Nike Cortez

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Nike Cortez
InventorBill Bowerman
Inception1972; 51 years ago (1972) [1]
ManufacturerNike, Inc.

The Nike Cortez is the first track shoe released by Nike in 1972, and is therefore thought to be a significant aspect to the success of the company. The Nike Cortez was first designed by Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman,[2] aiming to produce a comfortable and durable running shoe for distance training and road running. The Nike Cortez was released at the peak of the 1972 Summer Olympics, and quickly gained interest by the general public.[2] The shoe previously known as the Onitsuka Tiger Cortez was later renamed to the Onitsuka Tiger Corsair after Nike won a court battle to continue using name in 1974.[3]


Initial partnerships[edit]

The Nike Cortez was created by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight. The men first met in 1957: Bowerman was the track and field coach at the University of Oregon, and Knight competed on Bowerman's team. The two friends became business partners soon after Knight bought the distribution rights of Onitsuka Tiger brand athletic shoes from Japan for the USA. The initial name of their business was Blue Ribbon Sports and was later changed to Nike in 1972.[4] Although the business was distributing decent athletic shoes, Bowerman believed that athletes deserved a better track shoe than what was available. After years of designing and experimenting, Bowerman finalized his image of the Nike Cortez in 1968, and in 1972 the shoe was released.


The Corsair and Cortez next to each other.

The initial name for the shoe was "Mexico", which was derived from the 1968 Summer Olympics held in Mexico City. Once the Olympic Games came to an end, another name change on the shoe occurred, this time looking for something more catchy.

They decided on the name Aztec, but Adidas then threatened legal action because it was too similar to their own Azteca Gold track shoe. Soon thereafter they decided on the name "Cortez", which paid tribute to Hernan Cortés, the Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire.[5]

Impact on Nike[edit]

It is widely thought that the Nike Cortez was key to the success of Nike, Inc. The shoe was introduced to the general public at the peak of the 1972 Summer Olympics. The demand for the shoe grew exponentially nearly immediately after the public noticed that the Nike Cortez was being used by the 1972 U.S. Olympic athletes. Sales reached $800,000 during the first year the shoe was released, which was a 100% sales increase over the 8,000 sales inquiries reached after the first year of selling the Tiger brand shoes.[4] This massive business investment ignited the start to placing Nike, Inc. on the pathway to triumph. Today Nike, Inc. has grown into a multi-billion dollar corporation and conducts business in more than 160 countries while employing more than 35,000 people.

Association with gangs[edit]

The Nike Cortez is commonly worn by gangs in LA, especially MS-13.[6] In January 2013, four Hispanic teenagers were targeted in a shooting in a Brentwood, California neighborhood after being asked why they were wearing Nike Cortez shoes. They were all injured.[7]

Design and features[edit]

The Nike Cortez has been redesigned numerous times. Early on, the shoe set the standard for running shoes. Co-founder and Olympic-class track trainer Bill Bowerman was set on designing a running shoe that provided both comfort and durability.[8] The foam is measured to be generously placed in more significant parts of the shoe with intentions of offering comfort, absorbing road shock and proving other health benefits. The combination of these two soles reduces leg fatigue, raises the heel of the shoe to reduce Achilles tendon strains and provides maximum comfort. One of the world's leading marathoners described the Nike Cortez as "the most comfortable shoe ever."[9]

The shoe is given a simple outer design that consists of the Nike swoosh symbol across the sides of the shoe and a streak across the lower portion of the outer sole. Leather was the first material used to construct the shoe, however, Bowerman soon realized that he could reduce the weight of the shoe if he changed the material of the shoe's upper to nylon and suede. In 2009, a new design of the Nike Cortez - the Cortez Fly Motion - was released. The Cortez Fly Motion instituted flywire: a lightweight thread made of Vectran placed in the upper of the shoe, which further reduced the weight of the shoe.[10]

In popular culture[edit]

Forrest Gump receives a pair of Nike Cortez in the film of the same name, and becomes a famous runner wearing them.[11]


  1. ^ A Step Back in Time: The Nike Cortez Revolution at, Nov 16, 2023
  2. ^ a b History of the Nike Cortez on
  3. ^ "WHICH CAME FIRST: THE NIKE CORTEZ OR ONITSUKA TIGER CORSAIR?". Sneaker Freaker. 2018-10-22. Retrieved 2023-10-24.
  4. ^ a b "Nike, Inc". Reference for Business. Retrieved 2012-01-29.
  5. ^ Carrillo, Juan. "Origins: What You Didn't Know About The Nike Cortez | Cult Edge". Retrieved 2021-08-29.
  6. ^ Miller, Michael E. (June 11, 2018). "'A ticking time bomb': MS-13 threatens a middle school, warn teachers, parents, students". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2021-08-29.
  7. ^ "Brentwood: Teens may have been shot over Nike shoes, police say". Contra Costa Times. Retrieved 2014-12-11.
  8. ^ "Most Comfortable Shoes We Written About on Wholesale Shopping". Retrieved 2020-03-19.
  9. ^ Mister Pub. "History of the Nike Cortez". Archived from the original on 2011-12-19. Retrieved 2012-01-24.
  10. ^ "Vectran Fiber to Propel Olympic Runners in Revolutionary New Nike Zoom Victory Running Shoes". marketwire. August 4, 2008.
  11. ^ The Daily Street (2015). Icons of Style: Sneakers. Hachette. p. 25. ISBN 9781784720537. Retrieved 3 June 2022.

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