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Nike’s Air Max technology

Riley Jones is a journalism student from Charlottesville, VA. With an unshakable affinity for basketball and all things '90s, he can be found on Twitter @rchrstphr.

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The Complete History of Cushioning Technology in Sneakers

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No. 10 - Nike Air Max Penny 1

Best For: Guards

Penny Hardaway had been making waves in the NBA for a couple years, and in the ’95-96 season, Nike finally hooked him up with his own signature sneaker. The Air Max Penny 1 was designed by Eric Avar and although it didn’t bare the Uptempo tag, it was actually the sneaker which kick started the line, an alternative to Nike’s Force and Flight options. The heel featured a large Max Air bag while the forefoot was backed with Zoom Air.<!--nextpage-->Nike Air Force Max

No. 9 – Nike Air Force Max

Best For: Forwards

Popularized by Charles Barkley and Michigan’s Fab Five, the Nike Air Force Max was the first basketball model to use visible Air Max cushioning. With a forefoot strap providing lockdown fit and the Air Max bubble for impact protection, these were a big man’s dream shoe. Barkley wore these in 1993 after joining the Phoenix Suns, and although the Fab Five is often associated with the Air Flight Huarache, it was the image of the Air Force Max paired with black ankle socks that most fans vividly remember.<!--nextpage-->Nike Air Max Uptempo 2<strong></strong>

No. 8 – Nike Air Max Uptempo 2

Best For: Forwards

The Uptempo line was pioneered by Eric Avar’s Air Max Penny 1, and the Air Max Uptempo 2 was one of the most memorable iterations. Worn by Duke in the 1995 men’s NCAA tournament, the model boasted a mesh-based upper and a eye-catching neon green Air Max bubble.<!--nextpage-->Nike Hypermax

No. 7 – Nike Hypermax

Best For: Forwards, centers

In 2009, Nike took the first version of the Hyperdunk and gave it a big man appeal. With a breathable mesh tongue and Flywire-based upper sitting atop a full-length visible Max Air unit, this sneaker was a hit with NBA players like Carlos Boozer, Pau Gasol, and Jermaine O’Neal.<!--nextpage-->Nike Air More Uptempo

No. 6 – Nike Air More Uptempo

Best For: Forwards, Guards

Few sneakers scream “’90s” like the Nike Air More Uptempo. With its bold branding on the lateral upper and full-length Max Air bubble, it embodied the extreme “in your face” attitude of the era. These could be seen all over the place when they dropped in 1996, but no one made them shine like Scottie Pippen. He wore basic black-and-white colorways with the Bulls, and switched to the USA colorway (pictured) for the 1996 Olympics. The Wilson Smith-designed model has been a success during each of its retro releases.<!--nextpage-->Nike Air Max Uptempo 97

No. 5 – Nike Air Max Uptempo 97

Best For: Forwards, Guards

Yet another model worn by Scottie Pippen before Nike rolled out his signature line, the Nike Air Max Uptempo 97 was known as the Air Max Uptempo III during its release. The leather and nubuck upper provided ample durability, and the unique design helped them stand out on courts. The NCAA 1997 Most Outstanding Player, Miles Simon of Arizona, also popularized the model. Even guards like Mitch Richmond got it on the action, but it was Pippen who is most remembered for wearing the Uptempo 97.<!--nextpage-->Nike Air Max Hyperposite

No. 4 – Nike Air Max Hyperposite

Best For: Forwards, Centers

One of the biggest hits of 2012, the Nike Air Max Hyperposite saw Air Max cushioning move towards the future. Although the model is incredibly innovative, this wasn’t the first time that Air Max and Foamposite were paired together. In 2003, Nike released the Total Air Foamposite Max, which was worn by Tim Duncan. Most players found the model to be too heavy and clunky for the courts, so almost a decade later Nike revamped the idea with the Air Max Hyperposite. Featuring an upper constructed of Hyperfuse and Foamposite, these were one of the best big man releases in 2012. Guys like Anthony Davis, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Chris Bosh made the model shine on NBA courts.<!--nextpage-->Nike Air Max LeBron VIII

No. 3 – Nike Air Max LeBron VIII

Best For: Forwards

Released in two Air Max versions (V1 and V2), the Nike Air Max LeBron VIII picked up where the previous model left off. The V1 used suede and leather uppers with supportive Flywire overlays, while Hyperfuse layers were utilized on the V2 model. Aside from the materials, the return of full-length Air Max in the LeBron VIII showed that the King enjoyed the cushioning used in the LeBron VII to use it again. It would be another year before he won a Championship, but LBJ’s first sneaker in Miami proved to be a performance king.<!--nextpage-->Nike Air Max 2 CB 94

No. 2 – Nike Air Max 2 CB 94

Best For: Fowards, Centers

You just can’t talk Air Max basketball shoes without bringing up Charles Barkley. The Round Mound of the Rebound was the embodiment of the sort of player Air Max cushioning was designed for. His rugged, high-impact style of play needed a tough platform to back it up. Even the lockdown straps of the Air Max 2 CB were inspired by the design of a straightjacket, which was a nod to Barkley’s unpredictable ways. For Chuck’s remaining days with Nike, Air Max cushioning would be used on all of his signature models. This aggressive model has been popular with players for each of its retro releases, and is especially great on outdoor surfaces. Nike gave the model a performance update with the Nike Air Max Barkley, but for some reason it didn’t catch on with players the way the OG did.<!--nextpage-->Nike Air Max LeBron VII

No. 1 – Nike Air Max LeBron VII

Best For: Forwards

Before this 2009 release, LeBron’s signature models utilized Zoom Air cushioning. With the VII, designer Jason Petrie equipped LeBron with Max air cushioning for the first time. The model was also the first LeBron to use a Flywire construction, which has since become a pillar of his signature sneakers.  The lightweight Flywire panels were matched with patent leather and supported by the full-length Air Max midsole. The LeBron VII was also notable for being the first model with a follow-up Playoff version and a plethora of color options, including a Team Bank pack. For his last Playoff run with the Cavs, James wore the LeBron VII PS. And while the Zoom LeBron 6 offered a number of colorways, it was the LeBron VII where Nike really started getting imaginative with the color schemes.

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