The Moment Reebok PUMP Became Legendary

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Almost exactly 30 years ago, Reebok PUMP became legendary in NBA circles, thanks to a certain rookie competing at the 1991 NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest. Dee Brown, selected 19th overall by the Boston Celtics in the 1990 NBA Draft, stepped onto the hardcourt and “pumped” up his Reebok PUMP Omni Zone 2s before his first dunk.

The crowd loved it, and Brown went on to pump up his sneakers before each of his following dunks. The fact that Brown ended up winning the dunk contest with a memorable no-look dunk etched the PUMP moment into the history books. At the time, the Celtics player became only the second rookie in NBA history to win the Slam Dunk contest. Spud Webb, who won in 1986, was the first rookie to do so (and also the shortest player ever, at 5 foot 7 inches, to win the dunk contest).

Now, 30 years later, Reebok is bringing back the Reebok PUMP Omni Zone 2 in its true, high-top form for the first time. The sneaker was previously retroed in mid-top heights, but the 2021 release is supposed to remain truest to the original 1991 design.

PUMP technology integrated an inflatable chamber within the shoe, that wearers would be able to pump up to customize the fit of their shoe. Brown’s pre-dunk moment in 1991 helped launch the technology to the forefront of both sneaker and basketball culture and served as the catalyst for the technology’s popularity in the following years.

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“I always planned on pumping them up before my first dunk,” said Brown. “Not only did the ‘Pump’ fit the shoes to my feet, but it was such a cool idea that I wanted to see how the crowd would react when I brought it to life.”

The original Reebok PUMP debuted in 1989 and was worn by Dominique Wilkins in the NBA. The next year, Reebok released the Omni Zone, Twilight Zone, and the SXT Pump, as well as Michael Chiang’s Court Victory PUMP, the first tennis shoes featuring PUMP technology. But it wasn’t until 1991 when Dee Brown pumped up his shoes, that PUMP gained a somewhat mainstream foothold in basketball.

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“When Dee Brown took the moment to ‘pump up’ his shoes before he completed his no-look dunk, he did a few things,” explains Erin Narloch, Reebok’s head of global archive. “First, he captured the moment. Millions of viewers; all of the attention to their non-4K screens. Next, he demo-ed the tech. During this series of events, he’s using the tech in his shoes, he’s showing what it does, and how to do it. It’s the performance before the performance. Finally, he humanized himself and Reebok through the intensity of the moment, the performance, and the accolades after.”

In 1991, the use of PUMP technology was extended to cross-training, off-road, golf, walking, aerobics, and running shoes. The following year, Shaquille O’Neal — perhaps Reebok’s biggest NBA star to date alongside Allen Iverson — was given his own signature sneaker; the Shaq Attack, featuring PUMP technology. That was also the year that the Steven Smith-designed Reebok InstaPUMP Fury was released. PUMP was fully ingrained in sneaker culture at that point.

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“The PUMP bladder (air chamber on the inside) had different configurations for each sport, providing a unique fit and enhanced stability across ten sports categories,” says Narloch, outlining the technology’s versatility.

Although PUMP has been part of Reebok’s product offerings continuously since 1989, the technology is seen more often in the brand’s lifestyle products and is considered more of a heritage technology. For FW21, Reebok has plans to reimagine the technology for contemporary sneakerheads — both in performance and lifestyle.

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“We have great collaborations in the pipeline with energy partners who are excited to bring PUMP into new spaces this year,” shares Narloch. “We’re also planning to iterate on the technology with a new basketball model alongside Montrezl Harrell that will excite kids today and further validate the PUMP’s staying power.”