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The History of the New Balance 550

03 May 2022

Features NB550

Period Correct Specs

The History of the New Balance 550

Designed by the mercurial Steven Smith, the New Balance 550 had an all-too-brief career in the late 80s before it flamed out and disappeared for three decades. Thanks to Teddy Santis – the all-conquering design don at Aimé Leon Dore who spied the model in a vintage catalogue – the recent retro resurrection encompasses everything that is great about NB in 2022. Smart moves, impeccable attention to detail and committed creative partners, not to mention the generosity of a mysterious Japanese collector, have conspired to catapult this humble ‘basketball oxford’ into the upper echelons.


Though New Balance was, and still is, a running footwear specialist, they dabbled in shoes for all types of athletic activities over the decades. ‘The 550 shows the variety of what New Balance was about at that time,’ Smith notes. ‘They became known as a dad shoe brand, but they had a wide scope of product in the late 80s and 90s.’

By the turn of the century, the 99x series had become New Balance’s flagship thanks to the lofty price points, advanced performance tech and sightings on the feet of everyone from Princess Diana to Steve Jobs and Bill Clinton. Basketball stayed on the back-burner in the 2000s and the brand was largely absent from the NBA, save for Spurs forward Matt Bonner, who wasn’t even sponsored by New Balance. Bonner reportedly only became a fan in 2006 after finding some BB8026 Zips in his dad’s garage (you can’t make this stuff up!). Bonner’s stash of quasi-vintage Zips was finally depleted by 2013. As he told SLAM at the time, ‘These Zips are so old they don’t make ‘em anymore. I even went on eBay. Nothing!’ When his last pair died and were dispatched to sneaker heaven, Bonner signed with adidas, leaving NB out in the cold.

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