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Nike Basketball continues it’s Inside Access series with an in depth look at the development and evolution of the uppers used in their basketball sneakers. 

The upper is the top of the shoe that sits on top of the sole and midsole and is essential in securing the players foot. Starting with the Nike Blazer in 1972  the features runs through four decades of kicks including the Huarache and Foamposites on down to the Nike Engineered Mesh used in the Kobe 8 System in 2012.

From the Inside Access story:


The Swoosh design visually established Nike’s identity in basketball on the all-leather Blazer in 1972. An oversized version in this case, the Swoosh was sewn onto the shoe’s upper, which would evolve to suede in 1973.

Lightweight and naturally breathable materials such as full-grain leather, suede and canvas dominated the decade on shoes such as the Bruin, Franchise, All Court Canvas and MVP Lo. Design was rooted in performance practicality. Less was more and the looks were timeless.


The functionality of a Mayan sandal combined with the Neoprene fit of a water ski… Taking upper design to unexpected places was the goal of Hatfield and his understudy intern Eric Avar as they designed the Air Flight Huarache in 1992. The dramatic exoskeleton and sock-like fit heralded a new way of thinking about shoe design. The Air Raid shoe’s defiant strap, the Air Max2 CB shoe’s aggressive lacing system and smooth fluidity of the Air Penny were just a few of the ‘90s hits. Natural leather was front-and-center until a 1997 shoe came along that flipped upper construction on its head.

Check out all the kicks featured, including design sketches and the ubiquitous Nike Air Force 1, of course, in the gallery.

Photo: Nike Basketball

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