How the Nike MAG Became a Sneaker Grail for '80s Babies

One nostalgic sneakerhead born in the '80s reflects on the shoe's pop cultural significance.

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It’s crazy to think that Steven Spielberg helped create one of the most cult classic sneakers of all time. OK, he didn’t actually draw up the blueprint for the Nike MAG, but it was his foresight in 1989 to what 2015 might be like that helped develop the most futuristic and iconic shoe of all time.

Around the same time as Back to the Future II dropped, Michael Jordan was starting to make waves with his signature series. But no one could anticipate the type of hype a prop from a film would produce for a brand that was starting to takeover the footwear game. And you didn’t have to pretend to be or like athletics to appreciate the kicks.

The truth is, as unpopular as we would like to believe, the average non-sneaker enthusiast could ID the MAG over the Air Jordan. It’s that simple. The people who grew up on the film might have had atrocious taste levels with their Payless loafers, but still had an affinity for that shoe because of the movie itself and the technology.

Tech in the 1980s was everything. It was a time where things weren’t the matter of an iPhone upgrading from .21 grams thinner and two more megapixels for your camera every fall. There were huge leaps like Beta videos (you might have to Google that one) to VCR or even 8-tracks to cassettes. Tech didn’t move as fast, and there weren’t as many options. So when something new rolled out, there was nothing like it and unless you had Baby money, you probably had that shit on layaway or a payment plan.

‘80s film and media was the epitome of “if you can dream it, you can create it” era, thanks to people like Spielberg and Steve Jobs. They championed in sci-fi inspired films that imagined a much more innovative, simple, and seamless future, driven by tech. Sound a little like Nike?

I’ve never watched a Star Wars or Star Trek type film in my time, but they didn’t create the same type of cool pop culture references that Marty McFly did. Rappers have been dropping McFly lyrics for decades and various cultures have paid homage to his bubble vest, hover board, and MAGs ever since. The fandom is so real that last Halloween, $100 blatant replicas sold out in the matter of hours without any pre-sale hype.

Kids now can appreciate the MAG without seeing the movie — the same way they wear Jordans without every watching Mike play. They want to be like Mike, the other one: J. Fox—because they know how important the sneaker is to pop culture, and if there is anything we have learned about the new wave of sneakerheads is they want to be involved in the history—whether they get the genesis of it or not.

But for us that grew up in the ‘80s, it wasn’t just the sneaker itself that was so appealing, it was the thought that we were going to live a life of flying cars, Pizza Hut pizzas the size of a quarter that blew up to 18 inches in the matter of seconds without losing taste, and a skateboard that floated on air.

We didn't get the MAG in all its auto-lacing glory in 2011, but we got them the right way. The unamended trainwreck of retro releases lacking storytelling up to now has ruined so many shoes. This is how you release a sneaker, the way it was told 25 years before and coming to fruition when it is supposed to. When Doc Brown said so. Now if only the Cubs can actually win the World Series in 2015, but that’s for another time.

Of course, the shoe just dropped a few years ago but when the patent documents started to get press, something had to happen. The fact that Nike kept the 2011 release under wraps for so long — and then spun its PR magic on it for a release just days later — is as impressive as Watch The Throne never leaking before its release. Especially in a time when we have Blackberry-quality spy shots of the next Jordan and LeBron on a buying sheet almost six month in advance.

Flying out some major players in the sneaker world for an introduction and then having Mr. Marty McFly himself talk about the shoe on the Letterman Show was the epitome of class. Let’s not forget that all proceeds went to Michael J. Fox’s charity for research and awareness of Parkinson’s Disease. The best part was every sneakerhead or memorabilia fan had a shot at them since it wasn’t a bot war on, but an auction on eBay just hours after Fox’s announcement on Letterman. People may not have had to line up for days to score a pair, but five-figure purchase prices on the regular ranging from celebrities to your average guy in his 40s, that’s down for the cause.

So here we are almost 30 years later, we might not have a true hover board or flying DeLorean, but Nike has something on the way for MAG lovers.

Whether you’re a grown man with a family or a kid who just got put on to the film and sneaker, there’s no shame because the nostalgia has always been one of the greatest pieces in owning a shoe. Everyone won’t get a pair, and that’s OK—some things aren’t meant for everyone. But props to Nike for doing its best to give the true fans a shot at their grail.

Brandon Edler is a Content Manager & Creative Strategist at Finish Line and contributing writer for Complex Sneakers. Follow him on Twitter here.