A confession: I probably have more Air Force IIs than any other shoe. They were made in a huge variety of colorways upon their initial introduction in 1986, in both general release and team makeups, and constitute a major part of my vintage holdings. Completion of a 1986 set would be virtually impossible—I probably have nine different varieties and I’m not even close—yet it’s a quest that continues. Maybe because of the never-ending aspect of it. After all, sneaker hunting has always been more about the chase than the catch.
The original Air Force II, introduced a full four years after the Air Force 1, bore little resemblance to its Presidential-monikered forebear. Gone was the removable ankle strap as well as the Frankenstein-thick midsole. Instead of a basic leather upper, there were all sorts of plastic bits and rubberized joinings. The Air Force II was a more technical-looking shoe for a more technical time, the immediate forerunner of the Alpha Force and the, er, revolutionary Air Revolution. In those pre-Flight days, it was worn in the NBA by forwards and guards alike, from Philadelphia bruiser Charles Barkley to Seattle sharpshooter Dale Ellis. Colleges, including Rony Seiklay's Syracuse Orangemen, wore it as a team shoe as well.
It’s a sneaker that’s also had an interesting second life. Brought back in the early 2000s as part of the initial retro basketball boom, it primarily served as context-free shelf filler for the big sneaker retailers. But there were some killers amongst the filler, from the outdoor-themed “Escape” highs to the curious ESPO lows, a collab with the NYC-based artist that featured a partially clear upper and a pair of complementary socks. There were regional-themed pairs too, including Atlanta’s “The Dirty” red lows and a Laker-themed L.A. pair. And yes, a few of the general release pairs were good, including all-purple and all-red highs. Of all of these, the ESPOs, which released in super-limited numbers as part of Nike’s 2004 artist pack (alongside the N*E*R*D Dunks), were really the only pair with any serious lasting power. The rest you can find for close to retail, if not way under.
That brings us to the present, and Supreme’s decision to do a run of Air Force II lows of their own which release this week. This isn’t an idea without precedent—Supreme previously released a boot-inspired collaborative drop of the Air Force II’s 1986 takedown, the Delta Force, back in 2004. If that release is any indication of this one, don’t sweat the secondary market—Supreme Deltas are easily acquired today for less than you would have paid on release day. Ditto for general release Delta Force SBs, which lowkey were some of the best SB releases of the mid-2000s.
What the Supreme Air Force II reminds me of more than those, however, is Supreme’s equally underappreciated Bruin SB drop from 2009. Like those Bruins, the Air Force II comes in four colorways; like those Bruins, the Air Force IIs feature Supreme’s “WORLD FAMOUS” branding across the heels, this time molded into the Air Force II’s plastic external heel counters. The brown, orange, and yellow colorways are very autumnal, with the teal pair as the typical Supreme-esque outlier. At $98, they’re certainly affordable, provided would-be buyers can deal with the in-store lines or online bot-infested purchasing process. But again, after the predictable resale bubble bursts, these should be a reasonable cop for anyone who wants them.
Whether you’ll want them or not is another question entirely. The Air Force II is one of those sneakers that doesn’t have any super-specific cultural context, either old or new. Yes, Charles Barkley wearing them was important, but Barkley wore plenty of other Nike models too, many of which carry more weight than the Air Force II. And the ESPOs (and similar Nintendo Wii Highs), while cool, were more quirky one-off than any sort of definitive makeup. The Air Force II wasn’t associated with any particular ‘80s rapper or skateboarder, although they were undoubtedly worn by both—by the first upon their initial release for their high cost, by the second after their inevitable deep discounts. In pop culture, Corey Haim wore a pair in the ‘80s movie License to Drive. In other words, the Air Force II led the typical lifespan of virtually any high-dollar ‘80s Nike Air basketball shoe. There was a time when the Supreme co-sign alone would have made these a must-cop, but those days might be over.
The Supreme Air Force IIs have more in common with the mid-2000s retros than the ‘80s originals, from their candy (O.G. M&Ms!) colors to the hits of patent leather on the perforated side panels. They’re going to sell out, it’s just a matter of whether said sell out will be instantaneous or not. Like them or not, this will add another chapter to the long lifespan of an underappreciated classic. It will also bring attention back to the silhouette for the first time in over a decade—maybe at long last they won’t be underappreciated after all. By other people, anyway.