In the entire pantheon of Nike signature athletes, Scottie Pippen may have been the unlikeliest of them all. Little regarded out of high school, Pippen attended the University of Central Arkansas as the basketball team manager, joining the team as a 6’1” walk-on. By the time he was a senior he had grown to 6’6” and played himself into the lottery. Coveted by Bulls Hall of Fame general manager Jerry Krause, he joined Michael Jordan in Chicago following a draft-day trade. Pippen too became a Hall of Famer and a Top 50 NBA player. His career, long under appreciated, finally was given the respect it deserved. It’s high time his sneaker line got the same treatment.
Pippen didn’t start off as a Nike athlete, let alone a signature one. He came into the league wearing Avia, a then-upstart brand who’d inked themselves a pretty impressive roster, including other future Hall of Famers like Jazz point guard John Stockton and Blazers high-flyer Clyde Drexler. But even as Pippen’s star began to rise, Jordan made sure that he was taken care of. By the time the Bulls were contending for championships, Pippen was sporting the Swoosh. “I had the opportunity to deal with the top shoe brand in the world and have an opportunity to grow with them as I grew as a player,” Pippen says now. “And it was just an amazing experience.”
And before he even got a signature line, starting with the swoopy Pippen 1 in 1997, he was wearing, for lack of a better term, dope shit. Even in those pre-internet, pre-HD days, it stood out. I wasn’t the only one who noticed. “Growing up in Queens in the mid-’90s, a lot of kids wore Air Jordans,” Ronnie Fieg told Complex earlier this month. “But my crew of friends wanted to be different so we all wore Pippen’s sneakers.” Even Pippen himself understood that Jordans got most of the shine—“his shoe was always more looked at as a shoe with a little more style and fashion,” Pippen says now.
But those of us who knew, knew. Back in my college days (#old), I not only had high-top Maestros (which had three eyelets above the ankle), but Pip’s Dream Team Air Flight Lite II mids, too. Normally I’m not so keen on Nike bringing back beloved shoes from my youth, but THOSE definitely need a retro release.
That was the thing—nearly every shoe Pippen wore in the ‘90s was dope. There were those Air Flight Lites, which were wildly ahead of their time, the small-Swoosh Maestros, most famously in all-red All-Star form, and the shoes he actually wore while dunking over Patrick Ewing in the ‘94 playoffs, the Huarache-esque Air Swift. None have been retroed yet save the Maestro, and all of them should.
Much of the sneaker attention paid to Pippen before this year has been to a very small sliver of his history—from, say, 1995 to 1998. The More Uptempo has enjoyed a huge resurgence this year, the ‘95 Uptempo is a classic, and the Pippen 1 gets some occasional shine. “The Pippen 1s was one of the most important shoes in my childhood,” Fieg says. “Those were what made me fall in love with the Pippen brand.”
This all makes some degree of sense, as those are all dope shoes. But it’s also kind of ironic, seeing that they’re all Max shoes and, well, Pip himself didn’t wear them for long. “I wasn't a super fan of the [Max] airbag to be honest,” Pippen says. “I had suffered a few sprained ankles, and my ankle wasn't as stable as I felt it needed to be.” His personal Pippen 1s used an early form of Visible Zoom—and his best shoes were more low key as well as lower to the court.
Fieg bringing back his reworked Maestro should help emphasize that. And if Pippen’s line gets the respect it’s long deserved, this hopefully will lead to a retro of the Flight Lite II mid (in both Olympic and Bulls form), a re-retro of that red All-Star Maestro mid and maybe even a newfound appreciation for smooth, Zoom-based classics like the Aaron Cooper designed Pippen II and Pippen III, which relied less on visible-from-space flash and more on quality materials, sleek lines and perfect little details.
As someone who built himself up from nothing and became a Hall of Famer, Pippen knew the value of patience. It took a while, but he and his game eventually got the respect and recognition they deserved. The same appears to be happening for his sneaker line. It’s about damn time.