A Complete Retrospective of Nike SB Boxes and Eras


This article originally appeared in Sneaker Freaker, Issue 38.

Founded back in 2002 – incidentally the same year as Sneaker Freaker – Nike SB is now a permanent fixture in stores around the world. Under the direction of Sandy Bodecker, Nike SB jacked a mainline straight into the heart of the sneaker zeitgeist. Taking the collaboration model to the max, the Dunk SB became the definition of hype – with compounding interest driving global campouts and introducing the cursed ‘reseller’ into sneaker vernacular.

The Orange Box (March 2002 – December 2002)

The Orange Box (March 2002 – December 2002)

Frustrated and unaccustomed to failure, Nike bigwig Mark Parker turned to a trusted lieutenant to spearhead one last crack at the skate concept. Sandy Bodecker, a highly regarded Nike lifer, took on board all the prior experiences and focused on building bridges in the community rather than burning them to the ground. Understanding the industry’s aversion to Nike’s encroachment, every aspect of SB was devised with insider input from skate retailers, skate media and even other skate brands. This time around, Nike SB’s shoes would only be sold in core skate shops. Genius!

SB’s hand-picked skate team was another masterstroke and included the likes of Danny Supa and Reese Forbes, who were encouraged to design their own debut Dunks. This first wave of releases in 2002 – known as the Orange Box series – was a sell-out. Hype surged as the skate world and the newly minted sneakerhead movement started to converge. Collaborations with Supreme, Zoo York and Chocolate were hits that cemented SB’s renegade status. Bodecker’s business strategy was sound. It may have taken close to a decade – and untold millions – but SB was finally the overnight skate success Nike had craved.

Silver Box (March 2003 – September 2004)

Silver Box (March 2003 – September 2004)

The sophomore lineup ditched the generic orange Nike shoebox for long-overdue purpose-built packaging. The Silver Box period is universally praised by collectors for its originality and creativity. With only colour designations on the box to tell many of the shoes apart, the community stepped in to name each model with creative gusto. Designed by newly recruited team rider Todd Jordan, a green Dunk became known as the ‘Hulk’, while a pair of olive Dunk Lows with neon laces were nicknamed ‘Jedis’ as a nod to Yoda’s light saber. The names weren’t always positive, though. One Dunk was christened ‘Barf’ due to a vomitous combination of bright blue, dirt brown and forest green.

Some of the designs flirted dangerously with trademark infringement, which only added to SB’s emerging outlaw mystique. While the ‘Homer’ Dunk Low (shout to The Simpsons fan Matt Jenkinson) skirted around the legality of ‘inspiration’ by using a subtle colour play, the ‘Heineken’ Dunk was one design that stepped on toes. Released in June 2003, the green, white and black Dunk Low was striking, but the red star on the heel was a red flag to the brewer’s lawyers, who immediately went into cease-and-desist mode. Pulled from shelves, the ‘Heineken’ Dunk is one of the rarer releases of this era and still commands big bucks. For years afterwards, Sneaker Freaker received annual letters from a Dutch law firm demanding we stop calling the shoe by its nickname, something we found highly amusing and of which we took absolutely no notice.

The Silver Box era also marked the introduction of the E-Cue and URL. These cutting-edge designs were two of the most high-tech and durable skate shoes of their time. However, perhaps handicapped by the success of the Dunk, they struggled to find mainstream acceptance and remain a footnote to SB’s early ingenuity.

Pink Box (September 2004 – December 2005)

Pink Box (September 2004 – December 2005)

The Pink Box era is defined by collaborations with skate shops and music icons. San Francisco’s HUF store designed a cracked leather Dunk High with tie-dyed inlays in reference to their hippie hometown, while London’s Slam City Skates favoured rubber toe caps and Swooshes that wore away to reveal bright blue leather underneath. SB again risked controversy with a Tiffany-inspired design from Diamond Supply Co. that repped faux-gator overlays. Eclectic musical collaborations with the Melvins, Unkle and De La Soul were also released, the latter featuring lenticular graphics from the cover of 3 Feet High and Rising. Loaded with creativity and lavish detailing, each was a revelation and closer to works of art than pieces of footwear.

Outside the Dunk, SB would reflect on previous endorsement lessons by signing the baby-faced Paul Rodriguez to a multimillion-dollar contract in 2005. The lucrative deal made Rodriguez the first Nike skater to receive his own pro model. Known as the Zoom Air Paul Rodriguez – but better known as the ‘P-Rod 1’ – the design earned praise for its skateability and robust styling. Colabs with Futura 2000 and Stash helped the cause, as did the ‘J-Rod’, an inspired edit by Nike designer Tinker Hatfield. The use of elephant print, not to mention a Jumpman on the tongue, ensured this was one of the most coveted releases of the era.

Of all the Pink Box releases, the ‘Pigeon’ Dunk Low set the bar highest for hype. Designed by Jeff Staple and sold exclusively in NYC, this was the final release in the hyper-limited ‘City Pack’ series. Just 30 pairs were available through Staple’s Reed Space location in Manhattan. Attracted by the lure of fast money, sneakerheads and street hustlers swarmed the store. The NYPD were called to keep things under control and greeted by a mini-riot in the making.

The scene made the front page of the New York Post, launching sneaker culture well and truly into mainstream consciousness. To this day, the infamous ‘Pigeon’ Dunk sold at Reed Space still changes hands for five figures.

With wider society now exposed to Dunk-mania, interest in sneakers escalated. Already hefty prices on the secondary market went through the roof as a new generation of sneakerheads joined the cult. With high demand and short supply, bootleg manufacturers stepped in to take advantage, and the market was soon swamped with counterfeits of laughable quality. In response, forums like ‘N-SB’ produced comprehensive ‘legit checks’ to identify telltale signs of forgery.

The hype, however, wasn’t all negative. Peripheral creative elements coalesced, adding heft to the idea that sneaker culture was about more than just the shoes. In June 2005, the artist I Have Pop revealed a guerrilla installation that secretly placed concrete Dunks out the front of sneaker boutiques, including Undefeated, Solebox and DQM. Another artist, Gabriel Urist, made tiny replica sneaker necklaces out of gold. Acclaimed painter Dave White also came to prominence in both art and sneaker circles for his expressionist interpretations of Dunks. Exhibitions such as Sneaker Pimps brought music, footwear and art together into a ‘sneakerpalooza’ package that would travel the world spreading the gospel. Streetwear brands also took note, and labels like KIKS TYO, Sneaktip and Mike plundered the culture.

In late 2005, a wave of Brazil-exclusive Dunks arrived. Originally housed in a cream and brown box distinguished by the letters ‘EMB’, the series started with simple colours like a ‘Miami’ make-up and a ‘UNLV’ low-top nicknamed ‘Ultraman’. As the years progressed, the Brazil shoes became increasingly elaborate, particularly the third series in 2008. Designed with input from Brazilian SB team riders Cezar Gordo, Fabio Cristiano and Rodrigo Petersen, the collection paid tribute to the classic Sony Walkman. Numbers on these are crazy limited.

Black Box (February 2006 – September 2007)

Black Box (February 2006 – September 2007)

The Black Box era posed a few challenges for Nike SB. Speculative interest by sneakerheads was starting to overshadow Bodecker’s original skate-only manifesto. More likely to be stacked in a pile awaiting eBay than shredded in skateparks, an apparent increase in Dunk production numbers was slowly devaluing SB’s credit rating, and a bunch of releases ended up heavily discounted.

Stylistically, several designs in this era were also accused of excessive embellishment. The use of patent leather and faux fur was criticised for being not just corny but antithetical to the very idea of skateboarding. Colabs with Dinosaur Jr., MF DOOM and obscure Dutch band C-Mon & Kypski kept SB’s music connection alive. But only a handful of Black Box releases – including the ‘SBTG’ by Singaporean customiser Mark Ong and the aesthetically appealing ‘Send Help’ by Todd Bratrud of Consolidated Skateboards – delivered the sellouts seen in previous generations.

To their credit, SB continued to innovate. A spiritual successor to the E-Cue, the Zoom Tre was able to withstand relentless punishment and is still regarded by many as the greatest performance skate shoe of all time. The design was improved further in 2008 during the Gold Box period with the release of the Zoom Tre AD. Despite fine-tuning the original’s shortcomings – in regards to flexibility and fit – the Tre was retired unceremoniously shortly afterwards.

Nike SB 'What The Dunk'

Gold Box (October 2007 – March 2009)

SB had always gone heavy with the so-called ‘inspired by’ releases that mined pop culture, but the Gold Box era’s distinct lack of collaborations – just two in its first year – starved the hype train. However, as 2007 came to a close, Nike launched the next-gen in spectacular fashion. To promote their first feature-length skate flick, Nothing But The Truth, SB dialled in a commemorative release aptly named ‘What The Dunk’.,

This jaw-dropper was a mishmash of nearly every single noteworthy release from SB’s first five years. From hemp to tweed to denim, this shoe had it all – and then some. While early opinion was divided– especially after fakes emerged before the shoe was officially revealed – chaos ensued once it was revealed that the numbers were stupid limited and the shoe would only drop in the nine cities hosting the film’s premiere. ‘What The Dunks’ now command four-figure price tags, more than nearly every hype release they paid tribute to!

Blue Box (April 2009 – June 2012)

Blue Box (April 2009 – June 2012)

The Blue Box arrived in 2009. The Dunk was almost at the end of its hype cycle, and skate style was rapidly changing. SB team rider Stefan Janoski was pondering plans for his own radical low-tech pro model. Sporting a vulcanised sole with classical boat-shoe styling, complete with leather laces and minimal padding, the design was an intentional throwback.

In an interview with The Berrics, Janoski outlined his vision: ‘I wanted function over protection. Companies made amazing skate shoes before they knew they were making skate shoes. Then when they decided they wanted to make skate shoes, they’d add stuffing to the tongue, padding up the bottom and basically take out all the good parts and ruin it!’

The Janoski was a monster homerun, and it quickly surged to become one of Nike’s bestselling models of the time. Other Nike pros, including Omar Salazar and Brian Anderson, also released signature models, but nothing would ever compare to the number-crunching success of Janoski’s humble boat shoe.

Skate veteran Eric Koston shocked the industry in 2009 when he walked away from his freshly inked endorsement deal with Lakai to sign with SB. Knowing he was a major fan of the LA Lakers, SB reached out to Nike Basketball to produce a once-in-a-lifetime colab with Kobe Bryant. Two versions of the Eric Koston 1 were created. One featured an upper inspired by the Zoom Kobe VI, the other was an extra-special version that fused a Kobe VI upper to the Koston 1 sole unit. Limited to just 24 pairs, this Hyperstrike release came packaged in a functional wooden humidor.

Koston would go on to have a legion of shoes attached to his name, including several Air Max-inspired designs, but none of them was able to find a memorable groove. In 2016, the Koston 3 Hyperfeel released fitted with an extended sock device, polarising fans with its awkward profile.

Aside from changes to the tongue padding, the core construction of the Dunk SB remained unchanged until 2011, when a complete overhaul was ordered. The Dunk NT (‘new tooling’) introduced heel lining pods, injected Phylon midsoles and a completely reengineered outsole design.

Taped Box (July 2012 – December 2013)

Taped Box (July 2012 – December 2013)

SB switched to the Taped Box design in 2011. It was around this time that restrictions dictating SB could only be sold exclusively through dedicated skate channels were lifted. The hype around the Dunk had largely subsided by this stage, although a few well-received releases arrived in the Taped Box, including an official colab with Levi’s and a revisit of Supreme’s original Dunk Low. It was becoming clear that Nike SB had lost the superstar sheen it had enjoyed in its early days.

Teal Box (December 2013 – December 2019)

Tiffany Box (December 2013 – December 2019)

In 2014, SB turned over a new leaf. Having entered the Tiffany Box era, the label reflected on its history in a bid to recapture the spark. The first half of the year delivered a number of unexpectedly hyped releases, such as a high-cut rerelease of Diamond Supply’s ‘Tiffany’ Dunk. They also revisited a missing part of Nike’s skateboarding history by finally introducing the Air Jordan 1 to the official SB lineup. One pair was designed by Dogtown legend Craig Stecyk, while the other two revolved around Bones Brigade legend Lance Mountain. The classic ‘Bred’ and ‘Royal’ Jordan colourways were mismatched and covered in paint as a paean to the AJ1’s glory days in the 80s. Paying respect to that shoe’s history was a significant moment.

From a performance perspective, SB continued to experiment with the Dunk. In 2015, at the request of team rider Ishod Wair, a new variant reduced the inner padding. In 2017, the biggest overhaul yet produced the Zoom Dunk Elite Low, which completely reengineered every aspect of the shoe. Fifteen years after SB’s birth, the Zoom Dunk Elite Low made its debut in the same low-key grey and blue colourway featured on the first Dunk SB sample.

Nike SB Striped Box
Nike SB Purple Box

Striped Box and Purple Box (January 2020 – Current)

Note: Nike SB refer to all releases from January 2020 onwards as the ‘Striped Box’ era. In most cases, the ‘Striped Box’ is reserved for Quickstrike releases and collaborations, while the ‘Purple Box’ is reserved for general release colourways. The ‘Orange Label Box’ accompanies product reserved exclusively for skate stores. Still, there are several release anomalies. This is due to manufacturing impacted by COVID-19, stock availability, and simply the cost of manufacturing the ‘Striped Box’ – which, as communicated to SF by Nike sources, is significantly higher.

Nike’s ‘Striped Box’ era will be remembered for OG, grassroots collaborations as well as high-profile hookups. Tapping skate stalwarts like Concepts, Sean Cliver and Todd Bratrud, SB also opened their arms to pop culture supernovas like Travis Scott.

Once the sole-slinging outlaws of the sneaker industry, SB’s ‘Striped Box’ era marked a more conservative, above-board approach to collaborations. No longer skirting dangerously close to copyright infringement (you’ll never hear of rogue skate stores saving Freddy Dunks from a fire again), SB are more than happy to get official sign-offs from the likes of Ben & Jerry’s, Gundam, and The Grateful Dead.

The ‘Striped Box’ era also saw the Swoosh playfully reinvented time and time again. The bloody-thirsty Oski SB Dunk high went swimming with the sharks to great effect, while the Chunk Dunky’s Swoosh was literally dripping with flavour.

All in all, the Striped Box era was one of the most unexpected and prodigious periods in Nike SB’s storied history. Here’s hoping the new golden age for SB continues…

For more on Nike SB, make sure to check out the all-time greatest models from the ‘Striped Box’ era.

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