As the likelihood of an Air Zoom Generation retro moves from “if” to “when,” maybe it’s a little redundant to ask for a re-issue one of its most memorable iterations. But what the hell, sometimes you can actually get what you want.
It’s easy to forget now, but the Air Zoom Generation was a hugely important sneaker for Nike Basketball, if not Nike as a whole. Nike had just outbid everyone forLeBron James, the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, and potentially the most transcendent player to enter the League in years. His arrival had been anticipated since he was a sophomore in high school, and Nike’s $90 million outlay reflected this. With Michael Jordan retired (for the LAST time) and Kobe Bryant’s future still in doubt, much weight was placed on The Chosen One’s shoulders before he even played a game in the NBA.
A dream team of designers headed by Tinker Hatfield himself worked on what would become the Air Zoom Generation.
His first sneaker would have to be a banger, and Nike knew it. A dream team of designers headed by Tinker Hatfield himself worked on what would become the Air Zoom Generation, inspired in part by ‘Bron’s infamous Hummer H2. The technical aspects were fairly basic in thispre-Hyperfuse/Flyknit/Lunarlon era—Zoom Air, carbon fiber plate,nubuck or synthetic leather and nylon upper—with a breathable Sphere lining as the sole “new” development. Priced at a reasonable enough $110, it eventually dropped in just five colorways (with several more produced as promo- orLeBron-only).
[Giant aside: Personally, I wore a pair for the first time to LeBron’s home debut against the Nuggets. I was editor in chief of SLAM at the time, and then senior editor Ryan Jones (who wrote the first national feature onLeBron) and I made the two-day drive to Cleveland to catch his first NBA game. It was, needless to say, a circus. But not so much a circus that we didn’t wind up on the court whenLeBron and them came out to warm up. (It’s OK, we’re media.) And inevitably,LeBron found his way over to us—after all, we’d put him on the cover while he was in high school. As he talked, his gaze drifted down to our feet, then shot back up. I was wearing the black “away” pair—samples—that wouldn’t drop for a few months yet. He gave a look, then went back to the layup line. We went to our press seats, he shot 3 for 11 and scored 7 points. Sorry for messing with your focus, ‘Bron.]
But, as you can probably tell by the images, that’s not the Air Zoom Generation I want back first. Because it was the “Wheat” model that he wore for 2004’s All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles that really made an impact. Done up in all nubuck with matte gold accents and a gum bottom, the Wheats really brought the Timberland aesthetic to the hardwood. (It’s worth noting that adidas did a virtually identical colorup of the ADAN—All Day, All Night—streetball shoe in 2001, but hey, LeBron didn’t wear it.) And despite the fact that I was already firmly in the editor-”influencer” free sneaker matrix, I actually bought TWO pairs of the Wheat Generations, one of which is the pair pictured here. The other I had painted by Andre Trenier, but that’s a story for another time.
It’s been 10 years. And with LeBron XIs clocking in at $200-plus, what better time to bring back LeBron’s first shoe? Keep it affordable, keep it accurate, and—most of all—keep it wheat.