No. 10 — Mars Blackmon
Spike Lee might be the Knicks ultimate fanboy, but he’s also one of the most creative directors and sneaker connoisseurs around. In ’88, he linked with Nike by continuing his character Mars Blackman from the Movie She's Gotta Have It, for an ad campaign with MJ that became one of the Swoosh’s most successful. In this early shot, Mars and Mike have a little fun. Mike was wrong for leaving him hanging, but we’re sure that air unit helped brace his fall.
No. 9 — Russell Westbrook
Stats: 27 Points, 10 Assists, 7 Rebounds
Game: 1/11/2013 W @ Los Angeles Lakers
Russ has been known to sport some ill sneakers on the court, especially since becoming an ambassador of flight for Jordan Brand, but when he unleashed the III’s in the OKC PE colorway a collective GTFOH traveled across twitter timelines faster than Manti T’eo’s girlfriend runs the 40. Westbrook repped the brand well that night, squared off against the closest one to the second coming in Kobe Bryant. He got the best of him playing in the polyurethane midsole constructed sneaks and helped the Thunder win 116-101.
No. 8 — Michael Jordan
Stats: 47 Points, 5 Rebounds
Game: 4/19/1988 W @ New York
Everyone remembers Mike for that flu game against Utah. You know the one Gatorade uses as a commercial where Mike’s getting buckets, only to be carried off the court by his road-dog, Scottie Pippen. Back in ’88, Mean Mike gave zero-shits about being sick and he proved that by handing out 40-plus with a stomach virus. He was 25-years-old, had a maniacal drive and, in his signature shoes with the visible Nike Air cushioning system, his opponents could see the air he’s floating on when he crammed it on them. Had to a little intimidating.
No. 7 — Michael Jordan
Stats: 39 Points, 4 Assists, 3 Steals
Game: 2/2/1988 @ Los Angeles Lakers
Finding a bigger star on the hardwood in the 1980’s than Magic Johnson was hard to do. By the ’88 season, Magic was already a three-time NBA Champion, three-time NBA finals MVP and reigning league MVP. But similarly to how a current Bull out of Chicago kept LeBron from winning four consecutive MVP’s, Jordan became the asterisk in Johnson’s run. His 39 points and stellar defense was made possible by the maximum lockdown that the full grain leather upper construction provided when he shifted on defense. Jordan loved the idea of the mid-cut so that the collar wouldn’t irritate his ankle.
No. 6 — Kobe Bryant
Stats: 22 Points, 7 Rebounds, 6 Assists, 3 Steals
Game: 2/9/2003 W @ Eastern Conference All-Stars
Whether Kobe owns up to it or not (and he generally does) he owes a lot of his game to Michael. Of course Mike wasn’t with him shooting in the gym, but he laid down the blue print to follow. So how does Bryant pay homage to the best that ever did it? Lace up some “True Blue” Air Jordan III’s for his Airness’ farewell all-star game appearance. Mike finished with 20 points, which for a 39-year-old who was less than 10-days from turning 40 was not bad at all, but more importantly, he left with piece of mind. He famously said how much he didn’t feel comfortable leaving the way he did back in 1998, but could now look at players like Bryant, Tim Duncan an aging Shaq and ASG MVP Kevin Garnett and know the game was in good hands. With players like Kobe rocking his shoes (by way of Nike, of course) the brand he helped globalize was all set, too.
No. 5 — Michael Jordan
Stats: 40 Points, 8 Rebounds, 4 Steals, 4 Blocks
Game: 2/7/1988 W vs. Western Conference All-Stars
Even though they’re billed as fun events, NBA all-star games do mean something. Think about it, it’s all fun and games until that fourth quarter. That’s when you see top-dog’s bark and bite. In ’88 there was no question who the Caucasian Mountain Dog was. And we ain’t talking about Kevin McHale, either. Jordan was emerging as the leagues toughest defender, scorer and flat-out dominating presence. Scoring 40 in a game with all of his peers made the elephant print on the toe-box and heel even more relevant. MJ was an animal.
No. 4 — Kobe Bryant
Stats: 52 Points, 8 Rebounds, 7 Assists, 3 Blocks
Game: 2/18/2003 vs. Houston
In 2002-03 season, Kobe had 19 total games of 40 or better. The Houston Rockets got some of the 40-plus work twice. After scoring 46 and taking an L to Yao, Franchise, Cuttino & Co., Young Bean decided to make a statement. Well, two actually. The first was rocking the Air Jordan III PE’s with custom Laker colorway accents. The second was scoring 52 and topping his career averages in rebounds, assists and blocks. And showing off the Nike Air Unit’s capabilities by doing this to Yao Ming. Wait a minute, is that three? Yeah that’s three statements, but who’s couting? Just keep reading.
No. 3 — Michael Jordan
Stats: 59 Points, 8 Rebounds, 6 Assists, 6 Steals
Game: 4/3/198 W @ Pistons
The first set of Jordan Rules were enforced by the league (read Commissioner David Stern) fined MJ for wearing the Air Jordan I, because the black and red colorway didn’t fit the league-wide standard. The second set was enforced by Chuck Daly and the Detroit Pistons which left Jordan’s body in a black and blue hue if he even looked down-low in the paint. The rumor is it was this 59-point outburst by Jordan, supported by the AJ III's rubber outsole and it’s strategic pivot-point, that made Daly mad enough to scheme on MJ any time he drove to the basket. It worked for a short time, but it made MJ unstoppable in the playoffs once he made it past the Pistons.
No. 2 — Michael Jordan
Stats: 55 Points, 6 Rebounds, 4 Steals
Game: 5/1/1988 vs. Cleveland
Everyone remembers “the shot” against Cleveland MJ hit over Craig Ehlo in 1989, but the story starts before that. Jordan gave Ehlo and, in all fairness, the of the Cavs 105 points in two games. He dropped 50 the first game of the playoffs and followed up with a double-nickel the next game. If you count the last game of the regular season against the Celtics, Jordan scored 151 in his last three games at that point (Yes, that’s slightly over 50 ppg. in a three-game span). We can laugh at Ehlo all we want but no individual was stopping Mike in his Air Jordan III days. He spent a lot of time in the air that series, putting that rubber outsole to use. Here’s a challenge: Watch this video and this video and see if you can count how many times mike scored on Ehlo. First it’s funny, then it’s sad, then it’s funny all over again.
No. 1 Dunk Contest
Stats: Slam Dunk from the foul line
How could we make a list of best performances in the Air Jordan III and not make MJ’s dunk contest win number one? The battle of creativity between him and Dominique Wilkins was unreal and because of the era, dunks deemed simple now still left audiences stuck on stupid with amazement. Nique’s windmill slams were all about power and intimidation and flair. Mike had that too, but what put him over the top was his showmanship, style and, OK, maybe it didn’t hurt that he was at home in Chicago, but as soon as MJ stuck the landing on the free throw line dunk and pumped his fist, he knew he won. And he made the judges believe that anything less than another title for him would be absurd. Mike was (is) a winner and when he hooped in the III’s they caught everyone’s attention and turned his sneakers into stuff of legend all their own.