneaker fans worldwide.

Penny Hardaway

Obviously we've got to give Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway a spot on this list, seeing as how the Foam would most likely not exist without his persistence. Penny made the shoes look amazing during his April 29th, 1997 game against the Miami Heat. Orlando Magic was down two games but Hardaway stepped up with an amazing 42 points, eight rebounds, two assists, and two steals, giving his boys the win. Instead of taking it easy for the next game just two days later, he decided to one up himself by getting 42 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals, and three blocks for yet another win. To say he was on fire is putting it lightly, and to say the freshly Sharpie marked black Foamposites didn't gain a few new fans would be doing the same.

Some Favorites from the Foamposite Release History

1997

Nike Foamposite One Neon “Royal”

Product shot of Nike Foamposite One Neon Royal

2006

Nike Air Foamposite Pro Dr. Doom

Product shot of Nike Air Foamposite Pro Dr. Doom

2010

Nike Foamposite One “Eggplant”

Product shot of Nike Foamposite One Eggplant

2012

Nike Foamposite One “Galaxy”

Product shot of Nike Foamposite One Galaxy

2014

Nike Foamposite One Triple Black

Product shot of Nike Foamposite One Triple Black

2017

Nike Foamposite One “Fruity Pebbles”

Nike Foamposite One Fruity Pebbles
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