2015 saw Nike re-release perhaps its most iconic silhouette and colorway combination onto the public. The Nike Cortez, the Oregon brand’s original running shoe designed way back in 1968 by co-founder Bill Bowerman, was re-introduced in a premium iteration of its trademark white, red and blue colorway and duly flew off shelves worldwide. This came as the least surprising success story in recent sneaker re-issue history, as in the intervening 47 years between the two releases the Cortez had quietly been going about its business becoming the most adored and enduring running shoe on the planet.
After its original unveiling in 1972 at the peak of the Munich Olympics, where it was being used by Team USA athletes, the Cortez steered Nike to $800,000 USD worth of sales within its first year alone. This 100% sales increase on the brand’s previous incarnation as a re-seller of Onitsuka Tiger products would catapult Nike Inc. into the mainstream, build the foundations on which the behemothic company sits today and embed the Cortez within the psyche of the American people and pop culture in general.
In the following decades the shoe would stray away from the track into urban environments and fictional realms, onto the feet of everyone from real-life Latino gangs to Greenbow, Alabama’s most famous son. A flurry of high-profile, on-screen cosigns would allow the Cortez to remain in our eye-line long after the flags had been lowered in Munich ‘72. Here are some of the Nike Cortez’s most famous fictional endorsers…
Daniel La Russo – The Karate Kid (1984)
Before he was barefoot and sweeping the leg, Ralph Macchio’s youthful and frustrated unlikely hero was washing cars and trying to fight mentor, Mr. Miyagi, wearing a pair of super slick grey, white and burgundy Nike Cortez. The John G. Avildsen-helmed coming-of-age drama would spawn countless lack-luster sequels, a 2010 remake starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan and would cement Daniel-san’s status as an unlikely style icon and early adopter.
George Costanza – Seinfeld (1989-1998)
The complex neuroses of Seinfeld‘s balding companion, George Louis Constanza, were outweighed in number only by his outstanding contributions to the furtherment of modern menswear. A fine array of plaid shirts, sweatpants, technical outerwear and regular utilization of a pair of trusty navy Nike Cortez leaves Costanza to be considered as the understated menswear master across the 9 series of the NBC comedy institution. Jerry may have had the women, the cars, the success and the Jordans. Costanza had the Cortez.
Quincy “Q” Powell – Juice (1992)
Most famous perhaps for its featuring of Tupac Shakur, gangland drama Juice is a sneakerhead’s cinematic dream. Appearances from the Reebok Twilight Zone Pump, Reebok Omni Zone Pump a pair of Air Jordan VI and the Nike Baltoro boot all punctuate a frenetic narrative of police harassment, gangland warfare and the inner-city trials and tribulations of four teenagers. It is the green suede Nike Cortez worn by Omar Epps’ Quincy “Q” Powell however that steal the show, marking themselves out as the only notable low-top sneaker featured in the Ernest R. Dickinson-directed cult classic.
Forrest Gump – Forrest Gump (1994)
His name was Forrest, Forrest Gump and he ran across the whole of America in a magic pair of shoes, just because he felt like running. As American icons go, you’re not going to find a better fictional pairing than Vietnam war veteran, all-American football star and Ping Pong supremo Forrest Gump with a pair of Nike Cortez.
Jordan Belfort – The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
There are many, many moments in Martin Scorsese’s 2013 Jordan Belfort biopic, The Wolf of Wall Street, that are designed to make the viewer admire and detest the hedonistic former stockbrocker in equal measure. None more so perhaps than the moment that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character trashes a Lamborghini whilst out of his mind on Quaaludes and wearing a crisp white pair of Cortez, grey marl sweatpants and a chambray shirt. Whatever you feel for drugs, the victims of capitalism and Belfort or the car itself, it becomes difficult to focus on much aside from his Oscar-worthy ensemble.
With the Nike Cortez showing no sign of slowing down, and new pop culture reference points being established regularly, there is no doubt that this is no comprehensive list of the iconic shoe’s fictional fans. It is a testament to the shoe’s enduring quality and timeless aesthetic that we are still talking about it in the present tense. Long may that continue.