words // Nick DePaula
By the time you see a sneaker online, or, once upon a time, by the time you saw a shoe for the first time by walking into an actual store, there are layers and layers of untold stories and details that have often gone into a product.
While the Hyperflight was unlike anything else at the time of its summer 2001 launch, a modernly minimalistic and sleekened silhouette that gleamed in full cobec patent leather uppers, it was actually a sneaker with roots dating back to the earliest days of Nike’s history.
As designer Eric Avar explains, it was a sneaker inspired by Nike’s founding principles.
“We had talked as a team about doing a lightweight shoe, but the real notion and inspiration for that shoe came from when Bill Bowerman, coach at the University of Oregon and co-founder of Nike, had passed,” Avar reveals. “The day before his memorial celebration at Nike, I was just in the gym working out.”
“They were having a rehearsal for the celebration the next day, and I just caught the movie that they were going to play. It was a montage of Bill’s life, his legacy and everything that he was and what he accomplished in his life and at Nike. I just kind of stood up there and I was very moved, just as an employee.”
“I had met Bill and I certainly knew who and what he was, but it was really at that moment that it hit me just how much he meant to Nike. It just hit me, and I was like, ‘Wow, ok, he was a Track & Field coach, but he plays football, and he knew about all of sport.’ The notion just popped into my head, and I wondered, ‘How would Bill Bowerman design a basketball shoe in today’s day and age?’”
With that inspiration in mind, Avar set out on a series of early sketches that featured a low stance and double-lasted construction, with a TPU support wing on both the lateral and medial sides offering up some measure of stability. Bowerman was of course a legendary figure in Nike’s earliest days, not only serving as the Oregon track coach, but also an early product testing director of sorts, as he would have his runners try out prototypes and then make alterations and adjustments to the shoes himself.
It was that detailed and nuanced passion for performance of his that spawned one of Phil Knight’s favorite taglines, “Always listen to the voice of the athlete.” Building from that, Avar looked to make the Hyperflight about speed and precision. You’ll notice throughout his sketches that the lines get sharper, and the profile more exact.
“We probably made it look more futuristic and fancy than he would have, but it was the essence of it being literally a track spike for the court and being as minimal and as lightweight as possible, while still providing the cushioning and support that a basketball player would need,” recalls Avar. “That was really the brief for us and we collectively decided as a team that we were going to really make a statement with this product.”
While the brief was ambitious, the shoe wasn’t as protective or supportive as hoped. The flashy look was a huge hit across the nation from a style standpoint, but the playability wasn’t quite what everyone had hoped for.
“Hindsight is always 20/20, and there’s not a product I’ve worked on that I don’t look back on and say, ‘Oh we could’ve made that better in some way,’” Avar now admits. “That shoe in particular, sure it was lightweight and it was minimal and it was kind of just what you needed, so in that sense, we kind of achieved our goal, but in looking back on it, I’m like, ‘Oh man, it could’ve been a little more supportive and we could’ve gotten a little more lockdown in the midfoot.’ It could’ve had a little more of a secure fit, and the overall outsole was just a touch too narrow and I think we could’ve provided a better base of support and a platform for the foot. That could’ve helped with some of the movement with the foot within the shoe.”
Regardless, the shoe has lived on as a transcendent design all these years later, moving the needle of footwear into the new millennium towards more refined and modern looks. Enjoy a detailed progression of Eric Avar’s Hyperflight design below, in the latest edition of our Sneaker Sketch series.