Nike went in yet another new direction with the AJVIII and MJ and his shoe line received international exposure at the 92 Summer Olympics. He garnered even more attention for himself and Nike when he led the Bulls to a ‘3-Peat’in his Jordan VIIIs. The only Air Jordan that has ever and most likely will ever feature straps is the VIII; supposed to give more support and fit better this was a brand new design concept for the AJs. The lightweight Huarache-like upper was gone while the inner bootie remained and a color splash was added was added near the heel. Detail lovers need to take notice of the carpet surrounding the Jumpman logo on the tongue and ’23’ emblazoned on the strap plus they should recognize that this shoe was only produced in 3 colorways (one for the NBA season and one for the Olympics).
The Air Jordan IX was a departure from what had come before. Described by many as a ‘moon boot’ it was initially a hate it or love it shoe and of course it’s controversial as the shoe that Michael himself never actually wore during his basketball playing days until his third and final comeback (in retro form). While the inner bootie was maintained there was also a new innovation when the designer added ‘speed-lacing’ laceloops to Air Jordans for the first time in their history so this model kept some comfort and created some convenience. Two style features were introduced: reflective speckles on the upper gave it some flash and a touch of foreign languages and a globe intermixed with the numbers ’23’ and ‘1994’ added some class. Although the experimental moon boot design scared a few people off at the time it did feature a solid materials mix of leather, nubuck and mesh that kept in grounded in the basics.
With the release of the AJX both Nike and Michael Jordan turned the page in their collective history. The Air Jordan X has been labelled the ‘retirement shoe’ by some as it collected and recorded MJ’s accomplishments in the shoe like a list of nostalgic memories.
It did have some special characteristics however that made it stand out; for example added to the unusual feel of the shoe as an atypical basketball shoe was an upper of full grain leather and suede that gave it a classical and elegant look and feel. Given the special materials and envelope-pushing colorways to match NBA team uniforms (only the Bulls colors sold well) the AJX has carved out a niche as a distinct shoe and not just the ‘retirement’ model Jordan.
Nike must have been feeling the pressure to perform a bit and the mood may have been hesitant prior to the release of the Air Jordan XI however Nike and Michael would eventually answer all their critics in resounding fashion. The AJXI really is an instant classic and high on the top of almost everybody’s favourite Jordan list quite simply because it performs great and looks even better. One of the biggest reasons is the introduction of patent leather for the first time with the combination of black patent leather combined with a crystal clear sole on the Space Jam model taking the athletic shoe world by storm. The combination of patent leather balanced out by nylon mesh on the upper made for a performance sneaker that was both attractive and functional. Besides the superb design and materials of the XI there were also practical considerations such as the cutting edge carbon fibre shank plate for added bounce and support and the patented Nike Air torsion to add cushioning to the heel and forefoot. This model Air Jordan was also a massive hit as a Retro especially the aforementioned Space Jam in its amazing colorway.
After the massive success of the AJXIs, ‘what can we do for an encore?’ Nike must have been thinking. Enter the Air Jordan XII.
Well what Tinker Hatfield and his team did, was to push the shoe frontier one step further with more advanced supportive technology, top end materials and sweet little signature touches to keep Jordan fans coming back for more. It didn’t hurt either that Mr. Jordan himself dominated the Utah Jazz in the AJ 12s and won yet another championship while the ‘flu game’ as it has been labelled was forever etched into the tablet of our collective memory. The Air Jordan XII introduced the use of Zoom Air tech and also included a full length carbon fibre shank plate as well. The full grain leather gave this shoe the feeling of high ‘quality’ that one would expect from a shoe ‘inspired by the greatest player ever’ and the signature touches gave his Airness’s loyal shoe/basketball fan base exactly what they were hungry to receive. In fact the following parts of the shoe were given quality details: the tongue had the ‘T W O 3’ wording, the pull tab had script and a jumpman, the sole had a large jumpman creeping up to the toe and the metal laceloops contained the jumpman logos also. The AJXII ensured the Jordan line progressed and in a firm yet subtle way connected the greatness of the player to the shoe.
After the overwhelming success of its two direct predecessors it’s not surprising that the Air Jordan XIII also known as ‘the Black Cat’ is something of an enigma. It was released in five different colorways in hightop form and two in low; while it proved to be one of the most comfortable and highest performing shoes ever made it really got mixed reviews from JordanHeads and everyday fans of hoops and kicks in the looks department. It took a while for the street buzz to start on the 13s however when it did the more popular colors started to move impressive numbers although some shoes did sit on shelves for a while especially in experimental color schemes. The Jordan XIII was definitely an innovator in terms of performance and support as it was the first shoe to use the Zoom Air Technology to the fullest; while the AJ13 took a lighter, more streamlined approach than the 12, its side pods actually provided a larger surface area when ballin’ than the XII. It had a snugger, more aerodynamic style that meant the 1 and 2 could play their slashing game with good ankle support and less constraints. The AJXIII remains a bit of a puzzle to students of Jordans as it received its fair share of love from critics yet didn’t catch fire immediately with the buying public (although even the least popular/worst selling colorways are seen selling today for above retail prices). Although the Jordan lows craze was ignited single-handedly by lucky 13 it remains unloved and underappreciated by OldSkoolers.