Thirty-five years later, John McEnroe’s rebellious nature lives on with the celebration of a tennis sneaker he made famous.
There is a catch though: it wasn’t really a tennis sneaker. And McEnroe was not destined to make him famous. Such is the story of the Nike Air Trainer 1, a shoe closely linked to three of the biggest names in tennis fashion history: McEnroe, Andre Agassi and architect-turned-shoe designer Tinker Hatfield, the man behind the Air Jordan 3 and creator. from Agassi’s Air Tech Challenge 2, Pete Sampras’ Air Oscillate and the Vapor line – may she rest in peace – made legendary by Roger Federer.
The story of the Air Trainer 1 begins in the mid-1980s before an all-around training shoe became a thing. Hatfield changed all that. Inspired by a trip to the gym – which required packing several sport-specific designs – Hatfield set out to create a viable pair of shoes for both the court and the gym, creating a prototype with a cut higher and a lateral stabilizer design for stability and support, with a higher heel than the typical basketball shoe but lower than the average running shoe that featured Nike Air cushioning and a midfoot strap for locking. Hatfield even wrapped his design in the black, gray, white and “chlorophyll” green colors of the gym equipment that inspired him.
While that creation eventually became known as the 1987 release of the Air Trainer 1 “Chlorophyll,” the sneaker’s big moment came sooner, thanks to McEnroe.
Back in 1986 after a hiatus from tennis, McEnroe was eager to get back into the game. He worked with Nike to find a sneaker to suit his needs – the Mac Attack came out in 1984, so by 1986 he was ready for the next thing. “Luckily when the guys at Nike sent me a bunch of different prototypes to try, there was this disposable that they weren’t even planning on sending me,” McEnroe said in 2015. turned out that was the one, for me was the most impressive.
Hatfield didn’t know it, but McEnroe was given one of the first Air Trainer 1s, specifically asking him not to wear them in a tournament, but to try them out in practice. McEnroe ignored the request. “Once they were on I was like, ‘Sorry guys, this is the one we have to deal with, we have to reverse the field here,'” McEnroe said. “This one felt really good.”
McEnroe then went to Los Angeles and won his first tournament. In the Air Trainer 1. Then he won his next.
“It was a breathtaking experience for me because I had no idea he was going to wear them,” Hatfield said years after the release. “Nobody did it. He wasn’t supposed to do it. He just did it.
McEnroe asked for more, so Nike created special player models designed with clay- and grass-specific outsoles.
The shoe was released as a trainer in 1987, but the Air Trainer 1 retained its tennis credibility when Andre Agassi, a new Nike signee in 1988, wore the Air Trainer 1 in his first match with Nike.
Marketing of the Air Trainer 1 then took a different turn – more in line with the original plan – and became the “Bo Knows” line, the slogan leading the Bo Jackson campaign. By then, the sneaker’s tennis pedigree was well established.