An instant everyday staple since its launch in 1972, the Nike Blazer trainer offers a clean design which has maintained its iconic status ever since. Maturing from a simple canvas high top, the Nike Blazer has been re-imagined with new colourways and materials countless times. One thing is clear – it was a classic from day one.
The brand was only 7 years old at the time, a young upstart still finding its way through the industry, and for most of that time they weren’t even known as “Nike.” Blue Ribbon Sports was founded in 1964 by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight as an organization to distribute Japanese footwear in the US, but it wasn’t until 1971, with the design of the famous Swoosh that they’d be known as Nike and begin creating its own shoes.
The Nike Blazer was first released in 1972 as Nike’s best basketball sneaker.
Nike took that now famous swoosh and plastered it on a plain white shoe, creating a sneaker that was as much a logo as anything else. It’s a simple shoe to this day, beloved for its simplicity, but in 1972 there were still a lot of technological advances to come in the world of footwear.
The shoe featured a leather upper, a mesh nylon tongue and a textured vulcanized rubber sole—the preferred sole for basketball sneakers in the early 1970s. Each of these elements were the best technology available for shoes on the court. It was Bowerman who first put real brainpower into developing footwear that would support athletes in effective ways to change their game. It would still be five years before Nike first injected air into its soles, and 12 years before they signed Michael Jordan to be the frontman of its basketball business.
It’s only fitting that Nike’s first significant basketball sneaker would be named after the local basketball team, the Portland Trail Blazers. But it was George “The Iceman” Gervin who was first to wear the shoe. “Nike was very innovative…Nike was thinking out of the box back in the ’70s,” Gervin says. “When I first joined the NBA I used to wear adidas and then Nike came on board and Nike approached me and wanted to give me much more money and they had a better quality shoe, I thought. So, I went with Nike through the rest of my career.”
George “Iceman” Gervin playing in the Nike Blazer
For Nike, its partnership with Gervin was all about branding. It was no coincidence that they were new to the industry and designed a sneaker dominated by its logo. Then it found one of the most notorious players in the game, with a nickname for his cool attitude on court and an incredible track record as a shooting guard. The cameras were pointed at Gervin every game, and whenever those cameras caught his feet they found huge Nike swooshes. Every photograph became an advertisement.
For most silhouettes that have lasted almost as long as the Blazer, they’ve done so by changing with the times. But the Blazer hasn’t changed, instead its community has changed around it. Soon after the Blazer was introduced, Nike put its focus into developing its AIR program, and basketball technology took off. As all the best athletic minds took to expanding the possibilities for basketball sneakers, heavy leathers, fragile meshes, and hard vulcanized rubber soles got left behind one by one.
But the sole that was once designed for traction on court was quickly recognized by skateboarders for having amazing traction on their grip tape. The heavy leather and suede uppers stood up against the beatings skaters wrought against them. The mesh tongue wasn’t ideal – skaters prefer a little more cushion in the tongue – but Nike would solve that soon enough. As basketball players left the Blazer behind, skaters took ownership of the sneaker through the 70s, 80s and 90s and it found a second life that would ultimately save the shoe from ever going out of style.
In 2003, street artist Futura 2000 used the opportunity of a Nike collaboration to bring his own take to the budget sneaker. Their collaborative effort that featured a blend of olive, tan, and navy suedes, and released only 1000 pairs, making them immediately rare and collectable.
Everything that happened to the Blazer before 2006 was well earned history, solidifying the Blazer as one of the most long lasting silhouettes of all time. But it was in 2006 when iconic skate brand Supreme collaborated with Nike on a trio of Blazers that elevated the classic silhouette to one of the most sought after sneakers in the world. Supreme released three quilted Blazers with Nike, in black, white, and red, each with faux snake skin swooshes, and Gucci inspired ribbons up the heels that held golden D-rings.
In 2017, the Blazer was reinvented yet again by none other than Virgil Abloh for Off White. Abloh made the massive swoosh even bigger, extending from the heel over the heightened vulcanized sole. The tongue maintained the same mesh as came on the original design, with the Nike tag on the lateral side of the shoe rather than the top of the tongue and “Shoelaces” printed shoelaces finished out the sneaker.
Few shoes have gone through the social evolution like the Blazer has, with multiple communities adopting the simple shoe allowing it to have a shelf life longer than almost any other sneaker in the game. It appeared at a time that should have forced it to be forgotten as much more advanced sneakers came quickly after it. But somehow, either thanks to its simplicity and brand awareness the Blazer continues on as a must-have classic.Read More