It’s the shoe, why major sneaker releases of the Air Jordan Brand had to be moved to Saturday in order to stop kids from skipping school for the icon’s arrival. It’s the shoe, why sneakerheads started camping out in front of stores in order to even have the chance to crop one of the legendary Js. It’s the shoe, why people started fighting and overrunning each other in order to get their hands on a pair. It’s the shoe, why malls had to been shut down in order to tame wild crowds before the doors could’ve even be opened. It’s the shoe, why police had to use pepper spray in order to keep the sneaker fanatics in order. It’s the shoe, why a man had been stabbed for in order to snitch his crop away from him. It’s the shoe, that changed the sneaker game forever.
The reputation of the Nike Air Jordan 11 (XI) precedes the legendary sneaker. Few shoes have earned themselves the same status as Jordan’s eleventh signature shoe. It is undoubtedly one of the most important models in sneaker history, let alone in Jordan Brand’s history. The story of the AJ 11 is a complex, mythical and particularly a successful one. The fascination with the Jordan is understandable, almost undeniable for sneakerheads, but for people who are not as frantically about sneakers as we are – let’s call them “normal people” -, we will introduce you to the notorious XI and its significant story:
ALL EYES ON HIS AIRNESS
“I’m back”, were the words that got basketball fans around the world excited in March 1995 as Michael Jordan announced his comeback to the NBA. After retiring from the Bulls in 1993 and an interlude in Minor League Baseball Michael figured that he still had something to give to the ball game. And oh yes, he had quite some surprises to deliver.
MJ came back towards the end of the 1994/95 regular season and played his first games in the Air Jordan X. The Bulls made the playoffs easily and had no problems with the Boston Celtics in the first round. Expectations were high when they faced the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. The Florida based franchise had a young and talented line-up including the two All-Stars Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway. For the highly anticipated series, Michael Jordan had something special to offer. While MJ was entering the court, all eyes were focused on his brand new shoes:
The Air Jordan XI.
His Airness and designer legend Tinker Hatfield surprised everybody with a shoe that was so radically different from anything you had ever seen before. Needless to say, it was not in line with the NBA game apparel regulations, which lead to a $5,000 fine.
In the final seconds of Game 1, Nick Anderson had his shining moment in the league. He stole the ball from Michael Jordan and a fast break followed that put the Magic up by one with 5.9 seconds left. In a cocky interview after the game Anderson said: “No. 45 doesn’t explode like No. 23 used to”, referring to Jordan’s new jersey number. After his comeback Jordan was wearing number 45 instead of his signature 23, because the Bulls had already retired his number the year before.
But, Michael Jordan is Michael Jordan after all. He could not accept that kind of insult and so in Game 2, he shocked the crowd by wearing his original number 23 to proof that he could still live up to his earlier success. Once again, the NBA was not amused with the quick number change within the playoffs and fined the Bulls $25,000. As you can see, fines were nothing new to MJ and the Chicago Bulls, but they never mind to pay for it. Bad publicity has always been good publicity in the end so far. The fans didn’t care either. They finally had their beloved #23 back.
Jordan’s performances improved in the following games but he could not prevent the Magic from winning the series and moving on to the Conference Finals. Even though the Bulls did not win the championship in 1995, fans will always associate Michael Jordan’s comeback season with the Air Jordan XI in its original colorways and the change of his jersey number back to 23. Quite a memorable season for His Airness.
PULLING OUT ALL THE STOPS
Having MJ’s successful 95-96 season in mind, the initial story of Tinker’s inspiration for the Air Jordan XI is rather downright amusing. It may be hard to believe, but the most popular shoe in the Jordan signature line was actually inspired by a lawn mower… I know, I know, by a goddamn lawn mower you are asking the sneaker-god? Blasphemy! But yes, it all began with a lawn mower. Even if it will break some of your sneaker-hearts, here are the key facts:
Keeping with the forward-thinking and ambitious direction of the brand, Tinker knew he had to pull out all the stops. In order to deliver a look never seen before, the Nike designer had to let his imagination run wild. And so he did: a lawn mower was destined to be his object of inspiration. Hatfield was rather stimulated by the philosophy than the shape – creating a model that was rough around the edges, but clean on top. Both lawn mower and shoe possess a rugged effectiveness, making MJ as effective as possible on court – I mean due to the shoes, of course! The AJXI featured an unique patent leather for the very first time in an athletic shoe, being robust and shiny in innovative 360 degrees. This upper was meant to make the basketball performance sneaker lighter and more durable than the sneakers seen before since its leather did not tend to stretch as much. In addition to that, Tinker used carbon fiber plate in the clear outsole to add stability for the wearer when turning on the court.
The radical changes made the first colorway, the “Concord” with its mostly white upper and the patent leather, an instant classic. Even if MJ hadn’t won the championship that year, the AJ XI had already been a hit before the shoes finally hit the stores. But when they did, they hit hard! Celebrities were wearing the latest Jordans at Music Awards and in tuxedos on the Red Carpet, husbands were wearing them on their weddings and business man were wearing them in meetings. The patent leather gave the XI a “formal” look, finally enabling sneakerheads to wear their Js with a suit.
It is the story of an unique shoe, combining sports shoe aesthetics with high fashion patent leather – a milestone in sports and fashion history. The pair is mystified with different anecdotes, juicy side facts and notorious reactions. The Air Jordan XI is not just a basketball shoe, it is a fashion statement. Numerous releases in the past years show the unbroken hype about this sneaker.
LIST OF THE ORIGINAL RELEASES
Air Jordan Original XI, Concords White – Black – Dark Concord (worn in the 1995 Eastern Conference semi-finals)
Air Jordan Original XI, Columbia White – Columbia Blue – Black (worn in the 1995 All-star Game)
Air Jordan Original XI, Black – True Red – White (MJ won the 1996 NBA Championship in these shoes)
Air Jordan Original XI, Black – Dark Grey – True Red I.E. Low (worn only a couple of time in the 1996 Playoffs)
Air Jordan Original XI, White – Light Grey – Cobalt I.E. Low
In cooperation with FIVE MAG!