lead image by @dailydoseof_sb
Last week, the skateboarding and Nike community lost a prominent figure, a larger-than-life human being, pioneer, trendsetter, influencer, visionary, and creator who also served as Nike’s VP of Global Design: Sandy Bodecker.
In light of Sandy’s life and career accomplishments, today’s Nice Kicks’ Throwback Thursday pays special tribute to one of the most memorable and polarizing models in the storied and iconic Nike SB collection: the Nike SB “What The” Dunk.
In 2002, under the direction and leadership of Sandy Bodecker, Nike Skateboarding introduced a line of low-top skate shoes, famously called the “Dunk Low Pro SB.” The silhouette was a direct modification of the mid-1980s Nike Dunk basketball sneaker, with a couple key adaptations made specifically with the skater in mind.
First and foremost, the SB Dunk featured a thick, padded tongue, thick interchangeable laces, and a heel Zoom Air unit for cushion. Multiple styles released paying homage to the Godfathers of Nike Skateboarding including Danny Supa, Richard Mulder, and Reese Forbes – all who were honored with their own pair – as well as early collaborations with Supreme, Zoo York, and Medicom, all of which were well received by both die-hard skaters and casual sneakerheads alike.
The original Series 1 models came in a silver Nike box and featured beautifully crafted, high-quality materials and fabrics including a 3M reflective upper, thick, premium tumbled leather or suede, a throwback to the height of Nike footwear quality assurance.
In the mid-2000s, the Nike SB pushed the envelope even further by boldly going where no skateboarding sneaker had gone before: creating a shoe that took on something beyond footwear but rather accessible art and design to an even greater level.
Enter the infamous Nike “What The” Dunk.
How fitting a name as this accurately described the emotional and physical reaction consumers had upon initial glance of this mosaic, a sneaker some argued was so ugly that it was paradoxically beautiful. In order to recognize and truly appreciate the shoe’s true beauty, appeal, and elegance, one must look past the loud, contrasting colors and tie-dye patterns.
Designed by James Arizumi, Nike’s “What the” Dunk was outfitted in a white/college blue-chrome-deep red colorway with each shoe featuring different color laces, materials and colors on the medial and lateral panels as well as the tongue and toe box areas, adding to their allure, a design strategy and tactic never seen before in the SB line.
Additionally, the pair incorporated various cues and design hits from previous Dunks including the star from the Cali Dunk; #7 from the “Lucky” Dunk, the word, “Buck” from the “Buck” Dunk, and pigeon from Jeff Staple’s “Pigeon” Dunk as well.
In July 2017, Nike SB created a follow-up high-top version in a collaboration with designer Thomas Campbell which featured his quilt-inspired artwork throughout the upper and debuted in a Jade/Circuit Orange-Sail colorway, serving as yet another example of accessible sneaker artwork and design, an avant-garde silhouette at its core.
Years later, Nike’s “What the” Dunk remains both a timeless and influential model, having been worn by Wale and Travis Scott, modern-day sneakerheads and fashion influencers who illustrate the shoe’s popularity over time.
The “What the” Dunk’s true and everlasting legacy extends past its vibrant color palate and resale value. Rather, and more importantly, this model moved the needle and made it socially acceptable for sneakers and consumers to utilize, incorporate, and wear outlandish, loud, bright, and contrasting colors, helping to create a true work of art which bridged the gap between high fashion and functional footwear.
Steve Jobs once said, “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits, the rebels. The ones who see things differently. The only thing you can’t do is ignore them, because they change things. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.” How fitting and appropriate a quote to not only describe Bodecker’s creativity, insight, and artistic genius, but also to give justice to one of the most polarizing yet appealing and captivating sneakers of modern times.
The Nike “What the” Dunk: the perfect intersection between sneaker art, high fashion, and design.
Be like Bodecker and Arizumi, expect the unexpected, and change the world. One sneaker at a time.