The Mystique of Andre Agassi and the Tech Challenge Line
words & above image // Zack Schlemmer
If you have a similar taste for sneakers as I do, you may have found yourself buying two pairs of retro releases from Andre Agassi’s Nike Tech Challenge line this month: the Air Tech Challenge Huarache and the “Hot Lava” Air Tech Challenge II. The latter, which released last Friday, sold out faster than a service return from the rock n’ roll tennis rebel himself. What draws myself, and thousands of others to these shoes? Certainly not everybody is buying them because they had a pair when they were younger or because Agassi is their idol.
Tennis has never been as popular as basketball to the sneaker world. Agassi was and never will never be at the level of guys like Michael Jordan or Penny Hardaway when it comes to selling shoes. That’s obvious. But there is still a certain legendary status that Agassi and his sneaker line evokes. Is it because of his infamous disregard for tennis’ snooty conformity? The mullet? His acid-wash shorts? Or is it just plain and simply that the shoes look amazing?
Even if I’m a little too young to really remember when these shoes originally released, and I haven’t played a game of tennis outside of high school PE, over the years I’ve grown to love the Tech Challenge line. I’d actually rank them among my favorite signature sneaker lines ever. I love the classics, and I’m a sucker for most retros, but there is a certain allure that the Tech Challenge line has to me that other models don’t provide.
As an 8 year old kid, tennis wasn’t on my radar at all. I remember watching Michael Jordan in the Finals in 1992. I remember seeing the Air Jordan VII in Eastbay and begging my parents for a pair (which, unfortunately, I never got). What I don’t remember is if I even knew Andre Agassi existed at the time. But all these years later, I find myself wanting Tech Challenges much more than the next Jordan retro. Even if I missed the boat on the original wave of Agassi’s signature line, I still feel some nostalgia for them. The bold designs, the neon colors, the funky graphics, all that totally dope apparel that went along with them…the Tech Challenge line recalls the early 1990’s in a way that perhaps no other sneakers do. And that’s why I feel a certain connection to them. Even if I was watching basketball and Nickelodeon instead of the US Open at the time.
That’s my personal story, but why else have models in the Tech Challenge held a certain “grail” status within sneaker forums throughout the years? Why does the kid who wasn’t even alive in the early 90’s and feels no nostalgia for them buy a pair? To answer one of my earlier questions, yes, a lot of their appeal does have to do with Tinker Hatfield’s amazing and unique designs. But there’s more to it than that.
Within the world of tennis, Agassi is one of the game’s most famous and dominant players ever. That does have some trickle down effect on the sneaker community as to why we still care about his shoes. But it’s safe to say that there aren’t many people collecting Agassi shoes because of his eight Grand Slam victories—just like the average collector isn’t buying Jordan retros because of his six championships.
A big reason for the mystique of the Tech Challenge line is the simple fact that they just haven’t been retroed very much. The Tech Challenge II is arguably one of the coolest sneakers ever, and this past weekend’s re-release was only its second return. The Tech Challenge Huarache is just now back for its first time, while other models like the awesome Tech Challenge IV have never had a proper retro at all. With the rarity of original pairs out there, of course they are going to be lusted after and given an almost mythical status. In turn, this affects the younger generation’s opinion. Then when you have both young and old sneaker heads alike vying for a pair of the quickstrike Hot Lavas last Friday, its no surprise they were gone in a flash.
The fact of the matter is, there is no one reason why we’re still buying Agassi’s shoes in 2014. So thank Andre, thank Tinker, thank the acid-wash shorts and neon, thank the sneaker forums, but never blame the hype.
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