While Michael Jordan was toiling away in Minor League Baseball, the sneaker world didn’t stop turning.
One designer in particular was hard at work, coming up with what would become Jordan’s favorite shoe and arguably the most beloved of the Air Jordan line. The sneakers were ready, waiting for Jordan to come back to the game he was put on this earth to play, but at the time there was no way to be sure that he would ever return.
But before we even go there, let’s look at the circumstances surrounding his retirement in the first place.
Jordan announced his first retirement on October 6, 1993.
At the time, he attributed the decision to the feeling that he’s reached his peak in the NBA and had lost desire to play in the league.
Jordan later wrote in his autobiography that his thoughts on retirement began in the summer of 1992, after the Dream Team run in the 1992 Olympics. His mindset on the NBA was beginning to change, he was getting worn out, and his celebrity was expanding all the time. He also later noted that part of his decision to retire was influenced by the loss his father, James Jordan, who was murdered earlier that year.
Still, the news was shocking to almost everybody. Jordan scheduled a press conference at the Berto Center, the Bulls’ practice facility in Deerfield, Illinois, to announce the decision.
The local media coverage of this event is pretty interesting. It goes to show what a difference time can make. Imagine if LeBron retired after his two championships with the Heat. Imagine if Steph Curry or Kevin Durant retired tomorrow. The talking heads, the blogs, social media would basically all be on fire with speculation. Every news outlet in America would be covering it.
And don’t get it twisted. There was a ton of coverage and speculation about the real reason for Jordan’s retirement. The most prominent theory is that the NBA basically gave Jordan a one-year suspension for his gambling troubles and, because of his influence and contributions to the NBA, they let him save face and “retire.”
Of course, all of that is unfounded, but for fans, it’s an interesting thought experiment. This is what Jordan really said that day:
“I’ve heard a lot of different speculations about my reasons for not playing, but I’ve always stressed to the people that know me and the media that have followed me that when I lose the sense of motivation and the sense of to prove something as a basketball player, it’s time for me to move away from the game of basketball.”
“It’s not because I don’t love the game,” Jordan continued. “I just feel like at this particular time in my career, I’ve reached the pinnacle … I don’t have anything else for myself to prove.”
Michael Jordan’s Return in 1995
Jordan’s Minor League Baseball career wasn’t looking like it would turn into a Major League Baseball career any time soon.
The 1993-94 Bulls didn’t necessarily suffer without him—the team went 55-27 in his absence, tied for sixth best record in the NBA. However, they lost in the second round of the playoffs to the New York Knicks. The 1994-95 Bulls were not nearly as good, posting a 31-31 record at one point and were fighting for a chance at the playoffs.
On March 18, 1995 two words changed the sharp decline of the bulls: “I’m back.”
Jordan got to work quickly. He played the next day against the Indiana Pacers. Jordan scored 19 points and the game had the highest Nielsen rating of any regular season NBA game since 1975. He soon returned to form, scoring 55 points against the Atlanta Hawks in his 5th game back with the team.
When Jordan Came Back the Air Jordan 11 Was Waiting
While he was away from the game, Nike Designer Tinker Hatfield was hard at work.
Hatfield is the designer who created the Nike Air Max and every Jordan shoe from the Air Jordan 3 to that point, then from the XI all the way to the Air Jordan XV. The shoe was created while Jordan was still playing baseball, and Hatfield was hoping he would return to the court and wear them, because the Air Jordan 11 was special.
It had a ballistic upper mesh to make the shoes more lightweight and durable than past Air Jordan models. The Air Jordan 11 also had a carbon fiber spring plate to increase on-court quickness and lateral speed. The hallmark of this shoe, however, is the patent leather mudguard.
This aspect gave the shoe a dressy look that attracted more than just basketball players and sneakerheads. The Air Jordan 11 branched out into the fashion world more broadly than previous Air Jordan models.
But before it got there, it had to be seen on Jordan. In 1995, when Jordan returned to the NBA, the Air Jordan 11 was just a model, but Jordan wore a pair anyway.
He went on to wear the XI as the Bulls won the 1995-95 NBA Championship. He wore the Air Jordan 11 White Columbia colorway as he won MVP in the 1996 All-Star Game. He wore the shoes in Space Jam, released in 1996 as well.
You can see the Air Jordan 11 on Jordan’s feet throughout the movie.
And here they are in the famous “What Goes Up” commercial.
The Original Air JOrdan XI Colorways
When they were released in 1995-96, the Air Jordan XI came in five different colorways. There would be more down the line in retros and special releases, but these were the five that started it.
Concords White – Black – Dark Concord
Columbia white – Columbia Blue – Black
Black – True Red – White
Black – Dark Great – True Red (Low)
White – Light Grey – Cobalt (Low)
Now We’ll Take a look at Our All-Time Favorite Air JOrdan XI Colorways
Take a look at our picks for the top 5 all-time colorways for the Air Jordan XI sneakers. Keep in mind, this is just our opinion. If you disagree, please feel free to defend your pick in the comments section.
Celebrities Wearing The Air Jordan XI
Lil Wayne wearing the Air Jordan 11 Concord
Darrelle Revis wearing the Air Jordan 11 Cool Grey
Jimmy Butler wearing the Air Jordan 11 Pantone
Mark Wahlberg wearing the Air Jordan 11 Concord
MJ himself wearing the Air Jordan 11 Retro Low Concord
The long and short of it is that the Air Jordan 11 is one of the most influential and popular sneakers ever released. Jordan wore these shoes as his basketball career came back to life. He wore them in his most high-profile moment, as the lead in Space Jam. He wore them as he led the Bulls back to the NBA Finals.
For that, they hold a special place in the sneaker pantheon.