In 1989, the Reebok Pump entered the fray of a booming marketplace and culture surrounding athletics sneakers. Ignited by Nike Air and Jordan, solidified by Foot Locker and the shopping-mall footwear chains, and hyped by a fresh hip-hop movement, the Pump was in the right time at the right place. Attached to a hefty price tag that trumped the competitors’, the Pump was a status symbol for the fashionably conscious and social elite.
To bolster sales and branding around the Pump, Reebok enlisted marketable athletes of the time like Dominique Wilkins and Shaquille O’Neal. The basketball sneaker segued into pop culture, spawned knockoffs like LA Gear’s Regulator (even intimidating Nike into the Air Pressure), and became a notable chapter of ’90s trends. In anticipation of our forthcoming Reebok Pump collaboration, here are some of the best – if not, most memorable – Reebok Pump commercials from the 1990s.
10. Dominique Wilkins in “Reebok Pump 1989”
This was probably the first Pump commercial. I always thought it strange that Pump launched their campaign with Wilkins. Although a mega athlete and star on the court, he just never competed with the rockstars of the time in Magic, Barkley, and of course, Jordan.
Here’s another one that pairs the former Atlanta Hawk with a young skateboarder, in an era where skateboarding was flatlining in popular culture. Reebok was mad early with the skateboarding shoes…
9. Dee Brown
That celebrity came, randomly enough, in the Celtics’ Dee Brown. He didn’t leave much of a mark on the stat sheet, but Brown’s one-hit wonder was winning the 1991 Slam Dunk competition – BLIND. Just as iconic as his handicapped dunk were his Reebok Pumps, which he deliberately activated before his legendary air.
8. Bungee Jump
Initially introduced as a basketball sneaker, the Pump found broader success across all sports channels (Reebok was always on that crossfit craze). The Pump was for everybody, from weightlifting to aerobics to …bungee jumping?
…to skysurfing? French skydiver Patrick de Gayardon fell to his death a few years after starring in this Reebok Pump commercial.
6. Michael Chang
It was the early ’90s and sports culture was going through all sorts of wacky weirdness when it came to packaging its athletes. Basketball, baseball, and football were profiting off its personalities on T-shirts and cereal boxes, which opened the door to other arenas – in particular, tennis. Nike’s punk rock tennis star was Andre Agassi. Reebok saddled up with a prim, Chinese-American churchboy: Michael Chang. Although his attitude paled against an Agassi or McEnroe, Chang’s cross-cultural appeal won the hearts of a new generation. But really, it was the shoes. With a furry tennis-ball tongue instead of the traditional bumpy basketball, Chang’s Reebok sneaker was the cool, edgy offshoot to a mainstream hit.
5. Air Out
Aside from Dominique Wilkins and Michael Chang, Reebok recruited a hodgepodge of basketball players (Dennis Rodman!) to get behind the Pump. Reebok then filmed the athletes’ testimonials, praising the shoe’s innovation before flagrantly fouling Nike Air. The famous tagline that erupted at the end of every commercial was “Pump Up and Air Out” and it was a bold statement in the early ’90s sneaker wars.
4. Foot Locker
Foot Locker, Finishline, and Foot Action all had their co-headlined advertisements with Reebok Pump. Would the modern sneaker giants be where they are today without the mall explosion of the ’80s and ’90s? And vice versa…
This Foot Locker commercial is the only one I could find that features the obscure AXT Pump (in the beginning) – the style we revived for our collaboration.
Again, it was the ’90s. White Men Can’t Jump. Cross Colours. And Sinbad.
2. Shaq Attaq
By the close of its first wave, Reebok wasn’t even highlighting the Pump anymore on its Pumps! Case in point, Shaquille O’Neal’s signature shoe, the Shaq Attaq.
1. Whatever it’s called…
I think my favorite Pump commercial – however – was this 1990 candid montage of basketball icons sharing their understanding of the shoe. The Pump was so innovative and jarringly different, that it was a conversation piece more than performance wear. This campaign shows how big of an idea the Reebok Pump was for its time.