Sneaker All Stars: How Dee Brown & Reebok Pumped Up The Dunk Off


It’s Saturday night on a NBA 1991 All-Star weekend and like most other basketball fans you are glued to your television set. The 3 Point competition is done and Craig Hodges has won in convincing fashion. Shhhhh…they are going to start the Dunk Off now!  They start off by announcing the players competing…Shawn Kemp, Rex Chapman, Kenny Smith, Kenny Williams, Dee Brown, Blue Edwards, Otis Smith and Kendall Gill. Come on now we all knew that the “Rain Man” Shawn Kemp had this one…no one could slam as nasty as he could!

Like always they call up the competitors and they do their dunks and as predicted Shawn Kemp is looking like the one to put money on. Next up Dee Brown, a skinny 6ft guard with a box cut from the Boston Celtics…why is he even in this competition? “Hold on wait! What is he doing with his shoes? Huh? Is he…? What’s he pressing on the tongue of his shoes? HE IS PUMPING UP HIS SHOES!!!” Say what you want, but at that point Dee Brown could have kicked the ball and NO ONE would have cared just as long as you got to see those shoes again. It was 20 years ago when Dee Brown executed the best marketing strategy for the Reebok Pump campaign. He would pump up his black Reeboks before each round of his dunks. Saving the best for last Dee Brown delivered one of the most memorable no-look dunk and was crowned the 1991 NBA Dunk Off champion.  This translated into instant gold for the Reebok camp as I’m sure they could hear the cash registers going crazy for these sneakers.  But what were they?


They were the Reebok Pump OMNI that was released that year. It was the best possible marketing that Reebok could have possibly asked for. With every dunk that he would pump then up, dunk and then release the air…and YOU never got tired of seeing it at all. With that act he not only won over the fans in attendance, but those of us at home were all now Dee Brown fans as well. This would include the sneaker heads that were devoted to Nike…for something that cool they were willing to make the transition over to Reebok in the blink of an eye.

This sneaker had a tongue that instead of having foam cushioning, it had an insert that allowed you pump and release air in and out of the shoe.  Though at this moment and time it sounds so simple, at that time it was the best thing ever for sneaker lovers…A SHOE YOU COULD PLAY WITH!!! The mechanism that you used to pump up the shoe was a ball (for this particular shoe it was in the form of a basketball) located at top middle of the tongue of the shoe. Beside that ball was a valve that you would use to release the air from the air bag that was inside the tongue. The way this technology worked is you would tie up your shoes like you normally do, but then you would pump up and make it an even snugger fit for your best comfort. Once you were done playing you would release the air from the shoe…or you could just be like me and pump it up for no reason at all and release the air over and over again so that everyone knew you had that sneaker! Come on now…I know I wasn’t the only person that did this! For cushioning in the sole of the shoe Reebok used their Hexalite technology to absorb the shock of your landings. This could be seen at the bottom of the shoe through a window cut out of the heel.

Call it a silly gimmick but until my friends and I could get a pair we pretended to pump our sneakers as if they were actually the Reebok Pump OMNI (sad but true).  I would look for the sneakers with the biggest tongue on them in my case they were the British Knights…yes I had them…WHAT? Come on MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice were promoting them…umm…you know what?  I will just stop here before I make myself look any worse!

Well if you don’t believe it…let Dee Brown tell you himself…

  • I.B. Da Force Masta

    20 years ago? Are you serious? Now I feel old! I had the Reebok Pump “Blacktop” almost the same as the Omni but made for outdoor streetball use. I remember it like it was yesterday I was a freshman in high school and I begged and pleaded with my dad to get those shoes for me. And when I got them I was the Man, pumping them up like every 30 seconds and letting the air out for no reason. Man I miss those days!

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Sole Theory is a sneaker lifestyle guide that explores the social impact of the sneaker culture. Users can expect to gain insight on recent trends, historic brands and signature styles that have heavily influenced the shoe industry. Content will be driven by articles, interviews and reviews that will uncover interesting facts and stories that have rarely been told.