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The Nike Air More Uptempo is a popular basketball sneaker that debuted in 1996. The “AIR” lettering draws inspiration from oversized objects from ’90’s graffiti and pop art. It was designed by Wilson Smith and made famous by Scottie Pippen in the late '90s.
Only a player with a game as robust as Scottie Pippen’s would be the perfect fit with the Nike Air More Uptempo, one of the most memorable sneakers in history. The shoes launched in 1996 and were showcased alongside the Air Jordan 11 and the Nike Air Shake NDestrukt, worn by Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman, respectively. But the combination of the Uptempo’s eccentric design and Scottie’s multi-tool/multi-position game made the Air More Uptempo a true icon in sports and sneaker history.
It debuted the summer after that legendary season and saw most of its on-court time in the next NBA campaign, the Nike Air More Uptempo could be seen as the bookend to Nike Basketball’s utterly superior 1995-96 campaign. Riding high on a wave of momentum built by standout designs like the Air Jordan XI, Air Max Penny 1, Zoom Flight 95 and even a slam dunk on the ladies end with the Air Swoopes, Swoosh designer Wilson Smith wanted to figure out how to make Nike’s triumph even more apparent. Scottie Pippen made this model his own as a part of Chicago’s triumph over Seattle in the ’96 Finals, then rocked the just-retroed patriotic pair at the Atlanta Olympics while a nation of young sneakerheads followed along as best we could (anyone else cop the Air Much Uptempo takedown version?). Have a closer look at sketches and promotional material as well as some words from the designer below and stick with Sneaker News for more on this trip down memory lane through two decades of Nike Basketball standouts.
Sometimes less isn’t more – logic is restored, and more is more. The Nike Air More Uptempo took branding to new heights to match an unprecedented application of Nike Air that ran from the toe to the heel. The mission for lead designer Wilson Smith was simple, “How can we just let the world know and express it as well as we can?”
Inspired by the oversized objects in pop art, graffiti on the side of trains and an architectural project he had worked on, Wilson worked ‘AIR’ into the upper to drive the point home. In 1996, cars were big, jeans were big, and big was better. The Nike Air More Uptempo was an extension of the environment.
Anti-subtle, but carefully correlated with the sole’s technology, Wilson was tactical in his approach. “I knew where the air bag kind of lined up, so I flipped it and on the medial I made the ‘AIR’ in the other direction.”
Ideal for the vertical player who needed the lockdown and abundance of cushioning, the Nike Air More Uptempo became Scottie Pippen’s shoe of choice. Accompanied by the lighter Nike Air Much Uptempo, a point guard’s favorite, the shoes were hard to ignore on camera as the bright lights shined on Pippen and the game’s elite in Atlanta.
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