The Best Nike and Nike SB Dunks of 2021
Nike dropped a lot of Dunks this year. So did their Nike SB cousins. Does that mean the Dunk was democratised in 2021? Even with the sheer volume of releases, it wasn't any easier acquiring a pair, however, the logistics of buying popular sneakers at retail is not the focus here. Already having rounded up the best (and also some of the worst) releases of the first half of 2021, it’s now time to see how the rest of the year has played out. As difficult as it was narrowing dozens of colourways down to the single digits, it’s safe to say the Swoosh saved some of their best for last.
First visions of the ‘Strawberry Cough’ SB Dunk High first emerged in early 2020, with most signs pointing towards a 4/20 release, but the haze didn’t clear for a drop until this year. After all, long-time collaborator Todd Bratrud has worked on many of the brand’s previous weed-themed sneakers that released on the greenest day of the year. Never short on details, the artist’s latest Dunk specified some of the hairiest suede in recent memory, while the seeded strawberry upper reinforced the tactile delight. And, of course, a stash pocket is included to stealthily carry any strains... or whatever else the wearer chooses to obscure.
Halloween has become prime time for celebratory sneaker releases, and Nike SB wrapped up their extensive creepy collection this year with a bandaged Dunk in the guise of the mummy. Glow-in-the-dark soles also marked a very appropriate adherence to spooky szn aesthetics, but the toilet paper graphic insoles confirmed Nike’s playful edge underlying the ghoulish appearance. Between all of the serious releases, Nike SB still know how to have fun. The real question is, with all of the limited edition details in the playbook used here – tearaway panels, GITD, graphic insoles, et al – how does the brand top this next year?
So, the Next Nature Dunks just look like another run-of-the-mill two-tone colourway. It’s not necessarily the palette itself that makes these significant, but rather the ethos behind them. It represents what the future of sneaker sustainability could look like: exactly the same as the originals. Instead of overtly conceptual designs that potentially compromise accessibility, why not just make a familiar model better? And this Dunk doesn’t scream the fact that it contains a higher percentage of recycled materials, it simply nods to the fact via its pinwheel insole graphic and lightly speckled midsoles. In time, this really should be ‘Next Nature’.
Of all the high-profile releases scheduled for Tokyo 2020, the Parra SB Dunk was the most anticipated. Months of early leaks and unauthorised reveals did all but whet the appetites of the Dutch artist’s fans and those looking to make a quick buck. In typical Parra form, bright colours, bespoke branding (check that Swoosh) and hidden details like tearaway panels made for one of the most complex Dunk releases of the year. Furthermore, the artist’s involvement with the skate scene goes way back to the 1990s via his Fret Click crew and countless deck graphics, so this high-profile drop was yet another peak for Parra.
Gunpla and sneakers have a lot of crossover fans, so an official colab between the Gundam franchise and Nike SB was a welcome, albeit somewhat unexpected one. The Swoosh logo has become something of a collaborative plaything in recent years, particularly in the SB sphere. So, Gundam took full advantage of their creative freedom and transformed the Nike trademark into a metallic armoured variety to go along with the mecha-inspired finish on the uppers. Per the adjacent merch for these sorts of pop culture colabs, there were even matching chibi figurines that only dropped in China, upping its collectability factor.
Nike can pump out two-toned ‘Be True To Your School’ style colourways until the cows come home – and they’ll sell out instantly too – but the ‘Championship Red’ tweaked this same-same-but-different formula to great effect. Instead of having the secondary panels white, the primary overlays – bumper, heel counter, Swoosh, etc. – are now blanked out, making room for vibrant red on the remaining toe box and mid panels. This reversed colour-blocking is reminiscent of the old CO.JP releases from the late 1990s and early 2000s, a detail that may be lost on newer Dunk fans, but a nice dose of nostalgia for old heads.
On the topic of BTTYS, Nike have done well to serve up essentially another retro of the ‘St John’s’ OG, which is known as ‘University Red’ this time around. This is the Dunk in its purest unadulterated form, straight down to its nylon tongues. Some purists would argue that the lining should be the same material to adhere to 1985 specifications, but the mesh variant is a practical and commonplace modification. And besides, this 2021 release is much easier to source; not to mention a fair chunk cheaper on the secondary market versus previous editions in similar shades of red.
As the year is coming to an end, it's time to recall the best releases of the year. Check out the cream of the crop from Jordan Brand here.