The only reason Michael Jordan
even had the Air Jordan 11 (Air Jordan XI) to debut in the 1995 NBA
Playoffs was because Tinker Hatfield
always believed. Even though the powers-that-be at Nike
tried to tell him that Michael Jordan was retired for good, that the line was finished, Hatfield carried on with the design of what would become the Air Jordan 11. What he came up with was a design inspired by a lawnmower, a lightweight ballistic mesh upper protected by a patent leather wrap around the base. The whole thing rested on a sculpted midsole and a clear outsole, which exposed a full-length carbon fiber springplate. In the right light, the shoe appeared to float.
The initial colorway — black patent leather and white ballistic mesh — made the shoe pop like no other, giving it a formal, spatted look. But the fact that the patent served a functional purpose was lost on those who went on to put patent leather on countless other sneakers. Follow-ups included a primarily black playoff version with a translucent red sole, an all-white All-Star version with a leather upper, and lowtops that put a whole new, heavily ventilated upper on the midsole/outsole unit. The “Space Jams,” which Jordan wore in the movie of the same name as well as the ’95 Playoffs, didn’t hit retail until years later.
As usual, Jordan had to do things his way. As noted earlier, he debuted the Air Jordan 11 (XI) during his 1995 playoff run, long before their scheduled release, inadvertently creating the same sort of pre-release hype that Nike did intentionally with the original Air Jordan. What, was someone going to tell Michael Jordan what he could or couldn’t wear? The shoes received their proper introduction in the ’96 season, as the Bulls
went on to win an NBA-best 72 games and defeat the Seattle SuperSonics in the NBA Finals. The king was back.