Decades of PONY: A Trip Down Memory Lane
Saddle up as we take a gallop down memory lane and check out some vintage PONY joints. From basketball to tennis and running, PONY was an influential player, racking up endorsements with some of the biggest names in American sport. These are their shoes!
Starter Hi/Lo (1975)
Here’s a ball shoe with minor changes from many other PONY models released in the 70s and 80s. It’s a little cleaner, and the reduction in paneling seems to be the only amendment. The ‘measuring tape’ laces are a remnant from the first owner’s custody of this vintage relic.
Here’s two curious models we dug up during our research. Billed as John Havlicek pro-models, we say curious because no one can remember either of them, and we couldn’t find any other record of their existence. The use of a double chevron makes them even more intriguing. During his 16 years on the Celtics’ list, Havlicek won an amazing eight titles. He is also the highest scoring white player in NBA history. Eat your heart out Larry Bird.
Court Hi (1982)
With its elegant, upright stance, PONY’s Court Hi epitomises the early basketball sneaker aesthetic. Carved from rugged white canvas and capped with a sturdy rubber toe, this silhouette will be familiar to anyone who pounded hardwood back in the day. Shown here in remarkable vintage condition, the Court Hi remains an authentic survivor of PONY’s glory days.
David Thompson Pro-Model
After leading North Carolina to an undefeated season in the NCAA Men’s TRS Basketball Championship in 1974, David Thompson etched his name into the history books. Blessed with the nickname ‘Skywalker’ on account of his towering 44-inch vertical leap, he also perfected the alley-oop pass with the help of teammate Monte Towe. Turning pro for the Denver Nuggets, Thompson then became the highest paid player in the game in 1978. How good was he? Michael Jordan is his biggest fan, and chose Thompson to inducted him into the Hall of Fame. Now that’s legit.
At 6ft 9in, Bob McAdoo was tall timber, and the proud owner of a very cool name. Starting his pro-career with the Buffalo Braves, McAdoo won the 1973 NBA Rookie of the Year Award and earned three consecutive NBA scoring titles. As Bobbito Garcia notes in his interview, he was a ‘scoring machine’ who played with the Knicks, Celtics, Pistons and the Nets before winning titles with the Lakers in 1982 and 1985. These McAdoo PONYs seem to have only been produced in navy suede, an unusual choice for this era.
Slam Dunk Hi (1982)
If innovation truly occurs in tiny steps, it might explain how so many shoes that were released in the 70s and 80s look so similar. Almost identical. Witness the Slam Dunk Hi, a kid cousin of the Court Hi, another white canvas baller. White with a red chevron will always be a classy statement.
As PONY headed into the 80s, they expanded upon their turf trainer series by adding the Linebacker to their production line. With its golf-style lace flap and knobbly sole, the Linebacker is particularly fondly regarded in the United Kingdom, where its NFL branding made it a serious shoe for the US sports fan. Thanks to the guys at U-Dox in the UK, we have images of this super rare trainer.
No prizes for identifying PONY’s Cricket model as an all-white version of the Linebacker. This vintage pair features a cricket bat insole and, rather oddly, an American flag swing tag. This is another super rare piece that may have only been released in the United Kingdom, for obvious reasons.
Pro 80 (1983)
With canvas the everyman material of choice for ball shoes, elevating models to premier status by using white leather was a common tactic within the athletic footwear industry. The Pro 80 was a simple design and with the trademark chevron blazed across the ankle, spectators in the upper bleachers were under no illusion as to the player’s affiliation.
Pro 90 (1983)
On a roll with the Pro 80, PONY decided to numerically up the ante and release the Pro 90.
With a swag of runners in their lineup, PONY made a decent play for market share in the running explosion of the late 70s. The Montreal and Racer were honest attempts to win fans, though none managed to quite nail down franchise status. Note the ghilly lacing system on the model known as the Joggy.
Tennis and basketball equipment are a million miles apart these days but, in the 80s, sneakers designed for both sports shared overlapping design cues. The addition of a pinked (sawtoothed) panel was the main modification to a pretty basic tennis silhouette.
#1 was a killer name to give this classy hightop from 1982. As Bobbito Garcia notes in his interview, he loved his #1s so much, he painted the chevron black for added effect. Dressed in white leather, and sporting a perforated toe, it’s the gum sole that creates the sense of flair. A PONY classic.
Astro Leather (1984)
A cousin of the Stud model, the Astro Leather was a turf trainer destined for baseball, gridiron football or even field hockey. The white leather upper on these is remarkably well preserved.
City Wings (1986)
The City Wings was made famous in 1986 when Spud Webb routed Dominique Wilkins to win the NBA Slam Dunk Competition. Most people remember the hightops, but a low cut was also released, and it’s this version that was actually worn by Spud in the final.
Aerobics was on heavy rotation in the 80s, and PONY looked to capitalise on the ultimate female fad by releasing the Retton Hi. Named after Mary Lou Retton, the Olympic gold medal—winning US gymnast, the shoe had an ‘uncanny’ resemblance to another classic women’s trainer from this era. Say no more! Retton was a household name in the 80s, so this endorsement was a pretty big deal at the time.
1985 would prove to be a remarkable year for basketball, and basketball sneakers in particular. Sadly, not many people remember the PONY Profile model, possibly due to the fact that 1985 also saw the release of the first Jordan.
PONY signed Earl ‘the Pearl’ Monroe in the early 70s. Famed for his silky-smooth style and backcourt combination with Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier, Earl set a mountain of records during his career with the Knicks and Baltimore Bullets. With Clyde signed to Puma, PONY laced Earl with his own shoe known as the MVP. This is the second version of the shoe from the mid-80s.
With their emphasis on team sports above personal glory, PONY was a major player in the cleated boot industry. This model was known as the Steeler, and was just one of dozens of cleated models that sold by the millions.
As consumers began to demand more visually complicated designs, PONY attempted to up the ante by releasing the tech-sounding M-100 model. With a busy upper complete with plastic breathe holes and a ‘linear motion’ logo, the M-100 certainly offered a more dynamic presence than its PONY predecessors. It also riffed a little off the cross-training aesthetic that was coming through at this time.
As the sneaker wars hotted up, PONY tried to keep pace. Throwing pink and baby blue over the M-110 model was a late play for the Miami Vice x LA Gear hightop aesthetic.