A refined design, classic colour blocking, easy-wearing style — the Nike Dunk is one of the most coveted sneakers of all time. Basketball shoe turned streetwear staple, the Dunk has become a cornerstone of the industry, heavily influencing the fashion and sport scenes alike. Firmly recognised for its performance, quality and comfort, the shoe has enjoyed a full-force revival in recent years, surpassing its legacy on hardwood. Here, we take a look back at its extensive timeline, its impact on sneaker history and how it became a cultural commodity.

First released in 1985 as a highly functional basketball shoe, Peter Moore’s Nike Dunk took inspiration from classic Nike models — the Air Force 1, the Terminator, the Air Jordan 1 and the Legend. The sneaker’s release coincided with the golden age of basketball, leading to the Dunk’s instant success on the court.

The following year the Nike Dunk cemented itself as a basketball icon when the Beaverton brand released the “Be True To Your School” campaign. Offering fans a chance to don their collegiate colours, Nike created seven colourways of the Nike Dunk High for specific college basketball teams. This sponsorship allowed the brand to organically market the Dunk beyond the confines of college arenas and would later be considered as a defining moment in the sneaker’s history.

It wasn’t until the ‘90s that the shoe’s demand began to decline. The Dunk became a symbol of the past, losing its appeal and marking an abrupt end to its lengthy run. Sneakerheads looked instead to the Air Max 1 and Air Jordan 3 — highly technical styles that represented a new era of modern technology.

But while the Dunk was no longer found on the hardwood, it soon found its place on the halfpipe. Thanks to an updated design with a lightweight nylon tongue and thicker Swoosh, the Dunk was adopted by skateboarders around the globe. Skaters loved the Nike Dunk because it was cheap and accessible, whilst delivering the cushioning, support and traction needed for the sport. Before long, Nike had expanded its offering and changed the game with all-new silhouettes, exclusive releases and reimagined colourways.

Widely regarded as the Nike Dunk’s greatest era, the early 2000s saw the silhouette return to the forefront of sneaker culture. Sandy Bodecker’s appointment as General Manager of Nike SB in 2001 led to more skateboarding-inspired styles than ever before — including the Dunk Low Pro SB and Dunk Low Pro B — while revamped releases allowed the sneaker to reenter the lifestyle sphere.

During this period, collaborations became a key part of the Nike SB Dunk’s appeal. Following the coveted “Colors By” collection, Nike enlisted several high-profile tastemakers and brands to bring something new to shoe’s design. Stand-outs include streetwear influences from Stüssy, Supreme and Futura, as well as skateboarding classics from Skates, Diamond Supply and Jeff Staple. Each sneaker came with a rich story and acted as a catalyst for the Nike Dunk SB’s success.

After a brief hiatus, the Nike Dunk began to gain momentum in the late 2010s. One of the pioneers behind the shoe’s long-awaited comeback, Travis Scott’s collaboration with Nike in 2020 saw the Dunk propelled back into the limelight. The Texan artist reworked the silhouette with removable paisley and check print overlays, lending a playful edge to the model and bringing it into modern day. Within hours the collection had sold out and the Nike Dunk was sought after once again.

But it was upon the release of Virgil Abloh’s Dunk that things really took flight. Paying homage to the silhouette’s basketball roots, Abloh created a capsule of three retro and dynamically-blocked colourways. The sneakers were crafted with a deconstructed aesthetic and featured the designer’s calling card details — exposed foam tongues, trademark branding and cable-cord lacing. A partnership that secured the Dunks legendary status, this collaboration single-handedly shifted the shoe into the luxury realm.

Today, the Nike Dunk is still reigning supreme. The silhouette’s timelessness and simplicity has allowed it to remain relevant in a world of ever-changing trends and tastes, while its connection to sport and fashion makes it one of the most recognisable styles on the planet. An enduring shoe with endless staying power, the Nike Dunk is a certified icon.