What do former U.S. National Team soccer player Alexi Lalas and pro skater Eric Koston have in common? Think critically. No, it's not a troubling love of questionable necklaces. Both men made a name manipulating an object with their feet.
Last Thursday at Pasadena, CA's Rose Bowl, site of the 1994 World Cup Final, Lalas and Koston were among 22 guests at a dinner celebrating the launch of Nike's new boot, the Tiempo 5 Legend, and the brand's new lifestyle shoe, the Nike Tiempo '94 OG (an ode to the boot worn by 10 players during those Rose Bowl finals). Beside the table, stood a fascinating sculpture: Rising from a kick flip, a figure soared to strike a waist high volley. In arrested motion, a seemingly incongruous connection between two sports became, if not concrete, an intriguing moment for reflection.
In America, skateboarding's footwear legacy is tied most regularly to the hardwood. Images of Lance Mountain in the Jordan 1 are part of that shoe's legend. Gino Iannucci hit pavement in canvas AF1 miss during the mid-'90s. The skate history of the Dunk hardly needs rehashing here. 1980s hoops shoes have an undeniable influence on skateboarding. But, that influence certainly isn't singular.
Ten years ago this month, Nike SB released the FC. Short for "football club," the FC evoked classic indoor soccer silhouettes and incorporated the same skate-friendly Zoom Air insole and padded tongue found in the more popular Dunk models. The shoe was an outlier—fitting into the SB range amid the Delta Force, Dunk, and, later, Trainer 1—a distinct foreigner in against a trio of shoes connected culturally and functionally to primarily American athletic ventures. The most successful color schemes, featuring the badges of powerhouse teams like Barcelona and Manchester United (alas, no Arsenal), reaffirmed the FC's football connection. 2006's "STAND UP, SPEAK OUT" version connected skateboarding to larger concerns of racism in sport. However, the ultimate legacy of the FC is not in special makeup, but in foreshadowing the low-profile, board feel-friendly future of skate footwear.
"Nike SB's output from the early 2000s that wasn't based on existing shoes remains deeply underrated," said writer Gary Warnett. "Nike SB's decision to use a football silhouette was an interesting use of low profile training shoes that channelled that era of skaters appropriating unlikely shoes nicely. I believe it's one of the best uses of Zoom Air on a non-basketball or running shoe."
"The Fret Click edition, released in 2005, is one of the best Euro only editions of a shoe ever," said Gary Warnett.
On initial release, the FC tapped a small, but dedicated audience. It found favor among early adopters to the fixed bicycle craze (which, as a community, got it's own soccer-inspired shoe in 2009, the Nike Zoom Tiempo). The FC also precipitated the Abington, a 2008 release that offered minor updates to its predecessor and continued the refinement of soccer shapes by Beaverton's SB team.
Funnily enough, the silhouettes weren't striking on the other side of the ball. The SB FC, rather than a true indoor soccer shoe, was first to translate to mass market—hitting stockrooms at retailers like JD Sports in the UK without Zoom. Yet, despite this fact, the biggest impact on design came from a holistic view of soccer that forced Nike Football to honor the breadth of the sport. Recognizing that the majority of play occurred not in 11-aside, 90-minute match format, but instead on small 5-aside pitches, Nike Football narrowed focus and created one of the most significant footballing franchises—Nike5—in recent memory.
The first significant release in the series, the initial Lunar Gato (later given an upper revamp as the Gato Leather) pushed via Christiano Ronaldo and an undeniable Safari upper. Peaking the interest of sneakerheads, the shoe began a string of hits for the Nike5 line that includes the Nike5 Street Gato (the 2012 all-red colorway is destined for future "grail" status), and the technical 2013 release, the Lunar Gato II—built of an intriguing mix of Hyperfuse and quilted leather. One idea linked all three shoes: Soccer can be played anywhere.
A decade after the launch of the FC, skateboarding and soccer are more properly aligning. In September, Nike SB launched its own version of the Lunar Gato. An immediate translation of one of the Gato Leather, the recognition of similar needs—fit, feel, abrasion resistance—is direct rather than allusion.
One could wage that Alexi Lalas might favor a longboard. A lifelong Laker's fan and avid golfer, Koston might not have a superb juggling record. Simply put, their sporting connection is thematic and not grounded in a shared skill set. Their tools, however, correlate. Nike calls it "the Brotherhood of the Foot." The notion, while newly articulated, is rooted in history and and a firm trajectory of cross-departmental design.
For 10 years, almost the entirety of Nike SB's life, soccer has played background inspiration to basketball. Lost in the Dunk collecting craze of the early-2000s, the FC cracks Complex's 100 best Nike SBs of All Time. It's a shoe for the cognoscenti. A shoe that sparks memories in those with a certain level of nerdery and certain affection for football culture. The models that followed the FC, those that preceded the Nike SB Lunar Gato, sparked similar imagination and served as subtle reminders that the beautiful game has a space in skateboarding. With the World Cup on the horizon, will skateboarding's forgotten influence finally take center stage?