Today’s chapter in the Nike Basketball history book is a discussion of one of many models that makes 1995-96 arguably the best season on record, but this story has its nexus somewhere between the 1992 Air Raid and Air Max2 CB ’94 posts that preceded it. Draft Day ’93 introduced the entire world to Anfernee ‘Penny’ Hardaway, a brilliant oversized point guard from the then-relatively unheralded University of Memphis. It was on June 30th of that year that the Orlando Magic traded the rights to #1 pick Chris Webber of Michigan Fab Five (and Air Flight Huarache) fame, cementing Penny’s return from a gunshot that just two years earlier had jeopardized his entire career.
Webber went on to win that season’s Rookie of the Year award, but in Hardaway, Orlando had a once-a-generation talent who would become the face of the franchise and arguably the most successful Nike signature athlete of the mid-to-late ’90s not named ‘Michael Jordan’. After a couple of playoff appearances including the 1995 NBA Finals run and a rocking bunch of notable styles like the Air Flight One, Air Go LWP and Air Up, Eric Avar laced Penny with a groundbreaking design that foreshadowed changes to come in the Beaverton B-Ball division.
The Nike Air Max Penny (1) debuted around the start of the ’95-96 season with a style that defied the Flight and Force conventions, foreshadowed Foamposite with its prominent, wavy midsole and helped to launch the Uptempo line for a new generation of explosive perimeter players. The Air Max Penny also furthered Hardaway’s connection to the then ‘Tensile Air’ that first appeared on the AF One, paving the way for the explosion of Zoom Air that’s still one of the Swoosh’s premier cushioning platforms. Introducing the Chris Rock-voiced Lil Penny marionette along with the unveiling of Penny’s ‘1c’ logo pushed this design over the top, and made for another memorable classic that has us excited to see what will be the next chapter on Monday?