The first Air Jordan to feature Zoom Air, the Air Jordan 12 (Air Jordan XII) swapped out the Air Jordan 11’s distinctive patent and mesh upper for more a durable and sturdy full-grain leather, and featured such a workmanlike build it was worn by Bulls
centers Bill Wennington and Luc Longley. (The story was that the shoe was great for those suffering from plantar fasciitis—Jordan himself compared his centers wearing the shoe to “putting whitewalls on a garbage truck.”) The XI was built more for a post game, which Jordan was adopting as he grew older (and stronger).
Like the Air Jordan 11, the Air Jordan 12 utilized distinctive colorblocking that made them identifiable from the cheap seats even without any huge logos. The Jumpman on the tongue was smaller than ever before, although it was further reinforced by an embroidered TWO 3. As for firsts, aside from the Zoom Air cushioning, the Air Jordan 12 was the first Air Jordan released as part of Jordan Brand, which meant that “Nike
Air” was gone for good. And by the end of the run, so would the Nike box, replaced by a silver Jordan one. The man had been a brand since his first day in the League, this just made it official.
It wasn’t just the Bulls centers who wore Jordan’s shoe, either. Over the course of the ’96-97 season it was also worn by Scottie Pippen (who had his own perfectly good signature shoe at the time) and Toni Kukoc, among others. Whether it was a tribute to the shoe or the man, things worked out perfectly, as the Bulls once again were the last team standing. Although “standing” was about right—during one Finals game, Jordan fought through what was believed to be the flu, scoring 38 points in a pivotal Game Five victory over the Jazz. His black and red XIIs would be forever known as the “Flu Games.” Another legend born.