The history of the Nike Shox goes all the way back to 1984 when Bruce Kilgore, the man who had designed the Air Force 1 just two years prior, had the idea to put mechanical cushioning on a pair of running shoes. This prototype looked nothing like Shox in their current form, but rather like a suspension fork for a mountain bike, but for feet. The idea would finally come to fruition in 2000, thanks to Nike designers Aaron Cooper, Greg Thompson, and Brian Farris, and become one of the most polarizing technologies of the decade. There are people who swear by Shox, who are excited that Nike is bringing them back, and can’t wait to party like it’s 2006 again. There are others of us, who are on the right side of history, that know that Nike Shox have always been awful.
Let’s get things out of the way really quick: Yes, I’m fully aware that some people believe the Nike Shox BB4, which Vince Carter wore in the 2000 Olympics to dunk over Frenchman Frederic Weis and effectively end his career, is a classic. So much so that Nike remade the shoe this year for Carter, who’s 41 years old, to wear in the NBA. There’s also the Shox R4, the most legendary runner version, that has a strong history with the Grime scene in the UK and was even worn recently by Drake. Those shoes, for historical reasons, can get a pass. Want to be nostalgic for them? Good, go ahead, no one’s stopping you. There’s a reason Nike has retroed both of those sneakers.
But let’s really talk about the history and legacy of Nike Shox for a minute. What they really mean in a cultural context.
Close your eyes for a second and imagine someone wearing a pair of Shox in 2005. Odds are they’ve also got on an oversized striped mall-brand polo shirt, undershirt beneath, with a frayed brim hat, and a pair of baggy cargo pants. That was never cool.
The idea of Shox being awesome, for the most part outside of a year or two, is revisionist history is because so much else was going on at that time. If you were wearing Nike Shox from 2005 to 2009, yes we see you, you weren’t into cool shit. Simple as that. You weren’t wearing Nike SBs. Probably weren’t wearing retro Jordans. And more than likely never set foot into a tier zero sneaker boutique. Does that sound like some elitist bullshit? Good, deal with it, this is sneakers we’re talking about. Leave your feelings at the door.
From 2006 to 2013 I worked at multiple big box sneaker stores, and I vividly remember every single person who bought a pair of Nike Shox from me. None of them were cool. I sold roughly 20,000 pairs to suburban bros who would most likely thrash them in a frat basement or while playing cornhole in someone’s backyard. The rest of them went to Brazilians who were looking to ship them back home and make a pretty penny on the resale, as the country had a love affair with visible technology.
There also a load of meatheads who bought the shoes because they honestly thought, at $110, that Shox were the best shoe on the self to work out in. Joke was on them. There’s always been sketchy data going around that Shox are bad for your knees, although it can’t be substantiated. But I imagine that a non-flexible shoe with a probably-faux-leather upper isn’t the best thing to run 10 miles in. Just a hunch.
The real reason that I say Nike Shox weren’t cool isn’t just because I don’t like the aesthetic of the cushioning system, but for many suburban kids, the onset of Nike SB and limited-edition shoes felt like a rebellion against those who wore Shox. The people who wore Shox were the same ones who probably tried to make fun of you for wearing an allover print hoodie and bright sneakers. We wanted hard-to-find shoes because we didn’t want to dress like the dude who bought everything at the mall and was probably a dickhead.
It’s hard to shake that image of Nike Shox, no matter how much you tie them to one single moment from Vince Carter. They’ll forever be seen as $79.99 shoes from Dick’s Sporting Goods for guys to sport when they were wearing bootcut jeans, frayed at the bottom, or in place of their square-toed dress shoes. If in some weird fashion world future where they're making high-end, pre-distressed Shox, they'd come with jungle juice stains on them.
I know you're going to tell me, "But Jerry Seinfeld wears them!" Yes, he does, and what makes him wearing them cool is that he's wearing something inherently uncool and doesn't care about it.
I know a lot of people out there were probably 10 years old in 2005 and don’t remember that Shox weren’t cool, and may even be tempted to pick up a pair of the upcoming Comme des Garcons collaboration because they fit in line with the chunky shoe trend. Here’s a word from the wise: Don’t. You’ll thank me later.