Nike are rumoured to be re-releasing the Air Max Penny 1 in its OG Orlando Magic–inspired colourway some time in 2022. While other colourways of the Anfernee ‘Penny’ Hardaway signature sneaker have entered the fold throughout the 2010s, the debut palette hasn’t been back since 2011. And with a new generation of sneakerheads who may be encountering this classic 90s basketball shoe for the first time, now’s a better opportunity than ever to share some thoughts about this Penny.
Eric Avar Designed the Air Max Penny 1
Eric Avar joined Nike in 1991 and promptly began building a portfolio of designs that could read almost as long as that of Tinker Hatfield! After assisting his mentor with iconic designs like the Air Flight Huarache, Avar came into his own as the lead designer of the Air Max Penny 1 in 1995. You can also thank Avar for the Air Foamposite, Zoom Flight 95, most of the Kobe signature line, Adapt BB, and many, many more Swoosh creations.
Push the Uptempo
In the late 1980s, Nike began defining their basketball models in two distinct categories, Flight and Force, which catered for nimble and physically dominant players respectively. By the mid-90s, players like Penny Hardaway who could perform at all parts of the court needed an effective all-round shoe – leading to the creation of the Uptempo line. The Air Max Penny 1 was considered the first shoe in this new category, which was later joined by iconic models like the Air More Uptempo and Air Total Max Uptempo.
Zoom Air Inside
While it was originally known as the Air Penny, its new Air Max Penny 1 name is also somewhat of a misnomer. This is because it doesn’t take into account the fact that there’s a Zoom Air unit hidden in the forefoot. As this was an early use of the new Air bag, Nike were still calling it Tensile Air. The last few retros of the Air Max Penny 1 reportedly still retained this Zoom Air unit, so it’ll be interesting to see if it returns for the incoming retro.
Penny’s Phone Ad
One of the most memorable print ads Nike ran in the 90s was known as the ‘Phone Ad’ series. Dozens of the latest Nike and Jordan models were simply displayed in various angles on white backgrounds with nothing more than a Swoosh logo and a unique 1-800 phone number. Upon dialling those digits, there would be a recorded voice message on the other side to regale the caller with information about the shoe depicted on the advert. The Air Max Penny 1 was among the first, and most memorable, models in this ad series that ran from 1995 to 1997.
‘Tell him Lil’ Penny from the science class says hello!’
Print ads weren’t the only medium that Nike used to market the Air Max Penny 1. As the leaders of memorable television commercials, the Swoosh (well, Stacy Wall of Nike’s long-time ad agency Wieden+Kennedy) conceived the small-statured but larger than life Lil’ Penny character, voiced by Chris Rock. From ’95 to ’97, Lil’ Penny was the main man in hilarious spots that turned big Penny into a household name with the shoes to have – all while trying to woo Tyra Banks. Extra fun fact: long before Jamie Hyneman was hosting Mythbusters, he was an SFX expert making the Lil’ Penny puppet move!