Sneakers, Sports Memorabilia & Modern Collectibles

Everything You Need to Know About Sneaker Samples

By Zoë Vanderweide
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What Are Sneaker Samples?

If you're a Nike sneaker collector, you know that sample pairs are some of the most sought-after sneakers in the game. Unlike general release sneakers, sample pairs are extremely limited in production and distribution, making them incredibly rare. But what makes sneaker samples different from general release pairs? Not only are they rare, but sample styles also feature subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) differences from the versions that end up in stores, making sneaker samples highly coveted by collectors.

In addition to samples, other rare sneakers like Player Exclusives and Friends and Family editions never make it to the public, instead, they're gifted exclusively to project collaborators and their inner circles. And in some cases, a highly anticipated sneaker never sees the light of day, skyrocketing its status to an instant grail.

Keep reading to learn more about the different types of sneaker samples and discover our top picks for sample pairs available for immediate purchase.

The Different Types of Sneaker Samples

1 | Look See Sneaker Samples

For sneakerheads, Look See samples are a holy grail. These prototypes, usually in size M9 / W7, are an integral part of Nike's sample process and are created at every stage of sneaker development. The purpose of these samples is to determine the final look of a release pair, bringing a Nike sneaker's colors and design to life. Although Look Sees are built for wear, they are not indicative of the final Nike shoe. As a result, Look See samples are kept exclusively in-house and not released to the public, making them highly sought-after sneaker samples by collectors.

Nike Air Force 1 High Look See Sample

This rare Nike Air Force 1 High Look See Sample is from the year 2000. The AF1 Sample features a sleek look with its white tumbled leather, monochromatic design and clear outsole. Originally released in 1982, the Nike Air Force 1 is named after the presidential aircraft. Designed by Bruce Kilgore, it was the first basketball sneaker to feature revolutionary air pocket technology. Today the Air Force One is one of Nike’s most iconic, best-selling sneakers.

2 |Promo Samples

Prior to a sneaker's official launch, Nike distributes promotional samples to key partners and salespeople. These sneaker samples are created exclusively for promotional purposes and are not available for purchase by the general public, making them a highly sought-after pair among collectors. In addition to external distribution, these promo samples are also distributed internally for special collaborations with designers, athletes, and other prominent figures in the industry.

Nike Air Force 1 Low LeBron James Saturday Night Live Promo Sample

To commemorate LeBron James' appearance on the 33rd Season premiere of the legendary show "Saturday Night Live," Nike crafted an exquisite Nike Air Force 1 with a striking blend of colors and materials. This promotional sample AF1, released in limited numbers, pays tribute to both LeBron James and the iconic show. The left shoe is inscribed with the name "LeBron James," while the right bears a lion's head. Yellow stitching, a yellow heel tab and outsole, and a unique visible Air unit complete the shoe's design. The insoles feature a sewn-in "Saturday Night Live" label, and the right deubré is adorned with the letters "SNL."

3 |Friends and Family Editions

Nike's collaborations with athletes, musicians, and designers are highly anticipated events in the sneaker world, and the resulting exclusive sneakers are often coveted by collectors and enthusiasts alike. Among these collaborations, Nike produces Friends and Family editions, special editions that are only gifted to friends and family of the collaborator and brand employees closely involved in the project. These coveted Friends and Family editions, not intended for public release, add to the allure of these rare sneakers and make them an ultimate flex for sneaker enthusiasts.

Nike SB Dunk Low Parra Friends and Family

The Nike SB Dunk Low Pro Parra “Friends & Family” is a coveted sneaker that was released in 2019, as part of the collaborative efforts between Nike and the renowned Dutch artist Piet Parra. The SB Dunk Low's multi-hued color scheme, a signature of Parra's style, is showcased to great effect in this exclusive Friends & Family release, which was limited to the artist's inner circle. This SB Dunk Low release followed the general release of Parra’s Nike SB Dunk Low OG QS, adding to the hype and exclusivity of the Parra x Nike sneaker collaboration.

Nike SB Dunk Low Premium Entourage Friends and Family

The Entourage x Nike SB Dunk Low is a highly sought-after sneaker, produced as a friends and family exclusive to commemorate the final season of the hit HBO show. Featuring a black elephant-print upper with suede accents on the lace guard, heel, and Swoosh, this shoe boasts Entourage branding on the tongue, below the Nike SB logo, and on one side of the insole. The other insole is inscribed with "The End." Since this SB Dunk exclusive release was not made available to the general public, it remains a prized possession among sneaker collectors

4 |Player Exclusives

Nike's collaborations with its athletes have resulted in the creation of some of the most iconic and rare sneakers in the history of the brand. Player Exclusives, which are shoes designed exclusively for a particular athlete, are among the most highly sought-after Nike sneakers by collectors. These coveted PE samples are only given to the athlete and their inner circle, consisting of close friends and family, and are never made available to the general public.

Nike Air Force 1 Low Vince Carter Sample PE

While some Player Exclusives are made specifically for athletes to compete in, lifestyle models like the Nike Air Force 1 also get the custom treatment. These Nike Air Force Player Exclusives are a tribute to the legendary Vince Carter, an instrumental member of the Olympic USA basketball team. The rare AF1s feature a striking half-blue and half-white leather upper, accented by a brown midsole and details, and are adorned with a Vince Carter logo elegantly stitched on the back heel.

Nike Kobe 9 Elite Low PE 

The Nike Kobe 9 Elite Low PE, released in 2014, was designed as a high-performance basketball shoe specifically for Kobe Bryant to wear on the court. Its Lakers-inspired colorway of white, yellow, and black perfectly complemented the team's uniform. Unlike many limited edition sneakers, this PE was created with functionality in mind, designed for optimal performance and support during gameplay. As with all player exclusives, these sneakers boast unique colorways and designs that are not available to the general public.

5 |Unreleased Samples

Unreleased samples are highly coveted by sneaker collectors due to their unique origin stories and exceptional scarcity. These rare Nike sneakers are highly sought after for their elusive nature, often kept under lock and key due to legal battles, creative differences, or other factors. Their exclusivity only adds to their prestige among sneaker enthusiasts, making them highly valued commodities in the sneaker market.

Nike Dunk High Tiger Woods Sample

In 2006, Nike created a “Collection Royale” to honor legendary athletes such as LeBron James, Serena Williams, and Michael Vick. The sneaker collection’s final piece, a Nike High Dunk, was intended for Tiger Woods, but the golfer reportedly rejected it. The Nike Dunk sample featured a red and crimson leather upper inspired by Woods’ signature polo shirt and golf motifs such as a golf bag on an Ace of Clubs playing card. Although this Nike High Dunk was never released, a similar Dunk High was made for MLB pitcher Dontrelle Williams with a full patent leather finish.

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