A Brief History of Scottie Pippen's Nike Air More Uptempo
Competing with other mid-90s heavyweights like the Air Jordan 11, Penny Hardaway’s Air Penny, and Gary Payton’s Zoom Flight 95, the Air More Uptempo forged its own path, extending the larger-than-life vocabulary of the decade, and elevating Nike’s storytelling to new heights. Maximalist, brash and badass, the Air More Uptempo was never one to play the sidekick. Like Scottie Pippen, the silhouette was a superstar in its own right, and still casts a long shadow over today’s sneaker culture.
The 1996 season was showtime for Scottie Pippen and the Chicago Bulls. Claiming a fourth NBA Championship and second Olympic gold medal, 'Pip' was integral to the Bulls becoming cultural phenomenon of dizzying heights.
Between Atlanta’s Dream Team, endless television commercials, Rodman’s sex life, and MJ’s Space Jam, the Chicago Bulls had become The Beatles of basketball.
With Jordan Brand routinely delivering hit after hit (the Air Jordan 11 ‘Space Jam’ in 1996 was a watershed moment for Michael Jordan), and other marketable stars like Charles Barkley, Gary Payton, and Penny Hardaway all tapping the still-fledgling sneaker phenomenons, was there really any room for more Air?
'Please sir, I want some more Air.'
‘I was pretty shocked,’ Scottie Pippen reflected when he first saw the Air More Uptempo. ‘I thought it was a little overwhelming.’
Debuting in 1996, the Air More Uptempo was enough to take your breath away.
Dilating pupils with 3M ‘AIR’ letterform on the laterals, the Air More Uptempo ran bubbles all the way from the heel to toe, the gargantuan Air unit and in-your-face aesthetic designed to be proportionally relevant to the giant cars and clothes of the era.
Truly one of the standout shoes of the 1990s, the unapologetic Uptempo featured more Air than anything previously in Nike’s arsenal.
‘I think, generally, the mid-90s were just a bigger-than-life time,’ said the Uptempo’s original designer, Wilson Smith. ‘I knew where the Air bag kind of lined up, so I flipped it and on the medial I made the ‘AIR’ in the other direction.’
Taking cues from pop art, subway graffiti and the architecture, the Air More Uptempo first took flight during the Bulls' 1996 regular season, before taking the global stage, when Scottie Pippen laced the sneaker for the USA during the Atlanta Olympics.
Of course, Scottie Pippen would eventually develop a signature line with the Swoosh (the ‘Air Pippen’ debuting in 1997), but from the moment he laced the Air More Uptempo, the silhouette was inextricably tied to the six-time NBA Champion.
Silver Screen Stuntin'
The perfect contrast to Pippen’s low-key attitude (sans that dunk on Patrick Ewing in 1994), the sonically loud Uptempo also helped elevate Nike’s storytelling off the court, with the mesmerising design featuring in movies and commercials across the globe during the 1990s.
In one of the most memorable sneaker ‘unboxings’ of all time, the Nike Air More Uptempo was famously worn by Brendan Fraser’s George of the Jungle in 1997, while Pippen himself repped the Uptempo in the famous ‘periodic table’ and ‘flightpath’ print advertisements.
However, for the Playoffs, Pippen liked to keep it simple, switching to the monochromatic black and white rendition.
‘It was our suit-and-tie kind of outfit’ said Pippen. ‘Like, we’re ready to get down to business now’.
Indeed, the Air More Uptempo still is all business, with the world’s hottest brands only becoming more desperate to collaborate.
In 2017, the world’s largest skate/streetwear label fed the Air More Uptempo into its insatiable hype machine.
With 2016’s recent black and white retro flying off shelves, and John Elliott heightening the appetite for new colourways during his New York Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2016 collection, it was now time for Supreme to drop in. Their bold colourway one of the most recognisable skate x basketball crossovers in recent history.
Lightweight sneakers took a backseat, and the heavy, stomping silhouette made room for a new paradigm in footwear: the ‘Suptempo’.
Coming in three colourways, (Red/White, Gold/White, and Triple Black), the Suptempo reiterated the Uptempo’s cultural relevance beyond the court, and paved the way for more recent collaborations by the likes of Cactus Plant Flea Market (and their sly allusions to the Uptempo with the Air Force 1).
The appetite for Scottie Pippen’s Uptempo is as voracious as ever. The in-your-face design is still carrying all the DNA of a bygone era, and we’d all love to lace it up right now.
Still keen for more 1990s nostalgia? Check out why the Air Jordan 5 is still a bad, bad boy.
This feature was originally published on May 7, 2020.