An ode to the Nike Air Max 97 ‘Silver Bullet,’ my favorite shoe of all time celebrating 25 years as a GOAT

OPINION: The unique, popular silhouette has been my favorite since I was a teenager and has yet to be supplanted by any other in the game.

The Nike Air Max 97 are seen at Stashed, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, in San Francisco, Calif. (Photo by Santiago Mejia/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Some 25 years ago, Nike dropped a shoe that I think could be argued was a game changer. Inspired by the metal-on-metal finish of mountain bikes (and the ripples from raindrops — droptops, RIP Takeoff — hitting a pond), designer Christian Tresser went to work on the Air Max 97 (AM97) and came up with the “Silver Bullet” silhouette, which for me, is both a GOAT-level silhouette and my absolute favorite shoe of all time. And it’s not even close. I have several shoes that I can count as specific silhouettes and colorways that I love. For instance, 2020’s “Dia de Los Muertos” Air Max 90s are definitely in my top five and have become my go-to for everyday wear. In fact, they’re probably my No. 2 favorite shoe, but that AM97 is miles ahead. 

I still remember buying my first pair of “Silver Bullets.” I was a freshman in college and had somehow collected a tremendous number of gray T-shirts. I remember thinking how awesome those shoes that I’d seen in Foot Locker (and various other shoes) would look on my feet. They were expensive, though, going for a retail price of $150 in 1997, which might as well have been $500. I was in college and broke. But then I got my refund check, and I made a decision that would change the way my confidence and feet felt on a daily basis. 

I took my money and hopped on a train, headed to the mall and went to get a pair of AM97s, size 10. I wore them out of the store and smiled all the way back to my dorm room. I loved those shoes and still do. The look was different and compelling. I remember sitting on my dorm room bed and staring at the shoe, turning it around and around trying to understand what I was looking at. In fact, while I was always a fan of shoes and despite my lack of finances, I managed to have several pairs to choose from for daily living, even in high school, I think the AM97 is the shoe that made me a sneakerhead. Before then, I was into shoes because I liked how they looked and that was all that mattered; after, though, I was interested in the idea behind shoes and the story, which in 1997 was much harder to come by than it is in 2022. 

Over the years, I’ve owned several pairs of AM97s, of varying colors. But I always come back to the “Silver Bullet” and the “Gold Bullet.” As a matter of fact, when I took a trip to Ghana in 2019 to celebrate my honeymoon, my wife returning home and the larger “Year of Return” that was happening in Ghana, my “Gold Bullets” were the only shoes that I was convinced I was taking with me. I don’t even remember my logic on why, but it just seemed like a shoe that was befitting of such an important trip. 

Which I think speaks volumes about the shoe as a whole; it’s 25 years later and, of course, Nike would rerelease it (they’ve done a few rereleases over the years; the last release was in December 2016 when I got my current pair) because it’s such an iconic shoe. But it’s also the kind of shoe that almost every sneakerhead that I know has owned at some point. I don’t know if it’s everybody’s favorite shoe like it is mine — probably not — but if you’re into Nike’s Air Max line, then the Air Max 95s and the 97s (along with Air Max 1s and 90s) are pretty much must-haves at some point during one’s sneaker-collecting journey. It’s the kind of shoe that’s innovative and aesthetically pleasing. If it were just a little more comfortable, like having some of that Nike React cushioning, it might be the greatest shoe of all time, bar none. I realize that last statement is blasphemous to the Air Jordan 1, but I’m just saying. 

That’s how much I love this particular shoe. I wear it often, and when I can’t think of any other shoes to wear, it’s easy to throw them on and keep it moving. I don’t know if I’ll buy a brand new pair of AM97s today to celebrate the 25-year rerelease; my current pair are still in pristine condition, so there’s no real need other than to just say I have them and put them on ice until I dog out my current pair. But I’m excited that folks who never got a pair will presumably be able to get some for retail. I also kind of want to get some for my kids and introduce them to the sneakerhead game through the shoes that got me there. 

Shouts out to the Air Max 97 “Silver Bullet,” my favorite shoe and the one that turned me into a sneakerhead. 

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.