The Fab 5 favorite is readying a retro release, scheduled to correspond with college basketball’s conclusion.
The Nike Air Flight Huarache is coming back to sneaker stores in April 2023, according to Complex. For those keeping track at home, that’s right around the apex of March Madness, as next year’s men’s Final Four takes place in Houston on April 1 and 3.
That doesn’t seem like a coincidence.
The Fab 5 of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson, and Jimmy King initially donned the sneaker as freshman starters during Michigan’s 1992 NCAA Tournament run. The Huarache then became the signature shoe of that year’s Wolverines squad. From a marketing standpoint, Nike made the most of the eyeballs attached to the rebellious rookies shaking up the traditional space of college basketball.
At the time, the Flight Huarache was the pinnacle product for the brand’s high flyers not named Michael Jordan, introducing the same sandal-inspired ethos from Nike’s 1991 Air Huarache running shoe to the game.
The Tinker Hatfield design done in conjunction with Eric Avar superseded the paid endorsements aligned with the NBA elite.
“If the shoe fits in with other things that are going on culturally, you get a perfect storm,” Hatfield said of the Flight Huarache back in 2012.
Because of the energy associated with the Fab 5 and pressure applied by starting point guard Rose in regard to short sizing and shoe selection, Michigan wore the Huarache in more pronounced fashion than their pro peers.
Nike marketed it as the squad’s signature shoe, even if NIL didn’t exist in that era.
“Those were Fab 5 Nikes,” Jalen Rose told David Jacoby in 2015 during an episode of their popular podcast.
Recalling a trip to NikeTown Chicago after pairs arrived at retail, he added: “There was a display and that’s exactly what it said. Just because I wasn’t getting paid for it doesn’t mean I wasn’t part of having a signature shoe.”
From a cultural perspective, the Fab 5 shaped the style of a whole generation of hoopers from their famed Flight Huaraches all the way up to their chrome domes.
“Every hooper in America shaved their heads,” former Cincinnati Bearcats guard Alex Meacham told Boardroom in Dec. 2021. “I was at David Kriver’s basketball camp and Kobe’s head is shaved, KG‘s head is shaved. Everybody had a bald head. They had people shaving their heads at 15 years old.”
When it came to influence, anything based in maize and blue with a block ‘M’ could sell in bunches. Soon, the Swoosh sought to stamp more than sneakers where college cache was concerned.
Coming off the ’92 tourney run in which the freshman Fab 5 lost to Duke in the National Championship Game, Nike bet big on college basketball by signing schools to bigger deals. By 1994, The Washington Post reported that NCAA schools generated $2.5 billion in retail product sales, with Ann Arbor’s roundball roster driving much of that energy.
That year, Michigan made it official with Nike by signing a six-year deal worth $8 million. In the two years after the Fab 5’s arrival, apparel royalties for the school rose to $10.5 million.
“No group of freshmen ever impacted college basketball the way the Fab 5 did,” Desmond Howard told Boardroom in August.
Today, the University of Michigan exists in a unique partnership with Nike, said to be worth over $127 million.
The deal dresses both the basketball teams and football team in footwear and apparel from Nike subsidiary, Jordan Brand.
Because of this, the current crop of Wolverines likely won’t wear the new Huarache retros on-court next season.
However, they will have former Fab 5 forward Howard calling plays from the sideline. Based on brand storytelling, Nike will likely lean into new or adjacent narratives when returning the revered retro.
As noted by Complex, the Air Flight Huarache came back to retailers previously in 2003 and 2014.
Over the course of history, the Fab 5 favorite has been updated with modern tooling, ranging from flexible Free soles to toggle lacing.
Additionally, the original White/Varsity Purple-Royal Blue-Menta colorway has been used on signature styles tied to Kyrie Irving.
The Air Flight Huarache’s first run in retro life was used as an introduction to Nike for 2003 signee Kobe Bryant. In his first year with the Swoosh, Bryant wore PE pairs of the retro release before rolling out the retooled Nike Air Huarache 2k4 — a modern performance pair inspired by the past great.
As recently as 2019, PJ Tucker has laced up the iconic Flight Huarache original colorway, listing it among his all-time favorites due to his childhood fandom of Webber and ever-lasting love of ’90s basketball shoes.
Look for the Nike Air Flight Huarache OG to return to retailers in April 2023 for $125.