Preserving the Nike Dunk

By Bret Dougherty "Sneaker Freaker Magazine" Summer 2004

"Preserving the Nike Dunk", As Seen in Sneaker Freaker Magazine , Summer, 2004
By Bret Dougherty

Alright, alright, I give up. You can have the NIKE Dunk. I know when it's time to tap out….

I had the same empty feeling in my stomach when I helplessly watched the Air Force 1 morph from a shoe that allowed a barrel chested, goateed, Moses Malone to get up and down the floor of the Spectrum, to a shoe that equipped wave-capped clowns to rub their chests across middle America.

I felt for those chuckleheads rubbing their chests…..I really did. I knew I had to tell them that shoe was built for players like Moses, Moncrief, and Griffith, but there were just too many of them out there. It got way out of control, and nobody could stop the Air Force 1 from capsizing into mass commercialization.

However, throughout the whole process, I never thought it could happen to the history of the Nike Dunk. I just didn't think it could happen….Yes the Dunks were rare, but they were too sacred for Nike to let go into mass distribution and to the snob shops of Haight St., Melrose Ave., and the L.E.S….Right?

Wrong. I have finally reached the point to let go of the last blur of my naïve trust on the heads in Beaverton to preserve a historical shoe with dignity. I'm ready to leave behind the sacred shoe that worked the courts of the Garden, Reynolds Coliseum, and Five Star Basketball Camps. I'm ready to bow out to the so-called aficionados who are sporting the Dunk in camouflage, rainbow suede, and dog-dirt brown. Just watching the Dunk come off with see-through toes, plaids, and Metamphibian and Heineken designs, is like watching Wavy Gravy sub in for Frank Bullitt with floral designs painted on the '68 Mustang GT..…..It just doesn't fit.

The Nike Dunk is about team play. Nike's print ad, 'Be True to Your School', couldn't have pumped up the shoe any better. The Dunk embodied the college spirit, and it was an extra thread that brought warriors together to perform as a team. Yes, if you were rocking a Nike Dunk at that time, you had to have game, but not because it looked tight. If you rocked the Dunk, those colors embodied the brand of ball you personified, and most importantly, if you rocked them, you better bring your "A" game to make the cut.

Many people believe that the roots of the shoe came from the Air Jordan I. During the '84-85 season, Mike's popularity had moved into boiling phase, and the Air Jordan I had mesmerized the U.S.. During the '85 Slam Dunk Competition at Market Square Arena, Nike celebrated the release of the Air Jordan I by outfitting Mike in the all black and red Air Jordan I with a matching Flight Jordan sweatsuit to celebrate a clothing line that immediately raged across the mainstream of the basketball style world.  However, also during this same time frame, Nike had quietly outfitted the Georgetown Hoyas in customized all gray and dark blue Nike Terminators with the inscription of 'HOYAS' emblazoned on the back of the shoe.

The Nike Terminator raged among sneakerheads, who scoured retail stores only to be disappointed to find out that the 'Terminators' had a big NIKE emblazoned on the back. For the fans of "Hoya Paranoia", the Terminators were different from the Air Jordan I's. The shoe embodied the brand of a team, not the brand of an individual.

With heads raging for the Terminator and Georgetown's intimidating colors of dark blue and grey, Nike saw how the loyal fervor generated around a school's colors and style of play could create a brand that was unique to each school's basketball program. With the boom of college basketball on ESPN and cable TV, Nike could not only take advantage of the teams in their stable, but they could take advantage of a major vein to the purveyors of cool in urban culture…. College basketball players from the inner city.

So, before I watch the legacy of the Dunk fall into the hands of the swank, stuck-up ass boutiques that wouldn't know the difference between Stevie Thompson and Stevie Williams. I want to look back at the schools and mystical legends who wore the Dunk to let the heads know what this shoe "really" is about.

Georgetown - If the Air Jordan I gave birth to the Dunk, then the Georgetown Terminator dropped the seed….Georgetown Basketball was military style basketball. Their swarming D was jackboots, black berets and a trapping press that would knock your teeth out and would leave you in the backcourt fingering the insides of your mouth to see how many were missing.

During the year prior to the Dunk, the Hoyas steamrolled through to the NCAA Tournament with the original 'Intimidator' Patrick Ewing and his southpaw bodyguard-like Power Forward Michael Graham, who cracked jaws like another cleanheaded left-hander at the time, Marvin Hagler. Nike had switched up the Hoyas' uniforms that year to an intimidating gray and dark blue to create a stormtrooper image that fit with their style of play.

When the Terminator was introduced, it played perfectly with the raw-dog team made up of players such as Ewing, David Wingate, Reggie Williams, Gene Smith, and Michael Jackson, who were upset by Villanova in the NCAA Final in probably the greatest game of all-time….. The 'HOYA' Terminator was so damn intimidating that Nike let Georgetown run with the Terminator again during the year of the Dunk. If anyone thinks the Terminator isn't the father of the Dunk, I'd love to debate on the topic.

Iowa. - I almost slapped a kid in the back of the neck over this model of Dunk last summer on Haight St. The kid was looking at a seaweed and celery green combo that was just straight up booty. The kid pronounced that the black and yellow was the Wu Tang shoe. When I accosted him with the fact that this was Iowa's shoe, he shut the fuck up…..Well, not to knock the kid, because the Wu limited edition was tight, but this model of Dunk can't go down like that. You think Meth and RZA got flippy in black and yellow…..Try Iowa's Gerry "Sir Jamalot" Wright, who used to do tomahawk dunks straight out of cartwheels with ball in hand.

Marcus Liberty and the Jaguars of Martin Luther King H.S. in Chicago were USA Today's National Champions in '87 in this shoe. Hell, you think that Laser technology is going to make the Dunk tribal. If you went to King and you wore black and yellow Dunks you would get a free hall pass to walk between the Folks and Vice Lords in the ABLA and Taylor Homes….That's tribal.

If a image could be put on the shoe, it would be a packing plant with thick steaming smoke billowing out of stacks and heating vents in -10 degree weather. The image of this version of the Dunk is high-flying like Flint's Roy Marble and hits you hard like a Ed Horton elbow on the lip. Now, eat it up like salt on asphalt in the winter….Seaweed Green?

Syracuse - The orange and white Dunks should aptly be named for Bill Raftery's term "The Stroke". The shoe started off with the pride of Brooklyn's Boys and Girls High, Pearl Washington in '85, and it faded out in '88 with Matty Roe living deep in a low-top version.

However, the image of the Orange and White Dunk rests upon the lanky, smooth, Detroit City southpaw out of St. Cecilia's gym, Derrick Coleman. Forget about the guy's career in the pros….Think about that untucked #44 jersey, that left-handed jumper, and those one-handed funk slams….Even though the Dunks were a year old, D.C. added to his funk by wearing the orange and white Dunks throughout his freshman year all the way to the National Championship in '87…..Man, his game was tight.

The orange and white Dunks should be solely worn on cold-ass nights watching Big Monday at the Dome…..If you're wearing them, keep shooting.

Kentucky - What a way for Nike to implement their introduction into Lexington in 86, the royal blue and white Dunk. 1985-86 was a wild ass year in Lexington. Joe B. Hall was ousted, and in came crazy Eddie Sutton, who unbelievably is coaching at Oklahoma State, even though he cashed out everyone from L.A. to Elkhart, Indiana.

Right off the tip, Sutton switched the long-time alliance with Kentucky and Converse to Nike, and the Dunk entered in a four year era of straight up getting paid. They had eight McDonald's All-Americans on that squad headed up by Winston Bennett, Richard "Master Blaster" Madison….what a moniker ….Ed Davender….Boys and Girls High 'Do or Die!'….and Kenny "Sky" Walker. I don't know what the legacy of this shoe is. The Wildcats made it to the Final 8 and lost to a LSU team that was lead by John "Hot Plate" Williams.

Screw the 'Cats, I have to go with the image that comes from a vintage SI poster, which shows Chris Mullin wearing the royal blue and whites while busting a J in Sedale Threatt's ass at a preseason game during his rookie year with the Warriors….Chalk it up.

UNLV - In the '80s, if Georgetown was Nike Basketball's flagship of the East, then UNLV was the flagship of the West. Nike's relationship with Tark "The Shark" was gold-bonded. With the intro of the red and gray Dunk, UNLV embraced the whole Dunk design, and Nike customized the Rebels' uniforms to match the shoe. The whole combo was stellar….Just incredible.

For a East Coaster the shoe may be interplanetary, but Vegas, Oakland, and LA knows what's up. UNLV was about to enter Phase II of their domination reign, and they were awaiting the legendary Lloyd Daniels. The unfortunate part is this team just wasn't up to UNLV standards. However, they did have Armon "The Hammer" Gilliam. He introduced himself across the nation that year after his performance against Maryland and Len Bias, which would be Bias's last game….I don't want to talk about it….Yet, the tragedy of the shoe was to watch Carson-LA legend Eldridge Hudson run up and down the floor in the gray and red Dunk with a gimp that year.

Hudson was a West Coast legend who had a sweet lefthanded game that allowed him to slither between defenders. He sat out a whole season and a half to reconstruct his tendons, which were ripped to shreds in a pick-up game. It was like watching Bo Jackson run down the first base line with that artificial hip…..just tear jerking…..The year after the Dunks, they made up for it with Freddie Banks leading them to the Final Four in 87…..It's just too bad the whole team did it in the Air Force 2s.

Michigan - If the Maize and Blue Dunk had a motto, it would proclaim "If looks could kill…" 85-86 was Michigan's year, but unfortunately, they straight up tanked it.

In preseason polls, the team was ranked as high as #2. The main go to guy was Roy Tarpley, who was a straight up beast playing on and partying off the court, but the disappointment of this shoe has to lie with the memory of Antoine "The Judge" Joubert. Joubert was the national player of the year at Southwestern High School in Detroit….damn that school pumps ballers out….However, he found the tastes for treats and beverages in Ann Arbor, and his ass blew up. The bottom line is that he didn't live up to the billing. Maybe it was the jheri curl, or maybe it was something else, but the "Judge" left a lot of his game in Detroit during his stay at Ann Arbor.

With the flops of that year in mind, how should you imagine the smooth maize and blue Dunk? This info should spread down Haight St. and Telegraph Ave. The image of this shoe is of Kevin Johnson at Cal Berkeley. When KJ's name comes up, a tendency of thought is to think of him with the Suns, but Kevin Johnson rocked the blue and golds too well in Harmon Gym. To add to the KJ legend is that he quizzed youth with math equations before releasing an autograph. If he instituted that practice on Oakland youth while wearing the blue and gold Dunk at Berzerkley, that shoe goes up in respect three notches higher.

Arizona - "Old Heads" in the Tri-State area will probably go crazy when they see this…. However, the dark blue and white Dunk belongs to Arizona. Yes, Cliff Robinson rocked the dark blue and white models at UConn, but he's an outlier. UCONN was straight up awful at this time, and they were last in the Big East, and Cliffy is the only guy that rocked the Dunk.

So, as a result of UConn's ineptness at this time, and to celebrate my removal of a self-imposed East Coast bias, the shoe belongs to the 'Cats. Lute Olsen had taken over before the '84 season, and he part of the Nike mafia during his days at Iowa, which made him an easy promoter for Nike to use in the West. The dark blue and white Dunk had a classy look because of the dark blue, and it's fitting that Steve Kerr and Sean Elliott wore the Dunks them the season before they made the team that won the World Championship for USA Basketball that summer.

When imagining a player with the dark blue and white Dunk, my choice is Steve Kerr. Especially, after a comeback from a blown out knee earned him spot on the World Championship team for USA Basketball that summer….Damn, that team was ill…..When, I think of Kerr at Arizona, I solely remember the Tuscon PA announcer, who used to yell Steve Kerrrrrrrrrr after a 3…..That was nice-nice.

NC State/St. John's - If there was a shoe that embodied the Nike Dunk, it would be the red and white Dunk. Perhaps that's why it broke my heart when a clerk at Union in New York City said he couldn't understand why they reissued the red and white Dunk since Nike had already reissued the colors before…..What a clown…..That's why I think all of these colors should go get smoked…..For the red and white Dunk, I have to break this explanation into two sections. It was too strong of a shoe…..

NC State - When you think of NC State in the Red and White Dunks of 85-86, the first thought of the program is straight up thug…..Free grades, 'caine rails, stolen sheets from the Watergate Hotel, pizza delivery stick-ups, stolen stereos, Jimmy V, and any activity surrounding Chris Washburn, who had more talent in his thumb than anyone in the ACC.

NC State ran a renegade show, and Jimmy V went with any thing that would make his teams look fresh. Perhaps that's why a couple of his players continued to sport Dunks several years later. I always think of Washburn when I think of the Dunk….Damn, he was nice, but he the brain power of a salamander……Yet, we can't dwell on Washburn.

When I think of the Red and White Dunks that N.C. State wore, my image is of Ernie Myers from the BX of the now defunct St. Tolentine High. Ernie repped uptown well in Reynolds by clicking the back of his heels together before each free throw….led the ACC for a while, and he used to rock extra long shoelaces that fell down the sides like tassels.….damn he was cash from the line…. Giving the recognition to Jimmy V's crew is very respectable, but when I think of the red and white dunk. I have only one choice, and I saved the best for last.

St. John's - The Redmen from SJU on Utopia Pkwy. & 82nd made the red and white Dunks the real deal….The Redmen was a team of borough kids, and this shoe not only screamed 'We are St. John's', but it proclaimed. "We are NYC"…..the Bronx's Walter "The Truth" Berry, Bishop Laughlin's Mark Jackson, AC's Willie Glass, and LI's Matt Brust in that red and white shoe. What a look for Lou Carnesecca's team….

Bishop Loughlin High School's finest and Pearl Washington's nemesis, Mark Jackson continued to wear his red and whites for another season, and he set the NCAA Assist record in them. Yet this is the shoe of "The Truth". No could funk it like Walt….. He had a funky left-handed delivery to his release that looked like a corkscrew, and the guy oozed a Bronx type playground game. People have tried to anoint themselves with the moniker of "The Truth", but Walter was the first guy that wore that name well. He would get off shots at the oddest of angles leaving defenders saying…"Damn"....

With the red and white Dunks and his patented penguin-like gait running up and down the court, he won the Wooden Award….Man, he was nice that year.

With the sound of Walter Berry's name announced over the Garden's loudspeaker in my head, I'm complete now. The Dunk can go to my internal memory archive for permanent storage. I have now left a permanent cheat sheet of what the Dunk is about, and there are no more excuses for the chuckleheads in the snob shops to not know about the true meaning of the Nike Dunk.

My only request is, please don't rock the Dunk in Baskin Robbins colors. You look like a clown…..Leave the sole of the Dunk alone.


(Author's Note: The Dark Blue and White Dunk model was donned by the author for three years. The version did not hit a tar, cement, or asphalt surface during this time….Only hardwood)

Bret Dougherty is a sportswriter and current graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill. Bret is a co-host of WXYC SportsRap (9 PM Sundays on FM 89.3 &, and he also has a music show on Tuesday mornings from 6-8 AM on WXYC in Chapel Hill, NC. You may check in at his information page at

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