An Ode to The Air Jordan 11: The Greatest Hoop Sneaker of the 90s
For the purists, the 1990s represent a special decade in basketball, and arguably the most innovative and influential period in the sport’s celebrated history. The influence of the GOAT – Michael Jordan – is well documented, but his support cast of NBA megastars were equally responsible for elevating the game’s mainstream appeal, delivering above-the-rim action with plenty of attitude.
When it comes to the sneakers of the era, it’s very much a similar story. Some of most iconic hardwood sneakers were conceived during the 90s, and worn by legends of the game. It wasn’t uncommon to see a multitude of silhouettes and brands take to the court each night, with Team Swoosh duking it out against the likes of Reebok, Converse, and even FILA for hardwood supremacy.
It got us wondering: what was the greatest sneaker of the era? So, we put it out to the Sneaker Freaker community to find out. Coasting its way through a 16-sneaker bracket challenge filled with other sneaker royalty, it was a familiar name that stood above the rest.
The Air Jordan 11 is the greatest hoop sneaker of the 90s – and it’s easy to see why.
The ‘Concord’ Takes Flight
In 1993, Michael Jordan experienced the emotional rollercoaster of leading the Bulls to a third-straight NBA Finals victory, before facing his father’s tragic death just over a month later. To honour the late James R. Jordan Sr., MJ traded the court for the plate, embarking on his well-publicised professional baseball career. His time in the NBA appeared to be over – even Nike thought so, loosely marketing the Air Jordan 10 as a farewell footwear tribute of sorts.
Thankfully, on March 18, 1995, Jordan’s business manager David B. Falk relayed two words the entire sporting globe wanted to hear: ‘I’m back.’
Jordan didn’t waste any time, stepping on the court for the Bulls the next day, sporting the unfamiliar #45 on his jersey. Understandably, we didn’t see vintage MJ from the get-go. However, come Playoff time, the rust was gone, and a new-and-improved Jordan was ready to shine – just like his sneakers.
Blessed with glossy patent-leather, the Air Jordan 11 was first seen on Jordan’s feet during those fabled 1995 Playoffs, a little sooner than the folks at Nike had intended. As revealed by Tinker Hatfield, Jordan was so in love with the AJ11 that he went against the designer’s wishes, lacing up the legendary sneaker despite instructions from the brand to keep ‘em on ice.
The ‘Concord’ had taken flight, albeit ahead of its scheduled departure time.
Dialling It Up to 11
Tinker Hatfield has made some very good decisions during his time at Nike, and conceptualising the AJ11, despite MJ’s absence, will go down as one of the most underrated judgement calls in his storied career.
‘My impression was that in the marketplace, he had already transcended the sport and it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter as much if he was playing or not,’ explains Hatfield.
In turn, he designed his most innovative sneaker to date, implementing a full-length carbon-fibre plate specifically developed for the AJ11. Essentially, the plate stiffened up the sole, preventing it from over-flexing, while Air was paired with it to add extra cushioning.
As for the shiny exterior, it wasn’t just for show. MJ always wanted to rock a shiny sneaker on the court, but the patent leather actually provided extra support due to its increased rigidity compared to traditional leathers. Offsetting the lustre on the lower portion of the shoe was ballistic nylon, which improved durability.
‘I wanted the rand of the shoe to be like the body of a car, shiny and easy to clean,’ Hatfield describes. ‘I had drawn some cars and so this shoe was like a car in that it had a shiny body. But then it’s a convertible, so it had a cloth top.’
Just like a brand new drop-top, the Air Jordan 11 embodies speed and style, with a touch of luxe, and remains a perpetual head-turner on and off the court.
The Air Jordan 11 remains one of the most anticipated drops on release radars to this day, with a iconic legion of colourways now part of the Jumpman’s retro rotation. If you’re not already convinced – the numbers don’t lie.
In 2016, Nike announced that the AJ11 ‘Space Jam’ retro was the largest and most successful sneaker launch in their history – a reminder of the silhouette’s truly universal appeal. However, the record didn’t last long, with the ‘Concord’ taking off once again in 2018 to pass the mark set by its fellow AJ11.
With a ‘Cool Grey’ return rumoured as the next big release, it wouldn’t surprise us to see records tumble again, and that can only be a good thing.
Every sneakerhead deserves a piece of history.