Fab Flight: The History of the Nike Air Flight Huarache

The year was 1992 and a young squad of basketball players at the University of Michigan was taking the NCAA basketball world by storm. If you know anything about basketball, you probably know that I speak of the Fab Five, the 1991 freshman recruits of Michigan including Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson.

Known as perhaps the greatest freshman class recruited on one team in the history of NCAA basketball, the Fab Five upset the status quo of conservative college basketball with their baggy shorts, shaved heads, and “hip-hop” mentality. This paired with their flashy style of play was too much for many older fans and some members of the alumni association to handle, but the younger crowd loved the Fab Five, and they’ve since gone down as one of the most influential teams in all of basketball’s history.

Enter the Huarache

There’s plenty to say about the Fab Five and their impact on the game of basketball, but we’re here to talk about sneakers, right? Along with the Fab Five’s iconic baggy shorts, another trend they initiated was wearing black socks on court, which seems normal today, but at the time was a bit radical. Paired with the black socks were the hottest Nike shoes of the time (Michigan was sponsored by Nike). Two shoes come to mind for most sneaker heads when the Fab Five is brought up, one being the Air Force Max. The other, and most important to the history of the Fab Five and sneakers in general, is the Air Flight Huarache—the shoe as radical as the Fab Five’s impact on basketball.

From Running to Basketball

The Flight Huarache was the basketball version of the Air Huarache running shoe released a year earlier. Designed by none other than legendary Nike designer Tinker Hatfield, the Air Huarache debuted the revolutionary Huarache technology, a snug fitting neoprene bootie within the shoe that conformed to the foot while also offering support. Of all places, Tinker was inspired to create the Huarache system after a water skiing trip when he noticed how nice and snug the neoprene water skiing boots feet on his feet. 

Released in 1992 during the second half of the Fab Five’s freshman season, the Air Flight Huarache was unlike any basketball shoe before it. Thanks to the Huarache technology allowing for the subtraction of materials commonly found on basketball shoes for ankle support like heavy leather or Velcro straps, the Air Flight Huarache was a minimalist masterpiece. The design by Tinker and future Nike Basketball design legend Eric Avar featured a cut-away area in the ankle and the same neoprene bootie found in the Huarache runner, only higher, of course.

Fab Flight

The planets seemed to align at just the right time for Nike, as they had a radical new basketball team capturing the attention of the nation to wear and promote their radical new shoe. No matter that the royal blue and purple accented colorway of the Flight Huarache didn’t match their team colors, the Fab Five rocked them anyway. In fact, it just helped the most revolutionary basketball shoe ever stand out even more. The rest, as they always say, is history.

In celebration of the Air Flight Huarache now being back at retail with only its second-ever retro release, let's now take a look at some imagery of the originals back in 1992.

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Original Colorways

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via Nike Inc.
The Flight Huarache is seen here in two of its most common original colorways: the iconic white version accented with royal blue and purple, and the black and blue version.
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Chris Webber

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Getty Images

As leader of the Fab Five, Chris Webber is one of the players most known for wearing the iconic Nike Basketball model in college or the pros.

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The Flight Huarache in the NBA

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Getty Images

Speaking of pros, a number of NBA players also laced up the minimal Air Flight Huarache in 1992, including Hall of Famers Scottie Pippen and Reggie Miller, pictured here.

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Original Print Advertisement

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This awesome ad from Nike and athletic retailer The Athlete's Foot compares the minimal Huarache to ancient Mayan footwear.
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Where it All Started

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via Nike Inc.
Seen here is an original sketch of the Flight Huarache in its early design stages. As you can see, the shoe still has a Nike Swoosh on it at this point, which would be taken off by the final design. The absence of the Swoosh was just another part of the Flight Huarache's radical design for its time.