20 years ago, if you said Nike would become one of the most visible brands in the realm of skate shoes people would’ve laughed in your face. Something by Osiris, a new iteration of the Puma Clydes, anything by Vans, Converse, or D3 shoes… Hell, even Adidas, no one would’ve batted an eye. But Nike?
No way. That was a mega-corp for hoopers and workout fanatics. It was MJ’s company. And though Jordans were definitely cool in hip-hop, skate and rap hadn’t fully crossed over yet.
All that changed in a hurry in 2002, when Nike officially launched its SB sub-brand with the Nike SB Dunk Lows. The Swoosh had the deep pockets, brand familiarity, star designers, and unmatched distribution reach to succeed smashingly, but the experiment still could have fallen flat had Nike (not yet a billion-dollar company in 2002) tried to strongarm the scene. Instead, they slow-played it, clout borrowing (thanks to boatloads of cash) from the coolest names in the sport.
It proved incredibly wise. To help kick off the SB Dunk Lows, Nike linked up with Supreme — you know, those craze-inducing purveyors of cool and still one of the strongest tastemaking brands on earth. After leveraging Supreme’s cultural cache, Nike rolled out custom colorways with SB athletes Danny Supa, Richard Mulder, and Reese Forbes. Soon, every skater and street icon had to have a taste, leading to collaborations with prolific street artists like Futura, counterculture icons like Jeff Staple, and skate brands like Diamond Supply Company.
By the time Lupe Fiasco shouted the SB Dunks out in 2006’s “Kick, Push” and certainly by the point when skater Eric Koston (“Do a kickflip!”) helped Nike finally make the shoe better for actually skating in 2009, the silhouette had become an institution. As fresh and coveted as a pair of Jordan 1s. The fact that the shoe itself — which was a reinvention of a mid-’80s hoops classic — proved incredibly popular with skaters and easily adaptable to collab-driven colorway changes and design tweaks definitely helped move the needle.
To celebrate the sneaker, which is enjoying a resurgence of popularity (thanks, in part, to Travis Scott’s Cactus Jack-spin on the silhouette), we’ve collected all the best iterations in the sneaker’s history from 2002 to 2020. Check them out, save your coin, and dream of re-releases.
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Supreme x Nike SB Dunk Cement, 2002
What a way to kick off the list. The Supreme Nike SB Dunk Low is still one of the greatest pairs of the sneaker in its eighteen-year history. This particular iteration is notable for its use of the textured “elephant skin” nubuck leather first introduced on the Jordan 3 back in 1988. When this sneaker dropped in 2002, it was the first time the “cement” colorway was used on another sneaker, and Nike couldn’t have chosen a better streetwear label to break it out for.
Supreme Nike SB Dunk Low dropped in both a black and cement colorway with a crimson collar, or the much brighter white and cement colorway, with the true blue-collar. We lean more towards the black, but both pairs are wildly popular — selling for close to $10,000 on aftermarket sites.
Nike SB Dunk Low Mulder, 2002
The debut sneaker in Nike’s “Color’s By” series — a collection of Nike SB Dunks released in colorways hand-selected by Nike’s roster of team riders — the “Mulder” was selected by pro skater Richard Mulder who tried to recreate the colorway of his first pair of Nikes. The Mulder is one of the sneaker’s best colorways, thanks to its crisp leather upper with a simple bright blue swoosh. It’s minimalist, sure, but white leather sneakers have never looked this good.
Nike SB Dunk Supa, 2002
Another great colorway from the SB Dunk’s debut year, pro skater Danny Supasirirat’s New York Knicks referencing take on the SB Dunk was also part of Nike’s “Colors By” series, consisting of colorways hand-selected by Nike’s sponsored team riders. When Supa’s take dropped in 2002 it was a quick favorite amongst sneakerheads and holds up to this day as one of the silhouette’s best presentations.
Nike SB Dunk Reese Denim, 2002
Say what you will about this pair of Nike SB Dunks, but credit where credit is due. When Nike decided to take inspiration from a pair of signature jeans that pro skater Reese Forbes had just dropped, art director Natas Kaupas struck on something that spoke to a lot of streetwear tastemakers.
The upper consists of midnight blue distressed denim with bright red accents. Despite the fact that you could make a strong argument for these being ugly, they fetch prices well above $5,000 in the aftermarket.
Nike SB Buck, 2003
The Nike SB “Buck” colorway came straight from the mind of Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who stayed repping Oregon hard with this design that borrows the colors of the University of Oregon. Other highlights from the design include “PK” branding on the heel, and suede paneling over the leather upper.
Supreme x Nike SB Dunk High, 2003
We don’t blame Supreme for doing a complete 180 with their followup to the Cement SB Dunk — that’s a hard sneaker to follow. But the 2003 high top SB Dunk isn’t without its charms. Featuring a varsity red and white colorway with a distinct star-patterned graphic beneath the swoosh, this design feels like a dope victory lap to kick off the second year of Nike SB Dunks.
Nike SB Dunk Low Tokyo, 2004
Part of Nike’s City Series, the Tokyo SB Dunks swap out the leather upper for a canvas/muslin blend that gives the sneaker a sort of down-to-earth workwear vibe. The Tokyo was absent of branding on the heel and tongue, making this a favorite amongst DIY sneaker painters who treated the pair as a blank canvas.
Nike SB Dunk London, 2004
Another low-key subdued design out of Nike’s City Series, the London’s also played with the base upper of the SB Dunk, trading the leather for a full-suede makeup. The tonal panels of grey captured the foggy vibe of the city, and to round out the design an embroidered outline of the River Thames in midnight blue adorns the side heel panel.
Nike SB Dunk Low Paris, 2004
The best colorway out of Nike’s City Series, the Paris Dunk is just a beautiful pair of kicks. Made in collaboration with French painter Bernard Buffet, each pair of the Paris featured a totally unique upper, making the production run of just 200 pairs feel all the rarer.
Nike SB Dunk Hemp Pack, 2004
Dropping in a red mahogany, bonsai, and cascade blue iteration the Hemp Pack featured uppers composed entirely of hemp. Not only do they still look dope 16 years later, it’s proof that Nike is perfectly capable of making sustainable shoes. Why they don’t continue to do so is beyond us.
Nike SB Dunk High FLOM, 2004
Made in collaboration with graffiti artist Futura, the FLOMs, or “For Love Or Money” Dunks featured a tile-based upper composed of different denominations of currency. In a strange way, they feel like a precursor to Travis Scott’s take on the silhouette from this year, providing that Futura has always been ahead of the game no matter what field he decides to dip his toes into.
Nike SB Dunk High Pro Sea Crystal, 2004
Sandy Bodecker was to the Nike SB what Tinker Hatfield is to the Air Jordan and one of his best iterations ever came about when Bodecker stumbled upon a color in Nike’s seasonal color palette selections in 2004 that reminded him of the washed-out sea glass that he once collected as a kid on the beaches of Connecticut.
Other notable variations to the SB design on this iteration include the use of Pig Suede which helped to bring out the sneaker’s unique colors.
Nike SB Dunk Pigeon, 2005
Probably the most legendary sneaker on this list, the Pigeons came about at a time when sneaker culture was entering an new golden age. Made in collaboration with Jeff Staple, the Pigeon’s release was so hyped that a riot broke out over the sneakers in New York City, the city the sneakers were repping with their embroidered pigeon on the heel.
Stussy x Nike SB Dunk Cherry, 2005
A fan favorite to be sure, this collaboration with Stüssy sports a colorway of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla inspired by Neapolitan Ice Cream. Why Nike felt the need to add a cherry to the tongue (and name) when Neapolitan Ice cream doesn’t have cherry is a mystery we don’t care to solve because — inaccurate name or not — this pair is just too fresh.
Nike SB Dunk Rayguns, 2005
The Rayguns hold the distinction of being one of the first of the Dunks to feature the SB logo on the tongue. This mismatched colorway was inspired by a fictional ABA team called the Roswell Rayguns and features an alien — which would naturally be that team’s mascot — embroidered on the heel. It’s a silly concept, sure, but the colorway of orange flash, deep black, and bright white is one of the Dunk’s best.
Diamond Supply Co. x Nike SB Diamond Dunk, 2005
The Diamond Dunks look like they would be better utilized in a display case in a sneaker museum than getting beat up on a skater’s feet. Would that stop us from wearing a pair if we owned one of our own? Nah. Featuring crocodile-embossed leather, a shimmering chrome swoosh, and Tiffany Blue leather detailing, this collaborative kick designed by Diamond Supply Co. founder Nick Tershay is an undeniable entry on this list.
Nike SB Dunk SBTG, 2006
Designed by famed Singapore-based artist Mark “Sabotage” Ong, the Dunk SBTG featured hand-painted graphics and patterns by ONG and a screened lace flap. The lace flap hasn’t been seen on a notable pair of SBs since, making the SBTGs instantly recognizable amongst seasoned sneakerheads and SB Stans.
Nike SB What The Dunk?, 2007
Ironically, when Nike decided to design a Dunk cobbled together from 31 of the best SB Dunk colorways, the stated goal was to create a “Dunk to end all dunks,” and you’ll notice a huge gap between the years 2007 and 2019. Don’t get us wrong, Nike didn’t stop making Dunks in the intervening years, the designs just fell off pretty hard and the SB Dunk wouldn’t start to get its groove back until around 2017.
You’ll quickly notice how the upper of the What The Dunk takes on a sort of Greatest Hits quality. Unfortunately, the design turns into a mess. Still, it signifies the end of an era for the SB Dunk. Oh yeah, and owning a pair means you hold a small fortune — these are pricey on the aftermarket sites.
Parra x Nike SB Dunk Parra Dunk, 2019
Though not as cool as the Parra Nike Blazer that the dutch artist of the same name produced for Nike in 2019, the Parra Dunk was everywhere at last summer’s ComplexCon. Featuring a distinct soft chenille swoosh over whiter leather with red, pink, and blue accents, the Parra Dunk oozes serious 80s vibes, offering a different take on the SB Dunk and reinvigorating the brand.
StrangeLove x Nike SB Dunk, 2020
Nike dropped this collaboration with StrangeLove skateboards just in time for Valentine’s Day in a special pink box with a heart-shaped window, a coveted gift amongst skater couples. Featuring an upper of red, pink, and white velvet, atop a clear pink outsole, the StrangeLoves are not just one of the best Nike SB Dunks of all time, they’re one of the best drops of this year.
P-Rod Dunk, 2020
Before the SB Dunks got the “SB” in their name, they were just a simple 80s basketball silhouette intended for the court. Then they became the premier skate shoe for about 20 years in the new millennium, and now maybe they’ll enjoy a third life as a boxing shoe. Paul Rodriguez, aka P-Rod, designed this Mexican-flag-inspired leather take on the high-top for his signature SB Dunk, and it was a great way to start the year in which the SB Dunk became cool again.
Travis Scott Nike Sb Dunk Low Cactus Jack, 2020
Probably the most hyped SB Dunk since the original Supreme Cement, Travis Scott’s earthy take on Dunk perfectly reflects the rappers’ aesthetic. Featuring rope style laces, a woodsy camo pattern, and Cactus Jack branding, Travis Scott’s iteration on the Dunk swaps out the tongue for an extra thick version and adds some paisley bandana patterning on canvas overlays.
When this shoe dropped in February, so many snakeheads flooded the Nike site that it had to temporarily shut down.
Ben & Jerry’s x Nike SB Chunky Dunky
The Chunky Dunky was the most recent Nike SB Dunk to drop and to be honest, we feel a little uncomfortable closing the list with something so polarizing. But the Chunky Dunky was the sneaker that proved that even a pandemic and an economy barreling toward depression wasn’t enough to stop sneakerheads from absolutely losing their mind over a pair of shoes.
What’s cool about the Chunky Dunky are all the small details — the cow print leather overlays, how the upper utilizes the Ben & Jerry’s logo, the psychedelic tie-dye collar that pays homage to Ben & Jerry’s crunchy hippie roots… It’s a sneaker for sneakerheads and a great reminder that the best sneaker designs come from a place of humor and fun.