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It’s Baaaaaaaaack

By Tim Newcomb

When Andre Agassi debuted the “Hot Lava” colorway in the spring of 1990 with his signature Nike Air Tech Challenge II, it was a radical departure from the establishment tennis footwear of the time.

Now Nike is celebrating the 30-year anniversary of arguably the most talked-about tennis shoe of all time with the release of the NikeCourt Tech Challenge 20, a modern take on the classic.

The original Air Tech Challenge II, designed by Nike’s legendary Tinker Hatfield, made its debut at Indian Wells—Agassi skipped the 1990 Australian Open—and first appeared in the Hot Lava colorway for the French Open. The brand has released retro versions of the sneaker three times in the past 15 years, giving us a remastered Vapor X Knit version in 2019 and even tooling a LeBron 16 with the aesthetic in 2019. But 2020 kicks off with the release of the on-court Tech Challenge 20, a $120 shoe equipped with Max Air, a funky collar, and portions of the unmistakable spatter designs.

PARIS - MAY 29: Andre Agassi of the USA is seen during a match at the French Open at Roland Garros on May 29, 1995 in Paris, France. (Photo by Henning Bangen/Bongarts/Getty Images)

The shoe (pictured here) will be released to Nike members on Feb. 26 and to the wider public three days later, and more Agassi-themed releases based on the Challenge Court apparel collection from the ’90s are expected this year. Timed with the release of the Tech Challenge 20, Nike also announced a “Black Lava” reverse retro of the Air Tech Challenge II in Great Britain, flipping the color blocking so that black plays heavily.

For the Tech Challenge 20, Nike designers were asked how they’d reinterpret the ATC if they had the technology of today back in 1990. They came up with leather, Hot Lava coloring, Max Air in the heel similar to what was found in the LeBron 15, Magwire embedded for stability, and an asymmetrical collar to provide support to the ankle and play off the three-quarter height of the ATCII. The “Nike Air” wordmark on the heel ties directly to the original. A modified herringbone outsole pattern updates the original, and the medial (inside) side of the Max Air unit remains hidden for durability during slides. Not quite the pinnacle of the NikeCourt offerings—that distinction remains with the Zoom Vapor Cage 4, Zoom Vapor X, and Zoom Zero—you most likely won’t see professional players wearing the shoe in tournaments, but the lifestyle performance model still has attributes that make it playable on court. Other colorways are expected throughout the year, including orange, royal blue, and neon green, all associated with various Agassi lines.

Andre first signed with Nike as a 16-year-old in 1986. By 1989 he would headline his first pair of tennis sneakers with the debut of the Air Tech Challenge. It was the ATCII of 1990 that made the most waves, though, likely due to the marketing campaign and colors. Designed by Hatfield, who at the time was also designing the Air Jordan line, the similarities between the AJ4—one of the most popular Jordans—and the ATCII are unmistakable. The ATC line continued for additional iterations, and Agassi then wore a mixture of other tennis shoes during his time with Nike before eventually shifting to adidas. In retirement, Andre came back to Nike, giving the brand license to build off the heritage of the Agassi Challenge Court collections.

Hot Lava has given Nike tennis plenty of play for the past 30 years. Don’t expect that to change.

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