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Written by John Gotty 

Few college basketball teams are more revered than the University of Michigan’s Fab Five. Michigan’s 1991 recruiting class of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson played with a brashness that made an instant impact on college hoops. Their play was matched by the moxie in how they dressed, donning baggy shorts, black sneakers and black socks all by Nike. The young phenoms ran the court with confidence beyond their years. Even though their run was limited to two seasons, the five true freshmen changed the way the college game was played and how players looked.

Their dominance ran parallel with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls first three-peat from 1991-1993. The fact that both entities shared direct connections with Nike gave the brand a combo punch as it came to captivating fans’ attention and focusing it on what the players were wearing. The two driving forces shaped what cool looked like on the court and essential to transforming basketball footwear into a sales juggernaut for decades to come.

Michigan’s trendsetting history on the court stretches back to mid-‘80s with Jordan’s parent company Nike. The school’s hoops squad became one of eight chosen to receive team-issue Dunks as part of the “Be True to Your School” campaign. At the time, the move stood out as it created a color punch over the usual white-based shoes most teams sported. Michigan’s navy and maize, Syracuse’s orange and white and St. John’s red and white Dunks still resonate with buyers. It’s the reason why they’ve seen numerous reissues since the original release.  

Over the years, we’ve seen countless colleges connect with footwear brands for apparel, equipment and footwear partnerships. The Oregon Ducks benefit hugely from being the alma mater of Nike’s Phil Knight. Michael Jordan makes sure athletes at the University of North Carolina stay laced in the finest baby blue kicks and apparel on the planet. Likewise, UNC’s main rival Duke sported illustrious blue-based shoes. And lest we forget Kentucky, another original “Be True” school, whose basketball players have taken the court in both Nike and Jordan signature models over the years.

Each school gets their own unique kicks dipped in bold team colors with branding specific to them. Player exclusive versions gain their desirability since they seldomly launch with limited runs. Sneakerheads immediately started buzzing when North Carolina debuted special Jordans like the ‘Win Like ‘82’ pair during a preseason scrimmage in October 2017. Seeing the shoes first in that setting created an energy which fueled sales when the shoes released to retail a month later. Pairs like the ‘Oregon’ Air Jordan 3s and OVO Jordan 8s made for Kentucky pique the interest of even the most casual observer. While more and more player exclusives have made it to store shelves in recent times, most stay locked away in equipment closets where they’re reserved for student-athletes.

Thankfully, the sneaker gods in Beaverton, Oregon decided to give buyers a slice of the good life by releasing the ‘Michigan’ Air Jordan 12 Retro. The model is rich in history since its the shoe MJ wore for his legendary “Flu Game” performance. The Michigan-specific version bears close resemblance to the PSNY pair reserved for members of the school’s football squad. A supple navy nubuck dresses almost the entire upper save for a few hits of golden yellow on the eyelets, the midfoot TPU and heel tab. The M logo emblazoned on the right tongue is the biggest visual nod to the Wolverines.

Athletes still work as influencers with a strong sway over buyers, particularly youth actively participating in sports. Making special make-ups available for the general public to purchase makes perfect sense for footwear companies. Magical moments made on the court evoke memories marketing money can’t supply. The kids want to wear what they see players wearing on the TV screen and in YouTube highlight clips. They want the jersey, the shorts, the socks, and wristbands, too. And, of course, the shoes.

Of course, most sneaker enthusiasts young and old know their hoop dreams may never materialize into anything larger than that. But it doesn’t mean they still can’t have nice things, like the “Michigan” Jordan 12 Retro.

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Grab your pair of the Air Jordan Retro 12 ‘Michigan’ on June 23rd at Finishline.com. Make sure you check with your local store for more release details.

Written by John Gotty 

The Jordan X exists in a very unusual space in the history of the signature series. The model, originally released in 1995, had the misfortune of preceding the widely popular XIs. But even bigger than that, it came to be during a time when Michael Jordan retired from basketball and tried his hand at professional baseball. Without help from the shoe’s namesake, Tinker Hatfield had to conjure up a shoe designed for Jordan while knowing Mike might never actually play in the kicks. The end product became a living testimony to Mike’s career up to that point.

The X sported remarkably clean lines, a fitting inner sleeve and a speed lacing system, all the hallmarks of a solid performance shoe. The model was also the first in the series to utilize a lightweight Phylon midsole. More importantly, one of the most notable features of the model emerged in the sole.

Hatfield used it to tell the story of Money, the man who reshaped the NBA’s image with his style of play and accomplishments during his first tenure in Chicago. The alternating stripes on the outsole have quick facts from Jordan’s playing career etched in them. Career landmarks like his Rookie of the Year nod and references to his three-peat as MVP and NBA champ with the Bulls in 1991, 1992 and 1993. There were even nods to mythical moments like when he delivered 63 points against the Celtics in ’86 and scorched the Cavaliers for 69 in the 1990 playoffs.

Except MJ reportedly wasn’t down with one particular design element.

When it first released in late 1994, the model’s first colorway, the white/steel grey iteration, included an extra leather overlay around the toecap. As legend has it, Jordan wasn’t a fan of the look since he historically favored a clean toebox, as seen on the VI, VII and VIII. Nike couldn’t recall the Steel Grey Xs since they were already in the hands of retailers. However, they were able to make the change for the remaining colorways yet to come. And, of course, it made the shoe ready for wear once MJ subsequently returned to the sport on March 18, 1995.

What seemed like a frivolous design change became a missing element most old collectors pine for with reissues. It’s likely not many of them will actually play ball in the shoes and want to protect the toebox from scuffs. They simply want it present in order to consider the retro a one-to-one of the original. It always seems a bit odd considering Michael Jordan never played in this version. In fact, the only time he ever wore them on the court was during Scottie Pippen’s Ameritech All Star Classic at Chicago Stadium in October 1995, a game in which he scored 52 points. But, small moments and narrative strands like that are enough to make legends, which the Steel Greys has grown to become.

The Steels are far from the only version steeped in history. The X released in eight initial colorways, the most ever for a Jordan at that time. Five of them released with a connecting theme in what was known as the City Series. The pack served as a precursor to the strategic marketing and releases we see today. The drop featured five different variations of the model only available in select areas across across the U.S. – Chicago, New York, Orlando, Sacramento and Seattle – each one with vibrant accent colors as nods to the respective cities’ pro basketball franchises. The scarcity factor have always made this particular collection one purists searched far and wide for over the years.

Image Via: Nike

Nike also selected multiple players to wear the shoes on court. Guys like Kendall Gill of the then Seattle Supersonics, Hubert Davis of the New York Knicks and MJ’s personal foil Nick Anderson of Orlando Magic lore were tapped to wear the city-specific pairs in an effort that preceded the concept of Jordan Brand athletes. The move resonated with fans and sneakerheads alike as each design spoke to the players’ respective team colors.

His Airness and teammate Scottie Pippen wore the customary red colorway, of course. Harold Minor, nicknamed “Baby Jordan” for his ferocious dunking ability, donned the Red X’s as well since the color scheme worked well with the Miami Heat uniform. Mitch Richmond’s Sac-Town version of the shoe may seem tame now but, at the time, purple wasn’t a widely used color combo for basketball kicks. And Richmond’s black/purple “Home” pair had an air of royalty, making it one of the most revered Jordan colorways ever. Although they weren’t dubbed Player Exclusives, the shoes that emerged from City Pack carry that distinction for people who actually saw the aforementioned hoopers putting in work while wearing them. It’s all part of what drives the narrative of the model to this day.

Which brings us to the latest reissue of the X, the return of the OG Shadow colorway. Arriving 23 years after the original release, the 2018 pair may be the closest to the 1995 version that we’ve seen to date. Sure, the iteration included in 2008’s Countdown Pack was very solid. But it also featured a “23” on the ankle collar that perhaps only the man himself could pull off confidently. Also, the sockliner on those utilized a black and white checkerboard pattern that was a bit much in comparison to the more neutral look of black and dark gray of the first issue.

The 2018 Shadows wear a material mix of soft suede for the upper and tumbled leather on the mudguard, heel and eyelets that looks lovely. Then, the attention to details send the new version over the top. The reversed Jumpman logo on the heel matches the first iteration, a wrinkle only history buffs may note. Jordan Brand even reverted to using the same box from back in the day. It’s one of those little extras that thrills heads who are always seeking the most accurate version of an original.

In retrospect, the story could have panned out much differently. Jordan could have left the game for good in 1993. Odds are his legacy would still include him as one of the most celebrated athletes to ever take the court. And, had Hatfield and Nike decided to end his signature sneaker series at 10, the Jordan X would’ve been a bookend to a line of shoes that changed the sneaker game. Had Jordan’s career truly ended at the time, there couldn’t have been a more perfect shoe for the send-off.

Make sure you grab your pair of the Air Jordan Retro 10 ‘Shadow’ on April 2oth at Finishline.com.

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