Nike Air More Uptempo: Pippen’s Real Signature Shoe

Nike Air More Uptempo: Pippen’s Real Signature Shoe

When you think of iconic 1990s Chicago Bulls footwear, Scottie Pippen doesn’t immediately spring to mind. With Pippen being perhaps the most underrated, overlooked basketball star in the history of the sport, it would make sense that he would also get overlooked in the sneaker department. 

Many people would be surprised to know that Scottie Pippen actually had his own signature line of shoes, the Nike Air Pippen. The shoes performed well on the court and in retail stores, but they faded from relevancy following Scottie’s retirement in 2004. Like the entire 1990s era of basketball, Pippen’s signature kicks seem like they will forever be eclipsed by The Jumpman.   

That’s par for the course when you play the Robin role to basketball’s GOAT. Although Pippen was a vital piece in the Chicago Bulls’ legendary 6-Championship dynasty, the Bulls were and always will be Michael Jordan’s team. Everyone knew The Bulls were the Michael Jordan show. Fans around the world followed the Bulls, not just because Michael Jordan was doing awe-inspiring things on the basketball court that no one had ever seen before, but also because of his incredibly popular Jordan brand shoes. 

Jordan’s play was enough to warrant attention, but the Jordan Brand helped transform him into the most prominent athlete in the world. New releases of Air Jordans were a cultural event. Michael Jordan and his shoe brand transcended the game of basketball and impacted culture like no athlete had done before (just think what would’ve happened if MJ signed with Adidas like he originally wanted to?). 

It’s easy to see how Pippen was perpetually overshadowed–especially when that shadow was something the world of sports had never seen before: a dominating basketball superstar, a fashion brand mogul, and an all-around champion. However, Pippen finally made a big splash in sneaker culture when he started wearing the Nike Air More Uptempo

Pippen’s Rising Stardom

Throughout the Bulls’ first three-peat (1991,1992,1993) and the 1992 Olympics, Pippen made a name for himself as a good defender and all-around player. However, much of his success got attributed to Michael Jordan. The consensus was that Scottie was talented, but he wouldn’t be half the player if it weren’t for Michael Jordan

However, things started to shift for Scottie Pippen during the 1994 NBA season when Pippen proved to the world that with or without Jordan, he was a bonafide superstar. 

After the Bulls won the 1993 NBA Championship, Michael Jordan shocked the world when he announced his retirement from basketball at the age of 30. 

In Jordan’s absence, the Bulls became Pippen’s team. The All-NBA small forward led the Bulls to 55 wins while putting up a spectacular season stat line. Pippen averaged 22.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 2.9 steals in 1993-94. He was named the 1994 All-Star Game MVP and finished third in MVP voting behind Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson. The Bulls lost to the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, but still, Pippen had the best individual season of his career. 

The spotlight was on Pippen, and he flourished, making him a more marketable superstar in the process. He was an MVP-caliber first option, and companies like Nike took notice

The transition Pippen’s image and basketball ability underwent during the 1994 season were primarily why Nike Air More Uptempo found success. Pippen was no longer just a second-fiddle. He was a superstar whose unique playstyle inspired younger generations. He was now big enough to carry his own signature sneaker. People didn’t just want to “Be Like Mike” anymore…they also wanted to “Be Like Scottie.” 

The Nike Air More Uptempo 96’ 

Scottie Pippen began to receive more attention on the court for his sneaker choice when he first donned the Nike Air More Uptempo during the 1996 NBA season. The Air More Uptempo features an instantly recognizable, eye-catching design. It is one of the boldest, loudest shoes Nike has ever released. It’s fitting that a player as glossed over as Scottie Pippen would be the player to popularize such an attention-grabbing shoe

The Nike Air More Uptempo is the brainchild of designer Wilson Smith III. Wilson Smith is also known for designing the Air Jordan 16 and 17 and the Air Max CB34 (Charles Barkley’s signature shoe). However, the Air More Uptempo is definitely Smith’s most iconic design. 

When designing the Uptempos, Smith had a specific vision that he wanted to achieve. He wanted to create a basketball shoe that encompassed the bold, brash, attitude-driven culture of the 90s. Everything in the 90s felt enhanced, more vibrant, and larger-than-life. When designing the Air More Uptempo, Smith’s inspiration included graffiti, pop art, and train carriages tagged with spray paint. 

The shoe not only met Smith’s criteria but stood out more than he could have ever imagined. The synthetic upper, the jeweled logos, the bungee cord laces, the full-length Zoom Air, and the giant graffiti AIR bubble lettering on the sides all made the Air More Uptempo wholly unique and unlike any shoe on the market in the 90s. 

At a time when most basketball shoes were moving towards more subtle branding, the Air More Uptempo defied the trend, and its excess branding is what helped its popularity grow. The Air More Uptempo was the first shoe to feature a full-length Zoom Air. The shoe was a walking advertisement for Nike and the Zoom Air technology, with the in-your-face AIR logos plastered on the sides. It also featured Swoosh logos on the heel, outsole, midsole, toe, and tongue

It was truly a feat in design that Wilson Smith managed to make a shoe that stood out as bold in one of the boldest decades. 


Made to Meet the Needs of an Evolving NBA

The Air More Uptempo was a shoe that reflected the changing nature of basketball at the time. 

By the mid-1990s, a new evolution of basketball players was becoming more prevalent. Tweener players, ranging in size from 6’5” to 6’9”-not quite a big man, not quite a guard-were taking the NBA by storm. These players were more versatile, multi-talented athletes with the ability to handle the ball, shoot, rebound, and play in the post. The type of player that is now considered the ideal NBA prototype. 

Scottie Pippen and Penny Hardaway were superstars who fit this mold. 

Nike had the Force line of shoes available for big men and the Flight line for guards but had yet to create a sneaker that met the on-court demands of this new style of player-a shoe that provided strong support and ample cushioning in a lightweight silhouette that did not hinder speed. 

Enter the Nike Air More Uptempo

Nike enlisted the Bulls superstar to wear the More Uptempo during the 1996 NBA season. The decision to put the Air More Uptempo on Pippen’s feet would help the sneaker gain worldwide exposure and grow in popularity.

When Pippen first laid eyes upon the bold Uptempo design, he said of the shoe: “I was pretty shocked. I thought it was a little overwhelming. But I felt like it was something I could handle on the basketball court because I was very confident in the way that I was playing and the way that my career was going. It was something I was willing to step out in.” 

The Air More Uptempo rolled out with one of the most memorable Nike advertisements from the 90s, featuring a shirtless Scottie Pippen posing wearing a pair of black Uptempos underneath text which read Scottie Pippen’s Pre-Flight Checklist.” 

1996 was an incredibly successful year for Scottie Pippen, and the Air More Uptempo was along for the ride. Scottie’s success is what helped catapult the Uptempo into the mainstream. The 1996 Chicago Bulls had one of the greatest NBA seasons ever, finishing 72-10 and winning their fourth NBA title. The Bull captivated the sports world with their dominating play. Pippen was named to his sixth all-star team and won a gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games

Following the 1992 Dream Team phenomenon, the 1996 Dream Team received a lot of exposure at the Olympic games. Similar to how the Air Jordan 7 boomed in popularity thanks to its involvement in the 1992 Olympics, the Air More Uptempo is often linked to its appearance in the 1996 Olympics. Nike placed Pippen in a clean navy and white Team USA colorway of the Nike More Air Uptempo for the event. 

Air Max Uptempo III

Nike continued the Air More Uptempo line in 1997 with the Air Max Uptempo III, or Air Max Uptempo 97 as it’s commonly called. While not as bold as its predecessor, the Air Max Uptempo III incorporates many unique aspects. 

At the time, the sneaker featured the biggest Air bubble ever put on a basketball shoe. Like the Air More Uptempo, the Uptempo 97 featured a full-length Zoom Airbag. The shoe’s most distinct element is the molded jewel raindrop designs on the midsole. The heel is oversized and extended to offer additional support and stability. 

Scottie Pippen rocked this version of the Uptempo during the 1997 NBA season, helping it gain notoriety. The Air Max Uptempo 97 would be the last Uptempo model Pippen wore before Nike gave him his signature shoe line, the Nike Air Pippen. However, even to this day, Pippen is synonymous with the Air More Uptempo, and many people consider the Air More Uptempo his first signature shoe


Nike Air Total Max Uptempo 

Another entry in the Uptempo series, the Nike Air Total Max Uptempo, debuted towards the end of 1997. The Total Max Uptempo shares many characteristics with Air Max Uptempo III, including full-length Zoom Air in the midsole. However, the shoe features a more streamlined-looking upper. 

The heel has a distinct big bubble design, which helps this sneaker stand out. 

The Air Total Max Uptempo was a favorite shoe of high-profile NBA superstars and future Hall of Famers like Reggie Miller, Vince Carter, and David “The Admiral” Robinson

The Nike Air More Uptempo’s Lasting Legacy 

Throughout the 2010s, The Air More Uptempo has experienced a revival, with Nike re-releasing old classic colorways while also developing new ones. The iconic silhouette translates well to modern-day culture, and fans love its unique design. Although still hoopable, the Air More Uptempo is less a basketball sneaker and more of a fashion statement. 

Nike re-released a version of the navy blue and white “Olympic” colorway for the 2012 London Olympics. It was the first time this version of the Air More Uptempo had been restored. Many younger basketball fans saw the shoe being worn by current Team USA players for the first time. It helped regenerate interest in the shoe and led to further releases, such as the Volt and the Dusk colorways. The Dusk Uptempo was released alongside the Air Force 180 Dawn to represent athletes who play basketball at all hours of the day. 


Air More Uptempo 20th Anniversary 

Following 2012, Nike once again put the Air More Uptempo on ice. 

The Uptempo would not make another appearance until 2016 for its 20th Anniversary. 

Nike started the celebration in March, dropping a new version of the original black and white colorway, with the trademark AIR graffiti lettering trimmed in white. Next up was a white/gym red colorway, featuring an all-white upper with the AIR branding colored gym red. 

To add to its 2016 Rio Summer Olympics collection, Nike again released a version of the Uptempo “Olympics” for Team USA members to rock on the world stage. Nike dropped a kids-only GS Air More Uptempo as part of their “Heat Map Pack,” which saw the AIR lettering covered in a colorful thermal heat graphic. 

Nike released another GS Air More Uptempo, “The Asia Hoop Pack”-a Chicago Bulls-inspired red, black, and white colorway. Rounding out the 20th Anniversary, The Air More Uptempo received a white/gum colorway with an all-white leather upper and a gum sole for a cleaner, more fashionable look. 


Supreme Collab 

2017 saw a massive resurgence for the Nike Air More Uptempo. Nike partnered with the ubiquitous billion-dollar streetwear brand Supreme to create an exclusive Nike Air More Uptempo series. The Supreme x Nike Air More Uptempo or “Suptempo” collaboration included three colorways: triple black, gold and white, and red and white. 

Instead of the classic AIR graffiti logo, the Suptempos have SUP on one side of the shoe, R on the heel, and EME on the other side. 

All three colorways of the Suptempo were released on April 27th, 2017, for a retail price of $190. The collaboration was a layup for both companies. Sneakerheads and Supreme fans flocked to the shoes, making them a must-have item. The bold Supreme branding and colorways, combined with the boldness of the Air More Uptempo, created a collaboration unlike anything on the market. 

The Supreme x Nike Air More Uptempo collection is still in incredibly high demand, with the resale value of the shoes ranging from $500 to $3000, depending on the size and colorway. 

The remainder of 2017 saw Nike dropping new colorways of the Air More Uptempo, including a pair of New York Knicks inspired shoes commemorating Scottie Pippen’s infamous 1994 playoff dunk on Knicks legend Patrick Ewing during game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and a Chicago inspired shoe featuring an aggressive red and black colorway and the AIR graffiti lettering replaced by the word CHI. 

The Air More Air Uptempo is still heavily featured in Nike’s rotation (and yes, they released another version of the acclaimed “Olympics” colorway for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics). The shoe giant does a great job updating the Uptempo’s iconic silhouette with the bold designs and unique colorways it deserves.

Where to Buy 

The Nike Air More Uptempo is available to purchase from most major shoe retailers and websites, including Footlocker, Nike, Champs, Amazon, Eastbay, and Finish Line.  

The Air More Uptempo sells for $160 retail. Nike continues to release new colorways and retro past colorways, so you should stay up-to-date on upcoming drops. 

The Air More Uptempo is also widely available on the resales market. If you want to buy a past or collectible colorway, you should check out resale sites like StockX, GOAT, Stadium Goods, Flight Club, and eBay.

The Air More Uptempo is one of the sneakers that defines 1990s basketball footwear. Its bold design and graffiti AIR lettering make it one of the era’s most instantly recognizable and iconic shoes. Thanks to Scottie Pippen, the shoe rose in popularity, and Pippen’s incredibly successful 1996 season and Olympic Games gave the shoe widespread exposure. The Air More Uptempo also helped Scottie Pippen by giving him his own stand-out signature shoe to rival Michael Jordan’s Air Jordan brand. In recent years, the Air More Uptempo has seen a revitalization, and if Nike keeps releasing exciting new colorways, the shoe could prove to be timeless.