Back in 1992...
In the early 90s streetball was just starting to emerge and Nike wanted a piece of the action. As the story goes, Phil Knight put a Post-It note on Tinker Hatfield's desk with a simple request - make a shoe made especially for outdoor ballers. And like anyone that receives a note directly from Phil, Tinker got to work.
The man responsible for some of the most iconic and groundbreaking shoes Nike had ever produced started in the same way he always did. He sought out athletes to find out exactly what they needed in a shoe. Tinker went to New York to visit some of the most famous outdoor basketball courts in the world. He spent time talking to the people that were playing and the consensus seemed clear; they'd love to wear Nike shoes on court but there just wasn't anything that would hold up to the rigors of the asphalt.
From the outset, Tinker wanted the shoe to be rugged. He originally named the shoe the Air Jack as a nod to the jackhammer, New York's ubiquitous roadside tool so tough it cut through even the roughest surfaces. Unfortunately, due to Sports Illustrated's infamous 1990 cover story "Your Sneakers or Your Life", there was still quite a bit of sensitivity around the fact that "jack" was also slang for rob. Nike has always been edgy, but the term Jack might have been viewed by the public as a cold corporation cashing in on innocent victims' blood. So it became the Raid.
The cross straps were the innovation that set the shoe apart. It was to provide lockdown like no other shoe before. But sometimes even the greatest innovations aren't understood. So Tinker, enlisting a young Mark Smith for help, went on a successful mission to educate those within Nike that didn't undertand. The Air Raid must have the straps.
The final piece was marketing. It isn't clear exactly when Spike Lee became a part of the project but this much is certain - the idea for the cross straps was implemented before Spike was brought on to direct the commercials. The public didn't know that, though, and the timing ended up being perfect; Spike, whose much hyped Malcom X would hit theaters in November of '92, was paired with the shoe that had cross straps in the shape of an X. The two would forever be linked together and many even went as far as calling the original black/grey pair 'the Malcolm X shoe'.
The epilogue to this story is the Air Raid II. As with most important projects, Tinker just didn't have all the time needed to test and tweak as much as he woulud like. So the following year, Tinker and crew updated the Raid with larger base for the straps to enhance lockdown and a split-mesh side panel for improved ventilation among other things. The II is probably most remembered for the unique midsole treatments though; Tinker's team had figured out a way to add a graphic to the midsole using a unique process. So they added hardwood to the midsole of one style and called out "No Wood / No Refs" on the back. And another style got the infamous Kente pattern that became synonymous with the Urban Jungle Gym ads.
For some additional information on the Raid, it's origin and some great original sketches and images, visit www.nike.com/something.