THE ETCS

Nike’s “What The” Dunk Changed the Game

In 2007, the Swoosh mashed up 31 different shoes into one wacky pair that flipped the sneaker world upside down.

When imagination clashes with innovation, there is a strong chance that something spectacular and awe-inspiring could spawn from it. When it comes to Nike, that mantra might as well have been their de facto mission statement for the last 40 years, as the sneaker giant has pushed the envelope constantly to deliver products that not only become staples and time-markers in sneaker culture, but shift the culture altogether.

And there aren’t too many better examples of this pursuit than the “What The” Nike Dunk Low Pro SB.

Unveiled to the public in March 2002, the Nike Dunk Low Pro SB was the brainchild of one of Nike’s most revered designers, the late Alexander “Sandy” Bodecker. The SB Dunk, as they became affectionately known, served as one of the Swoosh’s first skate-specific sneakers, and featured distinct details that separated them from anything else under the Nike umbrella, including a padded tongue, thick laces, and skateboard stables.

The sneaker began to pick up steam throughout the skating community with tribute editions and homages to prominent names like Danny Supa, Reese Forbes, Zoo York, Nicky Diamonds, and Supreme.

On the strength of all this buzz, it was time for Nike to go even further outside the box. And what came next was one of their most influential and lasting designs to date: the “What The” Dunk Low Pro SB.

Enlisting in the help of designer James Arizumi, the “What The” colorway was unlike anything Nike had done today, featuring a mashup of 31 different colorways into one wacky pair that flipped the sneaker world upside down. The Cali, Lucky, Buck, Jedi, and even hard-to-lock-down Pigeon, Paris, and eBay Dunks were all used as inspiration to create this generation-defining shoe.

The ambitious release went on to inspire “What The” versions of some of Nike’s biggest signature sneakers, including Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Giannis Antetokounmpo exclusives, as well as for classic throwbacks such as the Air Force 1 and Air Max 95.

Most recently, iconic skateboarder Paul “P-Rod” Rodriguez, the first skater to ever receive a signature sneaker from Nike, was bestowed the honor with his own pair of What The P-Rod SBs.

“I came up with the concept like two days after the official lockdown happened for COVID,” Rodriguez told Boardroom. “The ‘What The’ Dunk was such a special shoe and told such a special story about the history of the Dunk I’m like ‘Why don’t I just apply that to my career and all the shoes I’ve had’ and it just hit me.”

So Nike set off to concoct an amalgamation of 10 signature sneakers and over dozens of trademark colorways before they landed on the What The P-Rod SB, released last month. Paul has been told the stock ranges from just 8,000 to 10,000 pairs, making the sneaker extremely rare, just like its predecessor. The sneaker implements 22 different pairs of his legendary signature line onto an incredible combination.

Paul Rodriguez and the What The P-Rod SB Dunks

“I can’t even describe the feeling, it’s such a huge honor,” Rodriguez said.

P-Rod was already in rarified air with the Swoosh, joining Michael Jordan, LeBron, Kobe, and KD as the only Nike athletes with at least 10 signature sneakers back in 2017. Now, with a “What The” colorway all to his own, he joins another exclusive list with some of those same names. “I’m just a skater kid from the valley in LA, to be a part of that special group, it still doesn’t feel real. It still shocks me every day.”

And like the original What The Dunk, the What The P-Rod was an instant hit. “This shoe, particularly, has gotten such a response that I’ve never had with any of my shoes,” said Rodriguez. “So many people from all different cultures and all different places outside of skateboarding have reached out and shown love. It’s just crazy to me, man, and I’m very grateful. I finally feel like I have my one sneaker that’s for the sneaker culture. I did it. I finally got my sneaker culture hit.”

A hit indeed, but following in the footsteps of the original “What The” Dunks, the P-Rods have some ground to make up, as the original pair still serves as one of Nike’s most hyped and coveted releases to date. Prices for a pair of “What The” Dunks can run as high as $10,000 for a pair on StockX, while used pairs on eBay can cost up to $5,000. Which has Paul kicking himself about the original pair he just “kind of got rid of” over the years.

Profile view of the Nike “What The” Dunk Low Pro SB
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When Bodecker’s vision and Arizumi’s creativity joined together, Nike hit a home run that changed the sneaker game forever. The SB Dunk Low Pro remains a staple in both the skateboarding and sneakerhead communities, and is definitively one of the most lively, artistic sneakers Nike has ever created.

The idea of mashing 31 different sneakers into one was unheard of, and it still sounds a bit crazy even today.

But it’s only crazy until you just do it.

And that’s exactly what Nike did.