JORDAN THROUGH THE 90'S: IT'S GOTTA BE THE SHOES!
In 1984, Michael Jordan turns up to his first ever Bulls game in a beret – black patent leather to match his coat. If an outfit could sum up one of the most explosive rookie seasons in the history of the NBA, it’s that. He’d sign with Nike the same year, and what was a gamble for them at the time proved to be one of the most lucrative deals in the company’s history.
Last month, a pair of Michael Jordan’s game-worn Chicago 1s sold at auction for $560,000. The used sneakers were auctioned by Sotheby’s, the illustrious auction house previously known for fine art, whose hammers have fallen on Picasso’s Dora Maar au Chat and Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Compared to the 95 and 119M that changed hands for the cubist and impressionist masterpieces, the Jordans may seem small-time, but they represent yet another transcendent moment for the man and the brand. 70 percent of bidders for the online auction for Jordan’s 1985 samples were new to Sotheby’s, with hopefuls as young as 19 jostling for the size 13s. The date of the auction coincided with the final episode of The Last Dance – a retrospective on one of the most dominant teams of all time, told by the greatest athlete of all time – a docuseries that became a cultural moment itself.
For the first time fans of Jordan, the Bulls, Basketball (or pop culture), get an intimate look behind the curtain of Michael Jordan’s final season in Chicago, with unseen footage and new interviews with players, coaches and commenters. Every rebound and dunk hits harder in the restored footage – but its MJ’s big fits that are the true subject of this masterpiece. Gliding into frame in everything from 90’s prints that leap off their two-piece like the technicolour crowds at MSG, to wide, draped suits that typify power dressing, to the shoes that propped up an empire.
It wasn’t until the 6th iteration of his line that MJ would win a championship – the Jordan 6 would be the first of 6 legacy-defining championships for Michael and the Bulls. Tinker Hatfield states "Michael actually started influencing more design power over the process, and I was cool with that," he started feeling like his signature look shouldn't have a toe tip. He was wearing dress shoes at the time that had a cleaner toe and a moulded toe."
These dress shoes were swamped with wide pants that sat beneath wider blazers – tailoring structured in the shoulder and then left to drape, adding volume to Jordan’s 6’6” frame that went some way to reflect his superman persona. T-shirts were tucked, giving his pants an almost impossibly long line – fitting for a man whose legacy is still unmatched.
His championship winning shoes the second time round were the 7’s, another significant first for Michael: the Nike Air branding was nowhere to be seen. An acceptance from Nike that even then, Jordan the man, and Jordan the brand, was in a league of its own. Hatfield "recognized early on that MJ, especially with his Jumpman, I felt could survive and even flourish without a Swoosh," It was part of the strategy of mine to sort of create a Brand Jordan before there ever was one."
And in the year of the Bulls first 3-peat, the strength of the brand was at an all-time high. 93’s shoe ran parallel with Jordan’s career. A shoe with maximalist design cues - a bold, strapped closure and chenille tongue design - the VIIIs were a triumphant close to a sensational first half. And if you thought the first half was good…
Immortalised in popular culture by Space Jam, the Jordan 11 was the next in line for a Championship ring – one born from physical and emotional turmoil. The story goes Michael wanted it to look as good with a tux as it did on-court. Sure, it used patent leather and had a fully translucent bottom, but the 11 was a true performance basketball shoe. The patent leather, despite being a lux design cue that Michael had pushed for years earlier in the Jordan 9, provided strategic support because of its stiffness in comparison to other leathers, but with no added weight. But no amount of technology could’ve prepared any other athlete for a championship win off the back of a complete code change -Jordan only came back from pro Baseball in ‘95, and won a championship in ‘96. He’d retrained his body to be built for baseball, and retrained his mind back to basketball after the murder of his father.
Thick, full-grain leathers ‘quality inspired by the greatest player ever’ made the Jordan XII – made infamous for the ‘flu game’, which, it turns out, was less about flu, more about pizza (poisoned pizza?). The iconic shot of Michael leaning on Scottie Pippen, exhausted, is one of the most enduring shots of the 97 Championship run – and testament to the team so integral in supporting the Greatest of All Time. By ‘97, Scottie had been using the same Chicago tailor, Alfonso Burdi, as Michael for years – opting for that same straight, unaltered drape from the shoulder down.
It’s the Air Jordan 14 though that had the last shot – the closing chapter of Jordans history making Chicago career. A Game 6, game-winning jump shot hit the net and clinched the 1998 series as His Airness’ sleek black and red 14s landed back on the hardwood. The pair are immortalised in the ‘Last Shot’, a photograph somehow encapsulating the raw energy of the NBA finals crowd and the enduring magic of a man who’d done it for the 6th time.
Spike Lee said ‘It’s gotta be the shoes’, but it was also the tiny sunglasses, the massive suits, and the berets. Most of all, it was the attitude of a man who knows winning is in the mind – so if you think Michael looks anything but 1 billion dollars when you see him recounting some of the best sports stories ever told on the Last Dance (in mid-blue bootcut jeans and a tight purple v-neck t-shirt) you’re wrong, and you’ve lost.