The Pump Turns 20

How do you celebrate the 20th anniversary of one of the world’s most iconic basketball sneakers—one that changed the game of footwear design? Reebok answered with a party in New York for its product team, sneakerheads and fans, all of whom were counting down to midnight on Nov. 20, when the latest (and very limited) editions of The Original Pump—designed by 20 of the world’s leading sneaker boutiques—dropped across the globe.

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How do you celebrate the 20th anniversary of one of the world’s most iconic basketball sneakers—one that changed the game of footwear design? Reebok answered with a party in New York for its product team, sneakerheads and fans, all of whom were counting down to midnight on Nov. 20, when the latest (and very limited) editions of The Original Pump—designed by 20 of the world’s leading sneaker boutiques—dropped across the globe. The 20 new designs from those who know sneakers best were on display, including a gray jersey shoe from Colette in Paris and a surf-inspired creation from Kicks/HI in Honolulu. “I want ’em all,” pledged DJ Senatore, owner of Rare Breed Footwear in Long Branch, NJ, who is considered the leading Reebok collector with more than 160 pairs in his collection. Other retailers who designed versions for the Pump20 include Undefeated, Packer, Bodega, HUF and Commonwealth in the United States, plus global retailers Espionage, Juice, Patta, Size? and Stolen Riches. Each retailer is selling (or did sell—we doubt they lasted long) 89 pairs of Pumps, a nod to the shoe’s debut in 1989, including 58 of the Reebok Pump Bringback Edition in the original 1989  colorways and 31 pairs in the store’s own design. At the party, guests got a taste of the technology’s history straight from the mouth of Paul Litchfield, inventor of The Pump and now the Canton, MA-based company’s head of advanced concepts. In 1987, Reebok gave him the task of reinventing how basketball shoes were made. An ex-firefighter, Litchfield says he got to thinking about emergency air casts and the inflatable systems being introduced in ski boots at the time, and thought a similar concept could help athletes get a customized fit. It took two years before the original shoe—featuring an inflatable bladder offset with “dots” to cushion pressure points—was released. “I’ve got a hall of shame that’s immense,” Litchfield laughs. But the end result was a shoe that gave the wearer a fit they could fully control by adding or releasing air from a bladder within the shoe. The Pump was elevated by endorsements from basketball greats such as Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins (it became his signature shoe) and Dee Brown of the Boston Celtics, who many can recall pumping up his shoes before his winning blind-dunk in the 1991 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Reebok later extended The Pump technology to other athletic categories, including tennis, running, cross-training and more. Reebok has put together a short documentary film about The Pump, and plans to keep the celebration going through the year by recognizing some of the most popular Pump models. Litchfield thinks sneaker lovers still respond to the style due to its now-retro look and the innovation of the technology. “This shoe came out pre-iPod, pre-MP3 players, pre-cell phones,” he notes. “But even back then, kids identified with having ‘the gear.'” For more on The Pump and its history, check out www.pump20.com.

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