11.02.2014 that-good-dubai-reebok-pump-the-greatest-stroy-never-told Editor's Pick

PUMP UP AND AIR OUT! THE HISTORY OF REEBOK PUMP

Here is some extra kicks knowledge you may wish to obtain for the next time you encounter another sneaker head, the History of Reebok Pump from the good people over at Sneaker Freaker. Brace yourself for a full low down of the classic Reebok Pump including collars, OG’s and who rocked what when..

Kicking back, browsing this fine publication while sporting your vulcanized, tonal numbers, you might have forgotten just how madcap the tailend of the 1980s were. Ned Flanders getting a ‘where’d you get those?’ from Homer in a 1991 Simpsons episode, just before the parochial Simpson loses his aspirational pair to a canine appetite was parody, but only just. Things were crazy. This was an era when bigger was indisputably better. You disagree? You must be poor then. Big hair BIG phones, big budget movies, small restaurant portions and big bills. Yep, there were fans before message boards who were spoilt for choice rather than bogged down beneath the looming retro avalanche.

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You see, no one wanted old! Things shifted so fast that to look back would get you lapped. Sure, model names were repeated, but they had to be brand new updates that incorporated the latest gimmickry. Being told that something was merely encapsulated wasn’t good enough! Like a bastardisation of Bruce Lee admonishing a pupil, people didn’t want to think – they wanted proof!

Nike had finally allowed us to ‘see’ that Air wasn’t a placebo, giving the wearer a false sense of shock-absorb immortality in 1987. adidas brought us Torsion in ‘88 (twinned with Soft Cell) and the beauty was the ability to touch, prod and straight-up gawp at futurist footwear. The byproduct of this escalating madness was supremely visible, though functionally questionable. Remember Filas that converted via a removable collar? Converse’s Energy Wave (a more wearable precursor to the terrible React Juice) complete with a cutaway to prove the marbled foam was there? Obviously you recall PUMA’s DISC system with added Trinomic, but how about Wilson’s robotic Eminence model? K-Swiss’s Formula 18? adidas pioneered with the removable Plug and Inserts for a ‘custom’ fit nearly a decade before, and their Micropacer concept was remarkably forward-thinking too, but by 1993 their Tubular technology, for all the runner’s good looks, had taken a decidedly Pumped detour into inflatable cushioning.

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THE BATTLEGOUND

This colossal story however, is initially focused on two brands. Nike were upstarts during the ‘70s, but in the early ‘80s, Reebok exploded with a focus on women that blindsided the Knight brigade. Prior to Pump, many won’t recall hardwood and Reebok, but some solid models like the Pro Legacy made noise, not to mention the Bok pilfering Nike athletes like the Celtic’s Danny Ainge (later seen in Pump ‘Talking Heads’ commercials) and the now sadly deceased Dennis Johnson which certainly helped animosity simmer. By 1987, Reebok was a certified phenomenon, overtaking Nike with a 26% market share of the athletic shoe sector. Nike’s aggressive ‘Just Do It’ campaign brought them back to dominance eventually, but before that happened, Reebok had a new weapon in their armory. Several actually. The irony was that both brands were using the same volatile cocktail, albeit in different oxygenated formats.

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THE EIGHTIES

Reebok’s Paul Litchfield was the man challenged by the perenially pushy Paul Fireman to make the Pump concept work. The idea was easy to grasp. Pump would use inflatable chambers that pump-up for a custom fit. The reasoning was logical – no two feet are alike! That imperfection can make for a vast hindrance in competition. Beyond performance, the notion of ‘customisation’ even at this basic inflate/deflate level is hugely appealing to consumers on an aesthetic scale.
To encapsulate and brand this technology without it becoming too far-out and extra terrestrial was Litchfield’s challenge, not to mention bringing it in on a reasonable budget within an insanely short timeframe. It was far from an easy gestation. Stressful too. Teaming up with Massachusetts-based firm Design Continuum in 1988 added additional expertise to the team. The biggest issue was how to keep the air stable in the flexible film pouches – inspiration finally came in the form of the medical industry.

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THE NINETIES

By the time the 1989 Sporting Goods Manufacturers’ Association took place on February 10th, a demo version of Pump was exhibited. At this point in time, Reebok’s Energy Return System (ERS) was on the market and rumored to be backed with a tagline reading ‘The Revolution Is Over’. ERS was partnered with a ‘mysterious inflating technology’ although oddly, it wasn’t the mooted star of the show. Reebok still alluded to the mysterious ‘Dr. Detroit’ shoe that carried a mini-trampoline in its sole, which sounds not entirely dissimilar to L.A. Gear’s Catapult technology (L.A. Gear also created the craptastic ‘Regulator’ Pump knockoff).Other touted ideas were a model that would change colour via the insertion of cartridges and Hexalite, the honeycomb padding apparently used in space shuttle seating.
At this point, Nike were already in the process of releasing the clunky Air Pressure, which used a special air-filled accessory to inflate the ankle area. On November 24th 1989, Reebok’s ‘The Pump’ (‘A new idea that’s going to fly’) shoe hit the shelves. Complete with a button on the heel to deflate, the basketball valve branding was instantly appealing and the $170 price tag was sufficiently vast to confer aspirational status. It’s still a crazy price twenty years later, but remember kids, this was the ‘80s and bigger was infinitely better.

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As 1990 dawned, Reebok excitedly welcomed consumers to a new decade with the first Pump model headlining a deep roster including the Omni Zone, Twilight Zone and the SXT Pump, the star of a new range known as Sports Conditioning. This is where things heat up. A patent submitted by Paul Litchfield and team for a ‘Reebok Athletic shoe having inflatable bladder’ was filed on September 27th, 1990 and issued on May 19th, 1992. The patent covers an athletic shoe with ‘an inflatable tongue or bladder for a more secure fit to the user’s foot. The bladder may include a plurality of chambers with a valve disposed therebetween to selectively inflate the chambers.’

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A patent submitted by Bruce Kilgore and company for Nike, (which listed them as the inventors of a ‘Shoe bladder system’) is more specific, covering a dual-chamber switchable system. Was this ever implemented, seeing as the Pressure system seemed confined to the ankles of three Nike shoes? Was it a tactic to stall the Pump’s growth as a technology? Did Nike abandon further plans? Who knows?
The end result saw Reebok snatch market share immediately. Nike downplayed the Pressure’s lack of success by pointing to an apparently small run of just 35,000 units and explained the lack of advertising on account of the intended target audience being players with ankle problems. That didn’t stop Reebok infamously putting the inflatable boot in with their banned TV spot depicting a bungee jumping Nike guy plummeting to his apparent doom, while the Pump wearer stayed safely shackled. Genius.

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THE NINETIES

Dominique Wilkins of the Atlanta Hawks was an early adopter of the Basketball Pump, but in the following months, different bladder designs would allow the technology to be added in a less bombastic ‘robo-shoe’ style. Why not shift to another type of court? Michael Chang was duly added to the Reebok roster. Chang was an appealing proto of the Energizer Bunny – fast and relentless – not to mention the youngest-ever male winner of a Grand Slam singles title (French). His signature model became known as the Court Victory and contained Hexalite as well as a nifty tennis ball trade on the usual basketball Pump mechanism. The same year saw the release of the Twilight Zone, arguably one of the finest basketball shoes of the time, taking Pump DNA and streamlining it. Getting the Chicago Bull’s John Paxson and Horace Grant on the books didn’t hurt either.
In 1991, Nike’s implementation of Pressure on their Force 180 and Air Command Force (endorsed by David Robinson and Woody Harrelson as ‘Billy Hoyle’) felt a little tokenistic, arguably ruining the silhouette of both shoes. This was the final year of Pressure, but for Reebok, Pump escalated into cross training (CXT and AXT), off-road (OXT ‘Off-road vehicles for your feet!’), golf shoes, walking shoes, aerobics shoes and running, with the Pump Running Dual a perfect example of how the technology could be pared down. At this point, six different modes of support were on offer – fullfoot, midfoot, collar, arch, footbed and the more elaborate Dual Chamber which required a switch on the heel to differentiate between bladders.

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THE NO LOOK

Shots were also being fired as Reebok athletes happily aired-out opponents and Nike in the continuing ‘Pump Up and Air Out’ campaign. Chang happily hurled Agassi’s Tech Challenge III away, dismissing him as a ‘Rock ‘n roll tennis guy!’ and Dominique Wilkins managed to reference both Michael Jordan verbally and David Robinson subliminally, as he sent the Command Force skyward for all the wrong reasons. Even golfin’ Greg Norman got in on the action as he dismissively chucked Curtis Strange’s (‘Oh, and Curtis? Don’t be so Strange!’) Nike golf shoes away. Recruiting Portland Trail Blazers legend Bill Walton was another tactically ballsy move on Reebok’s part.
Sometimes, however, a single action can achieve more than any marketing budget. On February 9th 1991, the relatively unknown Celtics guard Dee Brown took on Shawn Kemp (a fan of the Nike Ultra Flight who later landed at Reebok and was given the Kamikaze model in the mid ‘90s) in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Improvising on court, Dee opted to Pump up his Omni Zone IIs prior to springing into action in front of a global audience. Having already taken the title on judge’s points, he unleashed the now legendary ‘no-look’ dunk as a finale, complete with forearm across his eyes. By treating the shoes as an accessory to his win in the name of showmanship, Pump now had its own action hero.
There was another push later in the same year. Check out Macaulay Culkin in rap-mime mode in Michael Jackson’s ‘Black Or White’ video! Reebok’s worldwide sales duly increased by 26 percent to $2.7 billion. Naturally, profits jumped too. No one needed to cover their eyes at the end of the tax year.

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1992 was all about expansion. Dee’s win got him his own D-Time model as part of the Above The Rim collection, while the Blacktop outdoor basketball range, with pieces like the Battleground maintaining capo status over cheaper Hexalite only designs, would coincide with Nike’s development of similar models like the Raid. Chang’s sophomore Court Victory II model was also strong, gracing the feet of Busta Rhymes during Leaders Of The New School’s ‘difficult second album’ period.
Reebok had fresh plans too. Orlando Magic’s seven-foot-one monster known as Shaquille O’Neal was snapped up and laced with his very own Pump in 1992. The Shaq Attaq was badged with a dunking monogram and saw Shaq groomed as a potential Jordan-scale franchise. The shoe was particularly smooth, softening some of the harder edges of previous Pumps. It helped that Shaq’s larger-than-life approach wasn’t just physical – he dropped his debut hip-hop LP, the first of five albums, the following year. Emmit Smith of the Dallas Cowboys was another endorsement, wearing the Paydirt for training, though Reebok also made the Throwback cleat.
A carbon fibre material called Graphlite was also introduced via the Pump Graphlite – a serious running shoe endorsed by Portland’s Dan O’ Brien and North Dakota’s Dave Johnson, two arch-rival decathlon stars.

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The hip hop gloss gave Pump shoes an added legitimacy, and nowhere was this more evident than in the first ten minutes of Ernest Dickerson’s (certified Nikehead Spike Lee’s cinematographer) film Juice, with the Q character played by Omar Epps trying on pairs for his younger sibling’s approval.
On the performance side of things, complacency leads to a loss of momentum. Pump was about to be slimmed down as neoprene and sock-style fits became commonplace, and the footwear world would become decidedly lighter. Insta Pump was an evolution. For tech-heads, all eyes were on the tennis and running designs that would carry the second-gen Pump tech. Pitched at the serious athlete, the Insta Pump Spike would be lighter, slimmer and function using an external canister that used carbon dioxide cartridges. This was a risky move, not least because prices were set to be extremely high, but also because it required blister-packed hardware to inflate. Notably, the 1993 issues of Shaq’s inaugural pro-model would maintain the basketball Pump mechanism but carried optional Insta Pump, as did the official Shaq Attaq II.
Between ‘94 and ‘95, Shaq’s models would maintain the Insta Pump, but Shawn Kemp’s Kamikaze would opt out. By ‘96, showcase performance models like Allan Iverson’s Question would take an excess of newly-honed Hexalite but avoid Pump. Shaq’s mesmerisingly weird Shaqnosis the same year wouldn’t use Pump technology on the retail version, yet he chose Insta Pump for his own, higher versions. And when the Answer, Iverson’s 1997 follow-up opted to use DMX, the writing was on the wall. The final Shaq Reeboks, released around that time chose a Hexalite sole as the technical star of the shoe. Pump’s golden era was rapidly closing.

that-good-dubai-reebok-pump-pro-models

The hip hop gloss gave Pump shoes an added legitimacy, and nowhere was this more evident than in the first ten minutes of Ernest Dickerson’s (certified Nikehead Spike Lee’s cinematographer) film Juice, with the Q character played by Omar Epps trying on pairs for his younger sibling’s approval.
On the performance side of things, complacency leads to a loss of momentum. Pump was about to be slimmed down as neoprene and sock-style fits became commonplace, and the footwear world would become decidedly lighter. Insta Pump was an evolution. For tech-heads, all eyes were on the tennis and running designs that would carry the second-gen Pump tech. Pitched at the serious athlete, the Insta Pump Spike would be lighter, slimmer and function using an external canister that used carbon dioxide cartridges. This was a risky move, not least because prices were set to be extremely high, but also because it required blister-packed hardware to inflate. Notably, the 1993 issues of Shaq’s inaugural pro-model would maintain the basketball Pump mechanism but carried optional Insta Pump, as did the official Shaq Attaq II.
Between ‘94 and ‘95, Shaq’s models would maintain the Insta Pump, but Shawn Kemp’s Kamikaze would opt out. By ‘96, showcase performance models like Allan Iverson’s Question would take an excess of newly-honed Hexalite but avoid Pump. Shaq’s mesmerisingly weird Shaqnosis the same year wouldn’t use Pump technology on the retail version, yet he chose Insta Pump for his own, higher versions. And when the Answer, Iverson’s 1997 follow-up opted to use DMX, the writing was on the wall. The final Shaq Reeboks, released around that time chose a Hexalite sole as the technical star of the shoe. Pump’s golden era was rapidly closing.

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The best designs are often misappropriated performance pieces that push the envelope. When the Insta Pump Fury launched in 1994, it was little more than an inflatable frame, taking design cues from the specialist Insta Pump releases of the previous year.
This was a shoe so modern that even the weight of a pair of laces was deemed excessive. Who needs them when you can pump your shoes to fit? A trademark colourway is always a clincher for cult classicism and for the Pump Fury, red and citroen yellow footed the bill nicely. Beyond the early adopters of Soho et al, the Fury seemed to be targeted at a trend audience too, even if on its launch it was billed more as a serious track prospect.
Sadly, the great ‘lost’ Pump of all time is also a Fury – the Fury Road. With a built-up midsole for road running, this sturdy variation on the standard Fury is a thing of beauty. The Fury garnered appeal among a burgeoning collector community, but as an example of the more offbeat side of sneaker design (Maharishi sno-pants, Terra Humaras in Vogue in 1997/’98) they were immediately embraced in Asia and pretty much released annually in new colours, including commemorating Hong Kong’s ‘97 handover. Bjork was also seen in them during their trendy boomtime and even Jackie Chan got his mitts on a makeup, with must-have hipster status at import prices even more ludicrous than the model’s already heavy fee. Subsequently, the 2003 Chanel hookup and hoo-ha surrounding their right to carry the name makes a certain sense. It’s a testament to the Fury’s unique looks that it refuses to age.

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Sadly, the great ‘lost’ Pump of all time is also a Fury – the Fury Road. With a built-up midsole for road running, this sturdy variation on the standard Fury is a thing of beauty. The Fury garnered appeal among a burgeoning collector community, but as an example of the more offbeat side of sneaker design (Maharishi sno-pants, Terra Humaras in Vogue in 1997/’98) they were immediately embraced in Asia and pretty much released annually in new colours, including commemorating Hong Kong’s ‘97 handover. Bjork was also seen in them during their trendy boomtime and even Jackie Chan got his mitts on a makeup, with must-have hipster status at import prices even more ludicrous than the model’s already heavy fee. Subsequently, the 2003 Chanel hookup and hoo-ha surrounding their right to carry the name makes a certain sense. It’s a testament to the Fury’s unique looks that it refuses to age.

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There is a recent chapter that needs to be acknowledged. 2004 saw the premiere of Pump 2.0 on the Fury 2 and ATR basketball shoe. The new G-Unit Pump also indicated that Fiddy and crew were intent on bringing back a little of that 1991 aspiration to the scene. Even skater Stevie Williams opted for Pump on his DGK Pump pro-model in 2006. Reebok’s retro program also ground out some Pump highlights in recent years including stellar collabs with Rolland Berry, John Maeda, the Commonwealth store in Virginia, Boston’s own Bodega, Ubiq in Philly and of course Atmos, the jedi shoe masters of Tokyo.
The Reebok Pump Omni Hex Ride designed with NY retailer Orchard St also indicated that Pump was still a viable performance aid. Stand by for a phalanx of anniversary models later in the year, about which we are sworn to secrecy.
Will we ever see another period of creativity, sneaker brand warfare and bizarre one-upmanship like the first chapter in the Pump story? Doubtful. Things are shrewder, safer and positively blander in comparison. The Pump system and all the attention surrounding it deserves much, much more than to remain a footnote in accounts of just how outrageous the late ‘80s and early ‘90s were. This was the boomtime for Reebok, and the end results were some of the most exciting shoes of the decade.

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Posted by Mike in Editor's Pick

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