THE SNEAKER SHOULD COME ALIVE.Tinker Hatfield was sitting at a drafting table in his office in Beaverton, Oregon. He and another young designer at Nike named Mark Parker had just returned from a brainstorming session in Hollywood with film director Robert Zemeckis, who was storyboarding the sequel to his sci-fi comedy hit of three years earlier, Back to the Future. It was 1988, and Zemeckis and his creative team were on the hunt for futuristic sight gags for the film, set in 2015. They had tasked Hatfield and Parker with dreaming up some seriously 21st-century sneakers. One idea that came up in the meeting involved magnetic levitation, but to Hatfield that seemed a little too Jetsons.

His time as a pole-vaulter and his degree in architecture from the University of Oregon had taught him to prize utility, and it didn’t seem plausible to him that any athlete, even decades in the future, would ever want or need to levitate. Hatfield and Parker decided to treat the assignment not as a sight gag but, as he recalls, “like someone had asked me to reinvent footwear for actual performance reasons, in the real world, only I had 30 years to figure the technology out.” And that’s when the idea came to him: “What about a shoe that would essentially come alive when you put it on? It would sense you. It would become the shapeof your foot, and when it came alive it would light up. Wouldn’t it be great if shoes could do that?”

Hatfield didn’t just sketch what such a shoe would look like. He drew a storyboard in which Marty McFly first encounters a pair of sneakers: He steps in, reaches down to tie the laces—an instinctual, ritual bowing down to the shoe—and the sneakers light up, come alive, and shape to his foot. (Hatfield says he even included a snippet of McFly dialog—something like Wow! Power laces!) A scene similar to Hatfield’s drawing wound up in the movie, which became one of the highest-grossing films of the year and introduced the Nike Mag, as the shoe was christened, as something like the flying car of footwear—a sci-fi promise that nobody could figure out how to deliver on. Over time, the Mag would so capture people’s imaginations that an intense campaign resulted in online petitions, with futurists, fanboys, and sneakerheads pleading with Nike to create a retail version.

By the wired

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