Editor’s Note: This piece was first published on August 19, 2015. We’ve made a few choice edits (in bold) because well, the point still stands. The “What The?” concept needs to retire or at the very least go back to the drawing board and rediscover what made them so beloved in the first place.
Maybe it’s time to finally add that last word to the sentence. For the past several years, sneakerheads have eagerly anticipated the release of the “What The?” Nike kicks. What started out as a creative and exciting concept for the Nike SB Dunk has been co-opted by other Nike branches as a means of capping off the year(s) that was for their signature shoes. While other shoes claim to capture a certain era through colorways that vaguely represent that time, “What The?” kicks were the literal interpretation of that, biting many of the stories Nike told through each signature shoe and spitting them out like a Titan who was bored and ready to move on to the next thing.
The initial post-SB Dunk “What The?” kicks were promising enough, presented like a yearbook that highlighted the best colorways of a signature shoe. The peak would come the following year with the excellent “What The MVP” Nike LeBron 10 and Nike Kobe 8. The execution was there, the timing was right and the public craved it. You could honestly see Nike doing this every year from now on as a way to signal the end of a signature shoe’s run before moving on to the next model.
But just like any good idea, it gets recycled and repurposed until the public gets sick of it. Nike Sportswear got in on the act, using the concept on underwhelming releases like the Nike Air Max ’94 “What The Trainer” and the “What The Max” pack that just came and went with little fanfare. Then came the disappointing “What The?” Nike LeBron 11 that sounded great at first (draw inspiration from past LeBron signature models) but ended up feeling rushed and uninspired in the process. And don’t even get me started on that “What The” Nike Kobe 9 Elite that looks like any other colorway but has badges on the inner tongue like we’re supposed to care. While KD’s “What The?” releases have managed to stay true to the spirit of the original with the Nike KD 6 and to a lesser extent the Nike KD 7, there is a feeling of diminishing returns with each passing year.
The tipping point has got to be the
“What The?” Nike LeBron 12 “What The?” Nike KD 8. As someone who has actually Even though I haven’t seen it in person, it looks like a NIKEiD creation where the goal was to use every colorway theme at least once, but not in a way that actually made sense and had zero flow or inspiration. Well, mission accomplished, if the mission was to kill the “What The?” concept that is…
Just like Jordan Brand “retired” the Air Jordan 3
last year in 2015 (but will unretire in 2016), it’s time for the “What The?” to take a break before we all hate it. Like Ric Flair, nothing ever really retires in sneakers. It doesn’t mean that it can’t make a triumphant comeback in several years, but we have to try other things that could signify the end of a sneaker’s year and miss the “What The?” before giving it another shot. Will there be people disappointed if this catch-all idea goes away? Of course, but it’s not like Nike can’t do retro “What The?” kicks years from now (Can you imagine if Nike does go that route and releases “What The?” editions of the Zoom Kobe 5 or the Zoom Generation? I’d be interested to see those.) By doing so, our fondness for the releases that did become instant classics grows and our bad memories of the crappier ones begin to fade into the background. Basically, the sooner we can forget the “What The?” LeBron 12 “What The?” Nike KD 8 the better.