Doug Sibor contributes to Sneaker Report and Bleacher Report, and can often be found shuttling between Fenway Park, Gillette Stadium and TD Garden. If you wish to discuss sports, sneakers, reality TV or acceptable meats to use as pizza toppings, follow him here.
No. 10 - Jalen Rose, Michigan Wolverines
Stats: 22 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists
Game: 12/29/1992 vs. North Carolina Tar Heels
A wild finish to this semi-final matchup of the Rainbow Classic showed just how special a player Rose could be. With the Fab Five all wearing the Nike Air Force Max as their shoe of choice, the young Wolverines needed Rose’s heroics to get them into the tournament finals. Rose’s desperation half court alley-oop to Chris Webber gave them a one point lead with 35 seconds to play, and then after North Carolina took the lead his put-back with two seconds left gave them the win and a berth in the finals. This game would not be their last thriller against UNC that season.
No. 9 - Michael Smith, Providence College Friars
Stats: 16 points, 16 rebounds
Game: 3/13/1994 vs. Georgetown Hoyas
While Smith’s NBA career didn’t quite pan out, the 6’ 8” power forward was one of the nation’s best for one glorious week in New York City. Smith capped an incredible week for both himself and his underdog Providence team by leading them to victory over Georgetown in the Big East Tournament finals, camping out underneath and battling in the post against the Hoya’s Othella Harrington. In a game that saw a staggering 50 fouls called, the durable Nike Air Force Max was a perfect companion for Smith in the post as he snagged a game-high 16 rebounds.
No. 8 - Chris Webber, Michigan Wolverines
Stats: 27 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 block
Game: 3/21/1993 vs. UCLA Bruins
The highly-favored Wolverines needed overtime to do it, but thanks to the highly efficient shooting of Chris Webber were able to dispatch UCLA in the second round of the NCAA tournament. A back and forth affair saw Webber help lead his team on a 23-4 second half run run to give Michigan a 76-68 lead with 3:48 to play, only to give it all back and head to overtime tied at 77. A controversial last second put-back by Jimmy King sealed a win for the Air Force Max-wearing Wolverines in OT, advancing them to the Sweet Sixteen.
No. 7 - Juwan Howard, Michigan Wolverines
Stats: 18 points, 16 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block
Game: 2/28/1993 vs. Ohio State Buckeyes
At Michigan, you’re best remembered for what you do against Ohio State. As a sophomore, Juwan Howard showed just what kind of player he was by posting one of the best games of his career in leading Michigan to a two point win. The lockdown fit of the Air Force Max kept the power forward grounded in the post as he brutalized Ohio State defenders Lawrence Funderburke and Rickey Dudley, continuously beating them to the ball for rebounds and put backs all night long. Howard’s huge effort added just another great chapter to the already-legendary rivalry, and helped Michigan continue on their way towards a second consecutive Final Four berth.
No. 6 - Charles Barkley, Phoenix Suns
Stats: 32 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 steals, 1 block
Game: 6/16/1993 vs. Chicago Bulls
After a huge regular season and playoffs, Charles Barkley arrived in the NBA Finals with expectations at an all-time high. He had just won his only MVP award, and would not be going head-to-head with Michael Jordan with the title on the line. His legacy was at stake, and with his Suns team trailing two games to one Barkley needed to be at his best in Game 4 in Chicago. Forced to handle much of the offensive load with the season on the line, Barkley utilized the comfort and cushioning of the Air Force Max’s heel unit and produced a triple-double despite seeing immense defensive pressure all night long.
No. 5 - Chris Webber, Michigan Wolverines
Stats: 23 points, 11 rebounds, 1 assist
Game: 4/5/1993 vs. North Carolina Tar Heels
The part of this game people remember is “The Timeout,” and rightfully so since it basically decided the game. However, it overshadowed what was an amazing overall performance from Webber that, had he not made that catastrophic mental error, would likely have garnered him a Most Outstanding Player award for the Final Four. His precision from the floor was on full display, as the forward shot 11-for-18 and corralled five offensive rebounds in bringing the Wolverines to the brink of a national title. Despite the heavy workload, the durable nubuck upper of the Air Force Max was able to maintain its shape and helped keep Webber fresh down in in the post.
No. 4 - Juwan Howard, Michigan Wolverines
Stats: 18 points, 20 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal
Game: 1/9/1993 vs. Wisconsin Badgers
Michigan and Wisconsin have had some memorable battles on the court, and this Big 10 slugfest was no exception. Juwan Howard was the most dominant player on the floor all night, though, pulling down a game-high 20 rebounds and challenging the Michigan school record. The locked in fit of the Air Force Max gave Howard the stable base he needed to attack the defense all game long, and he was able to stifle the Badgers’ offensive attack as well and force them into a very poor .394 shooting percentage on the night. The result of this huge effort by their center was a 25-point blowout win for Michigan over their rivals.
No. 3 - Charles Barkley, Phoenix Suns
Stats: 43 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks
Game: 6/1/1993 vs. Seattle Supersonics
In this pivotal Game 5 of theWestern Conference Finals, Charles Barkley proved why he was the NBA’s MVP that season as he went out and absolutely dominated the Seattle Supersonics to the tune of a triple-double. The “Round Mound of Rebound” was unstoppable, maneuvering around the freakishly athletic Shawn Kemp in the post in his Nike Air Force Max. He was incredible at the line as well, putting in all 11 free throw attempts in a game where he needed to be just about perfect in order to help his team push Seattle to the brink of elimination.
No. 2 - Jalen Rose, Michigan Wolverines
Stats: 25 points, 2 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals
Game: 12/30/1992 vs. Kansas Jayhawks
The Rainbow Classic finals saw a matchup of two teams that would reach the Final Four just three months down the road, and Michigan capped an incredible run to the tournament title by topping a tough Kansas squad by 12 points. Although Chris Webber was named MVP, Jalen Rose certainly made his case in the Nike Air Force Max by playing lockdown defense and providing a game-high 25 points a night after his heroics in the semi-finals. He accomplished all this despite playing with an injured left (shooting) wrist, which he had injured the night before after crashing into the TV table.
No. 1 - Charles Barkley, Phoenix Suns
Stats: 44 points, 24 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block
Game: 6/5/1993 vs. Seattle Supersonics
In Game 7, Barkley proved once and for all why he deserved to win the MVP award over Michael Jordan. The rugged forward was simply everywhere, with the heel unit of the Air Force Max providing the cushioning he needed to set up and get to work in the post. He shot an efficient 12-for-20 from the field while also converting 19 of 22 free throw attempts, grabbing an additional 10 offensive rebounds as well. This incredible all-around effort pretty much single-handedly pushed the Suns into the NBA Finals and a date with Jordan’s powerhouse Bulls squad.