If Nike were to ever have a Mount Rushmore of sneakers, there is no doubt in our mind that the Nike Cortez would occupy one of the four slots. Iconic as can be, the Nike Cortez is known for being the first ever track shoe that Nike released.
Making its debut back in 1972, the Nike Cortez was designed by Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman. Bowerman, an Olympic-class track coach designed the Cortez in an effort to create a running shoe for his athletes that was more comfortable and durable for both distance training and road running. Released at the peak of the 1972 Olympics, the “modern” running shoe gained a strong cult following from the general public right out the gate.
With all that being said, there is so much more to the Nike Cortez that happened way before 1972. Let us break it down for you.
So before Bowerman designed and released the Cortez in 1972, he was working on another shoe known as the TG-24 alongside the Japanese footwear company Onitsuka Tiger, better known as Asics. Bowerman ordered 300 pairs of the TG-24 in 1966 to be distributed in the U.S.. The shoe did great and ended up being one of the best new runners of the year. Blue Ribbon Sports (the name of Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman’s company before they decided to change it to “Nike”,) was the company that imported the TG-24 from Japan to the U.S.
After a successful first year run, Bowerman decided to change the name of the TG-24 shoe into something more appealing, he opted to go with “Mexico,” which was derived from the 1968 Summer Olympic Games, which were held in Mexico. Once the Olympic Games came to an end, another name change on the shoe occured, this time looking for something more catchy.
They decided on the name Aztec, but that didn’t last long since adidas took legal action to stop the name from happening since it was too similar to their own Azteca Gold track shoe. Soon thereafter they decided on the name “Cortez”, which pays tribute to Hernan Cortés, the Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire.The Cortez ended up being the best selling running sneakers in both Blue Ribbon Sports and Onitsuka Tiger history.
Like most things in life, all good things must come to an end. In 1971, Bowerman and Knight changed the name of their company to ‘Nike’. They began releasing their very own shoes, one of them being (you guessed it) the Nike Cortez. This was the beginning of a legal battle between Nike and Onitsuka Tiger over who gets the right for the “Cortez” moniker. By 1974, the court ruled in favor of Nike, resulting in them owning and keeping the name “Cortez”.
Now that the name Cortez was rightfully owned by Nike, they began modifying it. One change they did was to make some pairs of the Cortez constructed out of nylon, thus dubbing that version “the lightest running shoe ever made.”
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Although originally made for running and track work, the Nike Cortez gained a lot of fans outside the track during the 1980s. From breakdancers in the East coast, to gang culture and the hip-hop world in the West coast. The Cortez wasn’t all about the streets either, as the Nike running shoes was also placed center stage in Hollywood when it was worn by Tom Hanks in the movie “Forrest Gump” (1994).
The year 2022 will mark 50 years since the Nike Cortez silhouette made its initial debut. What was originally known as a running/track shoe has managed to effortlessly transcend to a streetwear icon. No matter your style, background, ethnicity or tax bracket, it seems like the Nike Cortez is a perfect fit for anyone and everyone who is into sneakers.
Much like the Nike Air Force 1, the Nike Cortez has released in a countless amount of colorways and iterations. From collaborating with Kendrick Lamar on more than one occasion, to rocking Jewel Swooshes, to coming covered in mesh, leather, suede, nubuck or canvas. There was also Mr. Cartoon for a few collaborations, to even adding a platform soles to its design courtesy of Comme des Garçons, the Nike Cortez manages to reinvent itself year after year after year. Whether you like the OG look and feel or appreciate the more modern interactions of the model, there’s always a Cortez that fits your needs.
With the Nike Cortez 50 year anniversary fast approaching, it’s safe to say that Nike will be dropping a plethora of Nike Cortez in the year 2020. The simple yet elegant silhouette has withstood the test of time. It has managed to remain relevant for almost 50 years, there is no doubt in our mind that the Nike Cortez will continue to age like fine wine.