The year 1985 was arguably the most important in Nike’s history. That year, on the heels of Michael Jordan’s black and red Air Ships being banned by the NBA in 1984, the then-ten-year-old brand launched the Air Jordan 1. Nike gave the new shoes the same color scheme, certain that the league would ban them, too—and, in the process, provide some unimpeachably good press. Elsewhere at Nike, though, other classics were also being cooked up. These were the source of less controversy, but, over time, would create their own legacy, too. Through various collaborations at the beginning of the 21st century, and sneaker culture’s insatiable desire for nostalgia, the Dunk rose to prominence—then faded—and now is once again at the center of kicks conversations.
Later that year, the Swoosh officially unveiled the Nike Dunk, a shoe that shared much of the same design language as the Air Jordan 1 and the even earlier Nike Air Force 1 (which was released in 1982). The Dunk was initially intended to showcase Nike’s other major new relationship in the world of hoops—it had started outfitting some of the NCAA’s biggest basketball programs, including Kentucky, St. Johns, Syracuse, Georgetown, Iowa, Michigan, UNLV, Arizona, and Georgia. Still, because the Nike Dunk wasn’t MJ’s shoe, it didn’t make much of a stink, and, in 1988, went into the archives for an entire decade.
It reemerged in 1998, but took off in 2002, with a version released by Nike’s fledgling SB department just as skate culture was going pop. The shoe was a massive success, and various collaborations (a novel idea at the time) effectively jumpstarted what we know today as “sneaker culture”: Versions by Supreme (2002), Diamond Supply Co. (2005), and Staple (2005) all are considered all-time great sneakers. By decade’s end, though, with so many different collaborations and colorways of the skate shoe on shelves, fatigue set in. Which meant that the 2010s were a down decade for the Nike Dunk. But thanks to some new, inspired collabs and revived appreciation for this classic kick, its status as a sleeper (in the case of the OGs) or an overused canvas (the SBs) is about to change as we enter the 2020s.
As with so many other instances of white-hot hype, Nike has one person to thank for the Dunk’s impending return: Virgil Abloh. Thanks to his “The Ten” collaboration in 2017 and the numerous drops since, all of which feature some form of Abloh’s post-modern, inside-out design language, Abloh is arguably the most impactful sneaker designer in the world, at least when it comes to drumming up buzz. On December 20, Abloh and Nike dropped the Nike Dunk Low in colorways inspired by the OG versions, updated with Abloh’s add-ons like orange tags, cosmetic lace loops, and the word “shoelaces” printed on the kicks’ flat laces. All signs suggest that once again, Abloh and Nike have created a hit: the “University Red” colorway is currently listed for north of $500 on StockX. It’s safe to say Abloh’s take are the first Nike Dunks in many years to receive this much aftermarket attention. But the shoes stand to serve as a catalyst for the Dunk to really get popping in the new year.
But one ultra-rare collaboration does not a sneaker movement make. For that, you need more—you need proof that even non-collab Dunks are entering the collective consciousness of the sneaker world once again. Nike might have Abloh to thank for this, too—though not for his designs, but instead, his outfits. Abloh was photographed wearing the Nike Dunk High “Syracuse”—one of the original Dunk colorways—at Paris Fashion Week in January. Abloh was early: the shoe was last released in 2016, alongside a bunch of other college colorways as part of the “Be True” pack, and according to StockX, the average resale price of the shoe was $100 in 2018. This year, the figure jumped to $268—and that’s if you can find the shoes at all, which are only available on StockX right now in sizes 7.5, 8, and 12. Three years ago, no one seemed to care or even notice that these OG Dunks had re-entered the market. Today, they’re the iteration preferred by style movers and shakers.
Take Alan Galloway, the man behind a network of popular style and culture Instagram pages, but is best known to sneakerheads as @oldmanalan. Galloway’s popular style-focused feed has been home to plenty of Dunks in the last two years, including OG colorways like the “Kentucky” and “Syracuse” versions. Notably, Galloway’s pleasant, naturally-lit photos focus not on the wacky-colored collabs of yesteryear, but mellow versions for the kind of fashion enthusiasts into Dickies and Supreme’s non-logo heavy apparel. Galloway’s own route to the Dunk is instructive: he liked to wear Air Jordan 1s—until everyone else started buying them, too. “Now, everybody has a pair of Jordan 1s,” he says. “Even though there are hype releases still coming, a lot of them just aren’t as good.” To Galloway, the 2016 release of the “Be True” Nike Dunk High serves as the perfect example of how irrelevant Dunks were three years ago, but also how much people want them today. “I don’t even remember them dropping. I didn’t care about it [when it was released],” he says, speculating that because the Adidas Boost was the “it” style of 2016, that it overshadowed the re-release of the original Dunks.
Now, though, the secret is out: Dunk prices are on the rise. Take the Dunk High “Undefeated”: In 2018, it saw an average resale price of $328. In 2019? It jumped to $644. Even obscure fashion Dunks, like the see-through Comme Des Garçons version that released in 2017, went from $445 on average in 2018 to $685. And to cap it all off, in 2019, average resale prices of all Dunks released between 2002 and 2009 listed on StockX saw an uptick in price on the resale marketplace, even though the overall resale prices of Dunks have declined over time.
What about SBs, which at one point in time were the Nike Dunks to covet? Galloway thinks the shoe’s potential as a hype-driver may be gone for good: “You wear SBs now with the kind of clothes you like to wear now, and you’ll look like an idiot,” he says, a reference to the bold colorways and added padding on the tongue of the SB version. While the shoes are cool again, it’s not 2002 anymore, a time when the de facto style of jean was “bootcut.”
Not everyone agrees. Dennis Todisco, an avid collector whose @outfitgrid account has racked up over 800,000 followers, also says the Nike Dunk is due for a resurgence—SBs included. He says that the shoes represent a bygone era in sneaker collecting: “Back then, you couldn’t buy the shoes unless you knew a mom and pop shop or were friends with a skate shop, and they only would get a few pairs.” But he also thinks that trend-wise, the bulkier design of the SB actually serves its nostalgia appeal. “I think style-wise, we’re seeing a lot of people returning to that late ‘90s and early ‘00s look,” Todisco says. “And people who were babies or maybe not even alive when SBs first came out are realizing how amazing those shoes are.” Todisco notes that celebrities like Travis Scott have been wearing classic Dunk SBs this year— and shoes like the Nike Dunk SB Trail End Brown sneakers, which served as the inspiration for Travis Scott’s Air Jordan 1 collaboration, have skyrocketed in value since Scott’s Nike release.
But if new Nike Dunk SBs are going to have a chance of making waves they way they did in the early-to-mid-aughts, Todisco says it will have to be via true retros of classics like the Diamond Supply Co. x Nike Dunk “Tiffany”—not the alternate, high-top version that served mostly as an homage to the OG back in 2013. The data supports his claim: the average resale price of a pair of Diamond Supply Co. x Nike Dunk SB His is $334 on StockX, while the OGs from 2005 go for $1,170.
The stage should be set for the return of classic Dunks: it’s not hard to imagine a world where the model is the biggest sneaker of 2020. Yet, as of this writing, there’s only a single model I’d consider a big deal even rumored to be dropping in 2020—a collaboration with Japanese label Ambush. Given all of the resale market excitement, this feels...suspicious. Maybe, as we still are in the early stages of the Dunk’s resurgence, the internet’s sneaker gumshoes haven’t tracked down leaks on these releases the way they do for Jordans. But whether or not Nike has a slew of hot new Dunks on the way in 2020, the time to strike is now. Because even if Nike chooses not to slam home this alley-oop, in 2020, classic Dunk styles from years past will become even harder to get, and more expensive. Galloway puts it in slightly starker terms: “If they don’t capitalize on more than just the Off-White Dunks next year, they’re fucking ridiculous. Why wouldn’t they do that?”
Originally Appeared on GQ