In 2002, when the Texas-born, Y2K-chart-topping rapper Nelly released “Air Force Ones” (which was supported by a comical music video that has is now reaching 75m views on YouTube) as a homage to his favourite sneaker from Nike, no one could contest that the Air Force 1 hadn’t captured the global zeitgeist.

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Nike AF-1, with several hundred million pairs sold worldwide in low, middle and high variants. Rap artists name-checking the sneaker in hit tracks has certainly helped the popularity of the AF-1. But none of it would have been possible without designer Mr Bruce Kilgore.

“I think it’s impossible to overstate Bruce Kilgore’s influence at Nike and his impact on wider sneaker culture,” says Mr Alex Powis, art director and author of Sneakers Unboxed: Studio To Street. “Ignoring his entire career – which includes key Nike moments such as the Air Jordan 2, Air Sock and Air Ace, and he is still active today – and focusing on the Air Force 1 alone, he is, without doubt, one of the most influential footwear designers of all time.”

The Air Force 1 was Nike’s first foray into basketball and it made an instant impact. “In the early- to mid-1980s, the competition in the sneaker industry was pretty even and the high-top leather basketball shoe market was quite saturated,” says Mr John Kim, editor-in-chief of Sneaker News. “Basketball players and competing brands definitely took notice of the AF-1 as it had a strong marketing campaign.”

With a lineup of six NBA heavyweights featuring Messrs Michael Cooper, Moses Malone, Calvin Natt, Jamaal Wilkes, Bobby Jones and Mychal Thompson, it was always going to be a slam dunk. But, add in the stylistic direction of The Original Six standing in front of an Air Force 1 – the President’s go-to method of aerial transportation, from which the sneaker takes its name – it was immediately iconic.

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