This summer, baseball’s barrier breaker collides with Nike’s selling staple for the first time at retail.
Nike unveiled official images and release information on Monday regarding the much-anticipated “Jackie Robinson” Nike Dunk Low.
Launching on Tuesday, July 19, the drop date coincides with the MLB All-Star Game and comes roughly two months after Jackie Robinson Day, a celebration in which players across the Big Leagues lace up commemorative cleats, sport celebratory socks, and all wear the iconic No. 42.
With respect to footwear, several companies have used Robinson’s name and likeness to honor his greatness and aid funds of his favor through thematic releases. From adidas trainers to signature sneakers tied to Ken Griffey, Jr., the legacy of the Brooklyn Dodger continues to carry weight in spirit and at retail.
Through this summer’s celebratory Nike Dunk Low, the Jackie Robinson Foundation finds itself at bat once again, jumping on a down-the-middle meatball from the Swoosh.
How the Dunk dons Jackie’s likeness to begin with is a story in and of itself.
Living On Through Licensing
Jackie Robinson is an American legend in more ways than one.
Prior to breaking baseball’s color barrier, the California kid was the first athlete to earn four varsity letters at UCLA, starring in baseball, basketball, track, and football. Following his college career, Robinson was drafted into the Army.
Despite dying in 1972 from heart disease and diabetes, his legacy lives on through culture, cinema, and products. The latter has legs due much in part to CMG Worldwide, the company that has held the rights to Robinson’s image and likeness since 1995.
Representing icons in sports and social justice from Joe Louis to Malcolm X to Harvey Milk, CMG makes it possible for Robinson’s famed face, number, and quotes to appear on Under Armour cleats and Nike Dunks despite the star’s playing days predating both brands.
In recent years, Nike has leaned into licensing Robinson by way of Brooklyn baseball jerseys and Nike Air Griffey retro releases. With the Swoosh sponsoring Major League Baseball from 2020 to 2030 as part of a billion-dollar deal, it’s likely that the estate and brand will continue working together.
Through this summer’s Dunk drop — a model with no formal ties to the dugout — the lifestyle appeal of Robinson’s legacy is all the more palatable.
Tributes From Head to Toe
The mantra “more than an athlete” means a lot when considering No. 42. Not only have Robinson’s heroics inspired millions, but they’ve also influenced fashion for decades.
Famously, Brooklyn native Spike Lee has honored the Dodger icon throughout his career, wearing his jersey in 1989’s Do the Right Thing, while bringing back corresponding caps and kits courtside during ’90s Knicks games.
Over the course of the 2000s, both Brooklyn fitted hats and throwback jerseys benefitted from hip-hop popularity that trickled through to the masses. These days, Mitchell & Ness tops and New Era caps remain relevant at retail in 2022, despite changing trends. One might even say that increased conversation around social justice and the popularity of Chadwick Boseman’s 42 film have only made Robinson more relevant in modern times.
Though baseball caps and jerseys have been the most natural way to pay tribute to Robinson through aesthetic, the canvas for expression has shifted from head to toe in recent years. In 2022, Nike has the platform to push Robinson’s message and cool cache in a way the culture will chase and ideally embrace.
The Dunk’s Life Beyond Basketball
After arriving in 1985 as a way to better brand Swoosh-sponsored schools, the Nike Dunk has gone on to live many lives. Strictly a college basketball building block in the 1980s before growing lifestyle legs in the 1990s, the Peter Moore design has gone on to conquer the collectible intersection with skateboarding all the way to being a millennial mass-hit that still strikes a chord with Gen Z.
Over the course of the 2020s, the Nike Dunk has disseminated across cultures through a similar strategy.
At first, the shoe was brought back with aesthetic angling tied to archival hoops colorway and SB energy. The figurehead for this fashion renaissance was Nike Boy Travis Scott, who often rocked rare iterations of the Dunk in paparazzi pics and Instagram uploads, reintroducing the market to the shoe in its most aspirational form before “Panda” pairs paraded high school hallways around the world.
Recently, the Nike Dunk has transformed into a platform to celebrate not just teams and clothing companies but also people otherwise unassociated with the shoe.
Last weekend, Nike launched the “Lisa Leslie” Dunk Low in accordance with WNBA All-Star festivities and the retired center’s 50th birthday. While the Swoosh sought out Leslie in the ’90s to endorse their logo and even bless her with a signature shoe, the Dunk itself has little resonance with Leslie’s actually playing career. Nevertheless, the ubiquitous acceptance of the shoe made it the perfect canvas to color up in Los Angeles Sparks hues and highlight her No. 9.
With the popularity of the Nike Dunk Low and its assumed ease of access to produce, it serves as an approachable conversation starter for the legacy and impact of Jackie Robinson. By bedazzling the low-top look in Dodger blue, No. 42 tagging, and inspirational quotes, fans of footwear born eras after Jackie played can continue to celebrate him through modern fashion.
To Nike’s credit, the shoe itself does a strong job of telling a timeless story while mixing in contemporary cool.
Across the upper, Robinson’s famous quote: “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me…All I ask is that you respect me as a human being,” is expressed. Additionally, the hues highlight the aesthetic of an aged uniform. Lastly, the tongue totes an emblem celebrating the 75-year anniversary of when Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier.
When it comes to philanthropy and inspiring change, this topical product benefits Robinson’s foundation and his future through increased visibility.
For Nike, the dissolution of the Dunk gains more meaning in a space of oversaturation. Because of its ubiquitous nature and overwhelming success, the silo itself has become somewhat meaningless to core collectors.
As the market feels flooded with Dunk drop week after week, the Robinson story adds energy to the positioning of the shoe. Nostalgic aspects like mini-Swoosh toe-box branding and double-stacked sidewall Swooshes might not correspond to anything of societal impact, but they do speak to sneaker enthusiasts of a certain era.
As all these forces collide, the Nike Dunk Low “Jackie Robinson” has a chance to cut through the dog days of summer despite Dunk fatigue and a lack of lifestyle interest in baseball. Whether or not this results in an L for collectors, it’s a W for both entities involved.
On July 19, 2022, the Nike Dunk Low “Jackie Robinson” will release in a somewhat limited fashion, though the number of pairs produced is yet to be announced. For reference, pre-order pairs currently trade for just over retail on resale platforms such as StockX, while last year’s Air Griffey homage now calls for roughly double its MSRP.
When it comes to the commerce and finances surrounding this shoe, Nike has historically made good off the money it pays CMG for Robinson’s likeness in manners that don’t typically show up in the box score. Per a press release, the Swoosh has given nearly $3 million over the course of the last five years to the Jackie Robinson Foundation, supporting everything from mentorship to museums to scholarships. In Jackie’s backyard of LA, the brand has put $1.3 million into supporting local grassroots organizations in both Boyle Heights and Watts.
Though these statistics might not mean much to those refreshing apps or lining up at boutiques, it still speaks to the leverage and legacy Jackie Robinson holds when it comes to inspiring change.
Look for the Nike Dunk Low “Jackie Robinson” to launch next week via SNKRS and at select stockists.