The Nike Blazer was first released in 1973 as Nike’s best basketball sneaker, a far cry from how we think of it today. The brand was only nine years old at the time, a young upstart still finding its way through the industry, and for most of that time they weren’t even known as “Nike.” Blue Ribbon Sports was founded in 1964 by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight as an organization to distribute Japanese footwear in the US, but it wasn’t until 1971, with the design of the famous Swoosh (by graphic design student Carolyn Davidson) that they’d be known as Nike and begin creating its own shoes.

Two years after Nike was founded, they took that now famous swoosh and plastered it on a plain white shoe, creating a sneaker that was as much a logo as anything else. It’s a simple shoe to this day, beloved for its simplicity, but in 1973 there were still a lot of technological advances to come in the world of footwear that would quickly swallow the Blazer.

The shoe featured a leather upper, a mesh nylon tongue and a textured vulcanized rubber sole—the preferred sole for basketball sneakers in the early 1970s. In fact, each of these elements were the best technology available for shoes on the court. It’s easy to forget, looking back from 2017, that the ‘70s were the early days of sneakers. Before the ‘60s and ‘70s, sneakers were merely rubber soled shoes used for athletics and nothing else. It was Bowerman who first put real brainpower into developing footwear that would support athletes in effective ways to change their game. Nike became the epicenter of that investigation. Even after the debut of the Blazer it would still be five years before Nike first injected air into its soles with the Nike Tailwind, and 12 years before they signed Michael Jordan to be the frontman of its basketball business. Nike as we know it today did not exist beyond the founders and a few running shoes that are still in rotation, but the Blazer is an icon from that moment and has survived the progress of time. For most silhouettes that have lasted almost as long as the Blazer, they’ve done so by changing with the times. But the Blazer hasn’t changed, instead its community has changed around it.

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