A Timeline of Some of the Most Memorable Cancelled Sneaker Releases

By Ian Stonebrook

Copping sneaker releases ain’t easy. From playing the raffle lottery in-person to battling bots online, getting shoes has become harder and harder even with modern technology.

But what if that shoe doesn’t even actually release?

Over the years, many buzzed about sneakers have been cancelled before they could launch. Commonly, it’s due to legalities, controversy or unforeseen events. With chances at the 7/11’s Slurpee SBs melting before the public even had a chance, get a timeline history of some of the most memorable sneakers that saw their release cancelled.

Nike Air Garnett II // 1998

Years before Kevin Garnett was chasing down Ethiopian opals from Adam Sandler, Nike was investing in the high school standout turned NBA All-Star. His first sneaker, the Garnett I, graced Da Kid in his early ascent in Minnesota, debuting in the 1998 All-Star Game in MSG. His next shoe, the Garnett III, was a smash all across the hardwood with KG and collegiate hoopers lacing them in abundance.

So wait, where was the Garnett II?

It never happened. Though sampled and appearing in catalogs and reference material, the shoe never released. The cancellation could’ve correlated with the lockout or KG’s contract negotiations for an Original Block Family clothing line likened to MJ’s Jordan Brand deal. Regardless, the Garnett II never arrived at stores, making the shoe cancelled for reasons still uncertain.

Air Jordan 6 Reverse Infrared // 2000

1994 and 1995 saw not only Michael Jordan’s surprise retirement but also the ten-year celebration of his career with Nike. To celebrate, the Swoosh re-released the Air Jordan I, II and III as an early introduction to what would be known as retro Jordans.

Coinciding with his second retirement and the birth of Brand Jordan, 1999 and 2000 would see the return of the Air Jordan IV, V and VI in both OG colorways and new alike. At the time, new tones on old favorites was considered polarizing as was amendments to branding. The most heinous of proposed updates at said time? An Air Jordan VI Black/Infrared retro sample that surfaced with inverted midsole color blocking.

Appearing on the pages of Eastbay and floating around the forum of NikeTalk, this sample VI – the first retro release of the shoe MJ won his first championship in – was seen with misplaced midsole accents to the dismay of all purists. An accidental oversight or a case study in adaptation? The jury remains out. What was proven was the power of the community. Collectors were so upset with the painting faux pas that Jordan Brand was forced to cancel said sample and release the Real McCoy.

Adidas The Kobe III // 2002

Kobe Bryant’s history with adidas is both amazing and messy. Sonny Vaccaro and The Brand with Three Stripes saw promise in a young Kobe Bryant when he entered ABCD Camp as a favor early on in his high school ascent. Vaccaro, the man who brought Michael Jordan to Nike, saw the same star power and promise in Kobe as he did a young MJ. His plan? Have Kobe forgo college and sign with adidas as a teenager.

To credit Vacarro’s vision and Kobe’s killer instinct, the plan couldn’t have gone more perfect. Ascending to All-Star and champion heights early on in LA, Kobe had the credentials but wasn’t feeling his signature shoes nor marketing direction. To make matters worse, family interest in his earnings were causing division amongst the Bryants with adidas right in the middle. Kobe would end his deal with the brand that saw his star but didn’t know how to sell it in the summer of 2002, making him the hottest footwear free agent basketball has ever seen.

Because of this, the adidas The Kobe III was cancelled and never released. A sleeker and sportier evolution of the very boxy and brazen The Kobe and The Kobe II, could this have been the modern model the market wanted and mended all that went wrong with adi and Kobe? Probably not. Still, the cancelled kicks have plenty of cache in the rich footwear folklore surrounding Kobe.

Nike SB Dunk Low Freddy Krueger // 2007

Despite dips and sudden spikes seen on SB Dunks over the last half decade, the Freddy Kruegers have always remained relevant and red hot. Killer inspiration and storytelling? For sure. Rarity that evades trend waves? Unparalleled.

Originally scheduled to release in 2007, the Nike SB Dunk Low Freddy Krueger didn’t. Legend has it that designer Todd Batrud was briefed to create a set of Dunks derived from that of A Nightmare on Elm Street’s evil lead. Needless to say, he killed it. Unfortunately for all collectors dreaming of copping these kicks, Todd killed the Freddy inspiration so much that Nike had to dead the release. Trademark restrictions saw Swoosh SB cancel the release before they hit shelves even after some shipments had arrived at stocks. The artistry and rarity make these one of the most coveted pairs of SBs ever.

Nike Zoom Vick V // 2007 

In his prime, Michael Vick was arguably the most dynamic quarterback the game had ever seen. Strong arm, fast legs, incredible instincts, the Madden posterboy with joystick jukes in real life was as electric as it got on the gridiron. Rocking Jordans on the turf for his early days in Atlanta, Nike would make him the face of his own Nike Zoom Vick signature line.

With four models under his belt, the Nike Zoom Vick V was set to be the model the Falcons QB would wear for the 2007 NFL Season. Heading into that season, Vick would find himself in hot water for his role in a dogfighting ring that would land him out of the NFL and behind bars. Because of this, Nike would suspend the release of the Zoom Vick V due to the controversy and lack of on field endorsement. Nike would eventually release an Air Max assisted version of the Zoom Vick V retitled as the Air Max Gameday in 2009. 

Once reinstated into the NFL for a few seasons and making good on his promise to educate about the moral dangers of dog fighting, Nike would bring Vick back to their roster in 2011. Eventually, Nike would also bring back shoes tied to his namesake. 

The Zoom Vick V however remains unreleased, unretroed and will likely remain that way.

Nike HyperMax McFly // 2009

Striking while the iron was hot, Nike looked to duplicate the success of the 2008 Nike Hyperdunk McFly with that of its 2009 followup: the Nike HyperMax McFly. The sturdier sequel to the OG Hyperdunk, this No Flywire HyperMax beefed up the sleek shape of the Hyperdunk, adding additional padding on the upper, full-length Air Max cushioning and a strap.

All previews of Part II suggested another box office hit even if not as heralded as the original. The only problem? Rumor has it the shoe looked too much like that of the OG Air Mag — still unreleased at that time. Because of this, the Nike HyperMax McFly launch was cancelled in the US though pairs still surfaced in stores in Asia.

Nike SB Dunk Hi Cheech & Chong // 2011

Todd Batrud is good at designing Dunks. Perhaps too good. Much like 2007’s Freddy Krueger SB Lows, 2011’s Cheech & Chong SB Highs saw Batrud spinning cinematic nostalgia into skateable footwear. Much like the Freddy homage, Todd’s take on the smoking comedic buds created a buzz that Hollywood wasn’t feeling. 

Despite already being shipped to skate shops in 2011, the Cheech & Chong Dunk drop was cancelled due to legal reasons as rumor remains. 

Adidas JS Roundhouse Mid // 2012

In the early 2010s, Jeremy Scott was at the peak of his powers with adidas. Dropping jaws and turning heads, the daring designer’s cartoonish collabs with The Three Stripes brought playful levity to a scene that often takes itself too seriously.

When preparing to release his take on the Roundhouse Mid in 2012, ‘80s homage to plush toys of yesteryear was instead interpreted as insensitive imagery tied to slavery. Dubbed the ‘Shackle Shoes’ by those offended, Scott’s spin on My Pet Monster’s bright fur and orange handcuffs conjured imagery of the chains used to oppress blacks during the ugliest days of America’s disgusting past.

Amplified by a tone deaf description from adidas Originals on social media and met with outrage by the public, the handcuff kicks were cancelled by the brand. Scott would defend his original intent and playful pedigree of the My Pet Monster inspired sneakers on the red carpet of the BET Awards.

Nike Zoom Flight 96 Draft Day Pack // 2014

The 1996 NBA Draft yielded two of the most influential players the game has ever seen: Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant. While class peers such as Steve Nash and Ray Allen would impact the game over the years and sign with Nike upon arrival, Bubba Chuck and Jelly Bean Jr. would take their talents elsewhere when entering the league.

With Iverson signing with Reebok as a rookie and a young Bryant brought in by adidas, the two titans would be honored by the Swoosh in 2014 with reverse-engineered PE installments of the Nike Zoom Flight 96. Though Bryant was now a Nike athlete, Iverson was very much not. Legalities surrounding the storytelling sneakers caused both to be cancelled despite Reebok releasing Question PEs paying homage to a free agent Kobe and high school LeBron James.

Black Sheep x Nike SB Dunk High Paid in Full // 2014

Nike SB has been known to nose-dive into the grey area of inspiration, sometimes appearing unscathed and other times landing in hot water. The 2014 Black Sheep x Nike Dunk High Paid in Full saw a lot of the latter.

Inspired by the pivotal Eric B & Rakim record, the North Carolina skate shop’s hip hop homage on the Dunk High hit home with fans but was loaded with legalities. From the unlicensed album inspiration to its nod to the Dapper Dan derived Gucci gear the duo rocked on the cover, enough entities were upset to get this pair cancelled. Conversely, it caused many collectors to be even more upset as these proved the most buzz worthy Dunk drop in quite some while.

adidas Ultraboost Celebrating Black Culture // 2019

In 2019, adidas had by all estimates good intentions when releasing their Celebrating Black Culture Pack. The problem? The design aesthetics were a major head scratcher when considering the concept.

The Ultraboost was the most magnified in its ironic tone deafness. Dressing the shoe in all-white, the palette paid no respect or story to Black Culture with some saying the styling did the exact opposite. On top of that, the choice to use the ‘Uncaged’ version of the Ultraboost rang off as insensitive and an extreme oversight when ‘Celebrating Black Culture.’

Social media uproar and public outrage forced adidas to cancel said sneaker.

OVO x Air Jordan 4 Raptors // 2018

The Air Jordan 4 has a long history as a canvas for collaboration. In 2018, Jordan Brand was set to roll out the ‘89 favorite with sports centric colorways tied to Travis Scott and Drake.

The Travis Scott style happened in 2018, the Drake pair did not.

As Aubrey Graham found himself in the crossfires of footwear free agency turned ruthless rap beef, the OVO head honcho’s Jordan Brand deal had expired forcing the Raptor toned AJ4 to release in GR fashion without Drake’s signature on the tongue. 

The shoe was said to be cancelled as a collaboration due to Drake’s contract expiring with JB. For a year, that was true. Celebrating the Toronto Raptor’s run in the NBA Finals, Nike dropped the Drake signature style on SNKRS as a Shock Drop. Nothing was the same.

Nike Air Max 1 Betsy Ross Flag // 2019

Nike is an American brand. Regularly releasing Air Max models and Foamposite favorites on the Fourth of July in patriotic palettes, the Nike Air Max 1 was set to hit stores in red, white and blue in the summer of 2019.

The problem? The variation of the American flag used. 

Featuring the Betsy Ross flag on the heels, Nike athlete and activist Colin Kaepernick altered his sponsors to the controversial imagery said flag presented. The Swoosh responded by cancelling the release of the sneaker with mainstream media making it the most talked about shoe of 2019.

Nike Air Force 1 Low Puerto Rico // 2019 & 2020

Nike’s use of American flag imagery and history was a major talking point in 2019, but for 2019 and 2020 the Swoosh also had quality control issues with their AF1 homages to Puerto Rico.

In 2019, the Nike Air Force 1 Puerto Rico was cancelled due to misrepresentation. The shoe seen atop, featured a Mola pattern all over the upper. As AF1 aficionado DJ Clark Kent pointed out, Mola is a Panamanian art form without ties to Puerto Rico. Nike cancelled the shoe’s release.

In 2020, Nike kept it simpler on that year’s iteration of the Puerto Rico Air Force 1 by relying on the country colors and flag branding. The problem? The flags were inverted on the tongues, causing another cancellation.

Reebok Question Mid Kobe Bryant PE // 2020

n 2019, Allen Iverson posted photos from Reebok’s America HQ with a slew of samples slated for 2020. The shoe AI and IG was most excited for was the Reebok Question Mid inspired by a Kobe Bryant PE. 

The shoe was slated to release in 2020, but unfortunately the top of the year saw Bryant’s tragic death. In light of Kobe’s passing, Reebok decided to cancel the drop out of respect to Bryant’s family and legacy.

Nike SB Dunk Low 7/11 // 2020

2020 has proven the biggest year for the Nike SB Dunk in ages. With hype at fever pitch, the Nike SB Dunk Low 7/11 was near the top of the pack for the most polarizing pair of them all.

Before the world could decide if they liked them or not, the shoe was suddenly cancelled. As reported by Complex, the cancellation was said to be tied to COVID-19 postponing the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. 7/11 happens to be a Japanese owned company and 2020 was to be the debut for skateboarding as an Olympic sport.

Could these come back in 2021 if the Olympics are back on? We will see.

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