Air Jordans have dominated the sneaker industry since before I was born, but those weren’t the first shoes that fascinated me. I thought the Reebok Pump was the coolest shoe in the world. I saw it on TV, then at Foot Locker, and one day one of my cousins came across my grandparents wearing a pair. Somehow they seemed bigger than they had at the mall, and pumping the small basketball was much more satisfying when the shoe wasn’t resting on a hanger drilled into a wall.
For years, Reebok was like the anti-establishment underdog against Nike’s dominant and well-crafted dominance. The company had the Above the Rim collection and was represented by stars such as Shawn Kemp, Tracy McGrady, Shaquille O’Neal, Steve Francis and Allen Iverson. Michael Jordan and Mars Blackmon were great, but AI and Jadakiss’ commercial slashes in the A6 commercial were a slap in the face.
The company has fallen in recent years, with John Wall one of its last basketball stars, leaving after three years a decade ago. Looking to recover its basketball division, Reebok has announced that it has hired O’Neal and Iverson as president and vice president respectively.
There was a time when the Reebok name sounded so far away that it was the brand of choice for the NFL. The company was most recently a sportswear sponsor of the UFC, but once its deal expired in 2020, it was not renewed.
It’s been a long time since the Big Diesel was part of the Reebok family. He left to make an affordable line of shoes that you used to see at Walmart, Famous Footwears, and other places. O’Neal said that children were not opposed to wearing $20 shoes, “They don’t want to wear shoes that look like they cost $20.” Kids wear whatever shoes their parents can afford or are willing to buy, and a pair of Shaqs in the 2000s would absolutely make a person roast in the dining room.
He’s back to where his massive branding campaign began. He remembers Patrick Ewing’s shoes from the 1990s, and they seemed to be for a 7-foot player who played with two giant knee pads. The Shaq Attaqs were made for someone who wanted to fly and of course that heel on the tongue of the shoe helped on the initial pairs.
Reebok never rose to the heights of Nike, but the brand was respectable because it was cool. He embraced the influence of hip hop, and even gave Jay-Z and G-Unit shoe lines in the 2000s. Of course, the leader of that charge was Iverson.
Thank goodness the stores made enough shoes for the people who wanted the A5 and A6, because they were the best shoes in school. Leave the Air Jordans of those days in the steel briefcase where they belonged, that time was AI
With those two leading the brand’s resurgence, I might be convinced to spend three figures, if only for nostalgia. The heels, the I3 headband, the T-Mac bucket hat, all speak to a time when Reebok reflected where the heart of basketball was produced. It wasn’t in Beaverton, Oregon or Hollywood, but on playgrounds across the United States.
For a while, Reebok chased that audience, and now that two of its former stars have executive roles, hopefully the vibe of that era can be brought back in a fresh but still nostalgic way.