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Nike Cortez

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From world class track meets to the streets, the Cortez makes a statement wherever it goes.

The genesis of a game-changing running shoe.

The history of the Cortez is fundamental to the history of Nike, Inc. Without it, Nike wouldn’t be what it is today: a titan of the shoe industry. But with its release in 1972, Nike made a name for itself as an elite performance shoe brand — a reputation that would last through to the present. The Cortez was born out of a desire to serve athletes better. Before Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight developed the Cortez, they were selling Japanese athletic shoes to track and field athletes. But in ’72, Bowerman determined that he could do better. He wanted to give athletes a shoe that wouldn’t just protect their feet, but one that was also comfortable, fast, and could handle diverse terrains.

The result was the innovation of the signature waffle inspired tread pattern and urethane outsole. Combined with lightweight and durable materials like nylon, leather, and suede, the Cortez became the running shoe masterpiece that Bowerman envisioned, and the world took notice. After its debut in elite track and field competitions, Nike sales skyrocketed. Athletes loved the sneaker for its comfort and innovative design. The Cortez, along with Nike, had captured the world stage.

From performance running to a classic casual sneaker.

Eventually, the Cortez evolved beyond its original purpose. As running shoe technology has long since exceeded the capabilities of the 1972 sneaker, the Cortez found new terrain on the street. Its sleek style, functional comfort, and constant presence on world class athletes made it a sneaker icon.

A cultural icon is born.

As the shoe became more and more prevalent on the street, it earned a place in pop culture. The Cortez was cited in rap lyrics throughout the ’80s and featured in the ’94 blockbuster film Forrest Gump. Most recently, culture-shaping artist Kendrick Lamar collaborated with Nike to release the Nike Cortez Kenny, a sneaker that pays homage to the shoe’s long history in West Coast hip hop. Nobody knows what’s next for the Cortez. Few sneakers have its deep roots and diversity of use. What is certain is that it’s not going away — if there’s any shoe that has stood the test of time, it’s the Cortez.