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10th May 2022 EDT FEATURES

The Wacky History of Nike’s ‘What The’ Colourway

The Wacky History of Nike’s ‘What The’ Colourway
The Wacky History of Nike’s ‘What The’ Colourway

By Anton Karve

Quick Look

  1. 2007: When it all began – ‘What The Dunk’
  2. 2012: From tarmac to hardwood – ‘What The Kobe’, ‘What The MVP’
  3. 2015: Back to the streets – ‘What The Doernbecher’, ‘Greedy’
  4. 2016: Off the tarmac, on the grass – ‘What The Mercurial’
  5. 2022: What’s next? – ‘Safari Mix’

“What the?!”

That’s probably the most common reaction when you first lay eyes on one of Nike’s sneakers featuring their iconic ‘What The’ colourway. The design is both a bold rebellion against its own design norms as it is a fond remembrance towards previous generations of sneakers: Nike’s ‘What The’ theme features a unique mish-mash of previously used colourways all within the footprint of a single sneaker. 
Following the upcoming release of Nike Dunk Low “Safari Mix”, sporting a ‘What The’ colourway in all but name, we dive into the history of these iconic sneakers.

2007: When it all began

It all started with the Nike SB Dunk Low ‘What The Dunk’. Its design mixed and matched many classic colourways, such as ‘Heineken’, ‘Raygun’, ‘Huf’, ‘Pigeon’, ‘Tweed’ and ‘California’. Nearly a decade and half later, these sneakers are still a grail to sneakerheads, and with pop culture icons such as Travis Scott and Wale seen wearing them, it’s not hard to understand why.

Travis Scott Nike What The Dunk

Travis Scott wearing Nike SB Dunk Low ‘What The Dunk’. Image: Nicekicks

Wale Nike What The Dunk

Wale wearing Nike SB Low Dunk ‘What The Dunk’. Image: Complex














2012: From tarmac to hardwood

After a long 5 years break from the theme, Nike made a surprising move to push this design from the skatepark into the basketball court, releasing 6 back-to-back ‘What The’ court shoes within 2 years. The Nike Kobe VII System ‘What The Kobe’ (2012) introduced this colourway into the basketball world, featuring previous Kobe System colourways such as ‘Mamba Snake’, ‘Shark’ and ‘Poison Dart Frog’.

Nike Kobe 7 What The Kobe

Nike Kobe 7 System ‘What The Kobe’ shoes. Image: Sneaker News


The success of this drop set the precedent for the following wave of ‘What The’ court shoes, with Kobe, LeBron, KD and Air Jordan mashing designs together for multiple limited-edition releases. Highlights include Nike LeBron X ‘What The MVP’ (2013), mixing and mismatching iconic LeBron colourways ‘Prism’, ‘BHM’ and ‘Area 72’:

LeBron James Nike LeBron X What The LeBron

LeBron wearing his ‘What The MVP’ LeBron Xs in-game. Image: Sole Collector

Another highlight was the Nike Kobe 8 System ‘What The Kobe’ (2013), combining a whopping 30 different Kobe 8s colourways into an absolute neck-breaker of a design:

2015: Back to the streets

It seemed clear to both sneaker and basketball communities that the ‘What The’ colourway was destined to remain on the hardwood court forever. Or so they thought, until Nike shocked everybody yet again by dropping SB Dunk High ‘What The Doernbecher’ (2015), nearly 10 years after the theme’s initial debut. This colourway featured 13 different designs created from scratch by patients in the Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, with proceeds being used to save more lives in the hospital.

Nike Dunk High What The Doernbecher

Nike SB Dunk High ‘What The Doernbecher’. Image: SBD

Continuing the colourway’s return to lifestyle sneakers, the Nike Air Max 95 ‘Greedy’ (2015) was the first drop to be dubbed as ‘What The’ sneakers by the community, not Nike. One can see how the ‘Greedy’ fits the trend, as it celebrates Air Max 95’s 20th anniversary by combining ‘Safety Orange’, ‘Grape’ and ‘Neon’ colourways.

Nike Air Max 95 Greedy

Nike Air Max 95 ‘Greedy’. Image Credits: Hypebeast, https://hypebeast.com/2015/7/nike-air-max-95-greedy

2016: Off the tarmac, on the grass

In 2016, Nike made a shocking choice for an already shocking design, shifting it from the skateparks, streets and courts to the football pitch. The Nike Mercurial Superfly SE FG ‘What The Mercurial’ assaults the senses with an insane mixture of 16 different Mercurial colourways.

Nike Mercurial Superfly What The Mercurial

Nike Mercurial Superfly SE FG ‘What The Mercurial’. Image: Sneaker News

Since then, Nike has put out a variety of lifestyle, skateboarding and basketball court shoes within the ‘What The’ theme. Some honourable mentions:

Nike SB Dunk High Thomas Campbell ‘What The Dunk’ (2017)

Nike LeBron 16 ‘What The – 1 thru 5’ (2018)

‘What The’ Air Jordan IV (2019)

Nike Air Force 1 ‘What The LA’ and ‘What The NY’ (2019)

‘What The’ Air Jordan V (2021)

2022: What’s next?

The Nike Dunk Low SE ‘Safari Mix’ just dropped in US/EU on 5th May 2022 (the Asia release happened in Feb 2022). Much like the Air Max 95 ‘Greedy’, this pair has not been officially released under the ‘What The’ theme, but one can tell the obvious inspiration behind the design.

Nike Dunk Low Safari Mix

Nike Dunk Low “Safari Mix”. Image: Sneakernews

The new “Safari Mix” sets itself apart from its predecessors by mixing animal prints rather than previous colourways – with cheetah print, safari print, faux fur and a suede swoosh all vying for attention in typical ‘What The’ fashion.

Check out its release here.

The first few drops of ‘What The’ colourway shoes sent waves through the sneaker community with their boldness and quickly rose to infamy, with many arguments for and against the new theme. Whether you feel that their mismatched, puzzling designs are ugly and oversaturated or iconic and timeless, it can’t be denied that Nike created a groundbreaking trend that doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. What do you think is next in Nike’s ‘What The’ series?