Almost without fail, when I post of pic of myself wearing a pair of Jordans, I am reminded of a comment in my Sneak Peek about my getting away from Air Jordans because the quality has been trash. Some of my most heated replies have been with people who question the fact that I would even consider wearing a pair of His Airness’ sneakers. With All-Star weekend upon us, I’m reminded of my experiences with Jordan releases and the memories that go with them.
While I have been very critical of the quality of Jordan releases over the past few years, the truth of the matter is that the Jordan 1 is what started my obsession with sneakers. When I filmed my Sneak Peek, Jordan Brand had not started the “remastered” releases and the past few retro issues before that episode had been worse than the fakes I found in China. Reiterations of OG colorways – while not ideal or perfect – have been much closer to what I wanted in an Air Jordan sneaker the past couple of years.
To truly understand my point, we have to go back over 30 years to 1985 or so and an 11-year-old SneakerGrandpa. My entire sixth grade basketball team all had Air Jordan or Sky Jordans (smaller sizes or what would today be GS sizes without the Air). This new player in the NBA was garnering attention and his signature shoe was the hottest thing around. Retailing for $65, the first Air Jordan took most of its cues from the colorful Nike Dunk series that had been popular with schools like Iowa, Michigan, Syracuse and Kentucky. The majority of shoes to this point had been predominantly white with a highlight of school colors, other than the Celtics and their black pairs of kicks.
My parents were adamant that they were not going to spend the ridiculous (at the time) amount of $65 on a pair of shoes that I would outgrow in a few months, so instead I wore a pair of knock-offs from Payless or Kmart. To be honest, the quality of those copies were not horrible, and the idea of “fakes” was non-existent. But today when I see people talk of “grails” and it is a pair that takes them weeks or months to obtain, I think back to the Jordan 1 and the fact that it took me over 30 years to finally lace up my first pair.
The All-Star game took place every year around my birthday (February 3rd) and for years I had a traditional slumber party with 6-8 of my best friends and basketball teammates. A highlight of the weekend would be watching the Slam Dunk contest and from 1986-1989 no one dominated that competition quite like Michael Jordan, where he debuted his new sneakers.
The Jordan 2 doesn’t quite translate today the way it did back upon its release in 1987. Eschewing the traditional Nike Swoosh, this made in Italy shoe with the black stripe around the midsole, black laces, faux leather print, and Air Jordan wings logo on the tongue, broke all the rules present at the time. Retailing for over $100, the shoe was definitely one that had my parents saying “not a chance” and that only made me want them even more. Michael debuted them at the ’87 dunk contest (his first win) where he displayed gravity-defying dunks that blew away the competition.
The day after the Slam Dunk competitions, my friends and I would rush over to a neighbor’s house where they had an adjustable rim to reenact the dunks we had seen the night before. Whether we were wearing Air Jordans or not, we all did our best to “be like Mike” and defy gravity.
When 1988 rolled around, my friends were still coming over to spend the night and celebrate my birthday, and the Slam Dunk Contest had become part of the tradition. That year, Jordan debuted the Air Jordan 3, designed by none other than Tinker Hatfield. While we had no idea who had designed it or the cultural impact the shoe would have, the three quarter pair with the elephant print on the heal did not go unnoticed. Thus began the tradition of the All-Star debut for signature shoes in my mind. Michael wore the mostly white pair while he dominated the competition from the free throw line that night while wearing the black pair during the actual All-Star game the following afternoon.
Along came the Jordan 4 and Jordan 5 the next couple of years, but it wouldn’t be until the Jordan 6 that I would finally have my first pair of Air Jordans. By that time I was a senior in high school and the black and infrared 6s would finally be mine. That season, Mike and the Bulls won their first NBA championship, on their way to many more.
As I look back on my connection to the Jordan shoe, I can’t help but think back to the Jordan 1 and how long it took me to get my first pair. When I criticized the quality of Jordan releases it wasn’t as much about the shoes themselves as it was about the expectations I had placed on the pairs and the memories attached to them. Today I would have to say that the recent “remastered” retros are nice, but I’m honestly not sure that any reissue of a Jordan 1-6 could ever live up to the standard they uphold in my recollection of that period of time in my life. I’m also not sure many today could ever replicate that type of connection to a shoe that isn’t based on hype or resale value. At the end of the day, they are all leather and rubber and glue, but no one can ever take away the memories. And no matter what, no one can ever take away those birthday sleepovers or the dunk competitions we had in our neighbor’s driveway.