Friday, April 15th marks the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson Day, a day dedicated to the first African American baseball player to ever play in Major League Baseball. Jackie Robinson paved the way for a countless number of players to get a fair shot in Major League Baseball, but it wasn’t an easy road.
When Jackie first stepped on the scene, the game was not ready to accept him yet. Not only did he face racial jeers and abuse from fans and opposing players, but he also faced it from some of his initial teammates who refused to play with a “black” player. Still, Jackie would preserve and eventually become one of the game’s most iconic players. One of his most memorable moments came in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series, where he mesmerizingly stole home against the New York Yankees. The Brooklyn Dodgers would go on to lose Game 1 to the Yankees but come back to beat them in seven games, giving Robinson the only World Series win of his career.
The collaboration with Ken Griffey Jr. is special for a multitude of reasons, but the main one being that without Ken Griffey Jr., there might not be a Jackie Robinson Day. Way back on April 15th, 1997, the 50th anniversary of Jackie breaking into the league and the day Jackie’s number was officially retired, Griffey Jr. asked to switch his “24” uniform to “42” for the momentous occasion. Griffey would take the field with the iconic number in tribute to one of the game’s trailblazers, while also wearing the patented Griffey Max 1.
That same year, Nike produced a sample of the Air Max Griffey 2 for Ken Griffey Jr. to wear in-game. The shoes were similar to the Air Max Griffey 1’s, however, there was a patented, Teal Blue, “Thank You” across the back heel, along with the Swingman logo and the iconic 42. Griffey Jr. would never wear the shoes, and they would remain unreleased, remembered only by the sole sample produced.
10 years later, Griffey Jr. wanted to pay homage to Jackie once again, only this time, he had to ask permission from then-commissioner Bud Selig. After Selig talked with Jackie’s wife, Rachel Robinson, who OK’d it with one catch: the invitation to wear 42 on April 15th would be spread league-wide. Two years later, it would be required that all major league teams, including coaches, would dawn the number “42” in honor of Jackie.
Over the years, Nike has honored Jackie Robinson with a plethora of releases. One of the first came in 2009 with the release of the Jackie Robinson Nike Blazer Highs – a three-pack of High-Top Blazers in honor of the legendary ballplayer. The Blazers came in three distinct colors – Black, Red, and Dodger Blue, and featured broken lines around the Swoosh and sole, signifying the barriers Robinson broke down when he came into the league.
Also released in 2009, Nike launched a special iteration of the Air Max Swingman Remix for Jackie Robinson. The pair features a Medium Grey, Rush Blue, and Varsity Red color combination and retailed for $95. The highlight of this pair is a silhouette of Jackie sliding into home plate. Nike also produced a sample version in White (see below).
Back in 2012, Nike released a special edition Air Max Griffey Fury’s in honor of Jackie Robinson. The shoe dawns that Iconic Dodger blue that has become synonymous with Jackie, aligns with vibrant orange laces and Griffey’s patented “24” on the ankle. The red under the bottom makes the entire shoe pop, reminiscent of that iconic Dodger jersey.
Later in 2013, Nike released the Air Max 360 Swingman and Swingman MVP Metal cleats in honor of Robinson. This time, Nike’s approach was an homage to Jackie’s service in the Army prior to him breaking into the league. The shoes are a majority sand-tan colored with the iconic camouflage splashes on the sides. The shoe is topped off with a neon green logo of Jackie’s iconic swing, matching with the top two lace holes.
2008 brought the leaks of the unreleased Nike Air Max Swingman Remix, a tribute to Jackie Robinson.
The Nike Air Max Swingman Remix was a simple White and Rush Blue colorway with an added dark Blue/Black patch near the heel of the shoe, with the iconic Swingman Jackie Robinson logo in red. On the side of the shoe is a golden traced outline of Jackie’s mid slide with his helmet flying off. Dodger blue laces finish the shoe off with the Swingman patch strewn vertically over the laces.
2014 had the leaks of the unproduced, never released Jackie/Griffey Diamond Fury, which were definitely a bit more experimental. The cream leather is super-premium, jersey twill in grey, blue wool, and leather laces inspired by mit bindings The tongue has Blue “JR” on them, in honor of Jackie Robinson but also to Ken Griffey Jr., whose efforts will forever be remembered in pushing for Jackie to be celebrated.
Both of these shoes were samples and were never officially released to the public, but that hasn’t stopped Nike from continuing the tradition of honoring Robinson with their shoes.
In 2021, Nike continued the tradition with the release of the Nike Air Griffey Max 1 “Jackie Robinson” edition. The Air Griffey’s take on a sleek, Black and White look, with Jackie’s quote, stamped on the ankle strap reading “‘There’s not an American in this country free until every one of us is free”. This time, Nike has decided to reverse Griffey’s iconic number to reflect that of Jackie – “42”. The number is prominently displayed on the heel.
Nike continues to honor Jackie with the release of the “Jackie Robinson” Dunk Low, in honor of the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking into the league. The dunks dawn the vintage Dodger Blue, yes, but mix in some denim Blue and an Off-White that makes the entire shoe scream LA. The laces join in on the fun, mixing both White and Blue to create a similar look to that of baseballs. Finally, Jackie’s iconic “I am a human being” quote is stamped across the shoe, making sure that we do not forget the trials and tribulations Jackie was put through.
Image Credit: SoleSupreme, collectcollectcollect