The original Air Jordan XV didn’t just look like a dress shoe, it felt like one, too, with a clunky sole and—for an Air Jordan anyway—a rather ill-fitting upper. Michael Jordan was retired, and it seemed as if his eponymous sneaker line was headed that way, too. It was a lesser shoe produced for lesser guards, the likes of Reggie Miller and Ray Allen, Hall of Famers to be sure but no one who would ever be considered the best ever. Tinker Hatfield has called it his least-favorite Air Jordan, which makes it an unlikely choice for a revival.
16 years after it was originally introduced, the Air Jordan XV returns to a far different sneakerscape, one which has perhaps finally caught up to some of the design elements that made it so difficult to digest the first time. The mix of woven and leather used in the upper has been used—in updated form—on the Air Jordan XXX1, the sharp dividing line separating the heel counter from the upper looks like something Acronym would come up with. Even the partial bootie, which made putting on the XV a chore, is a common design element today across many brands.
At the same time, what were once seen as dealbreakers are now more or less irrelevant. Whether Jordan wore a sneaker on-court or not used to be a major issue. Now, more than a decade after his final retirement, it doesn’t really matter one way or the other except to die-hard purists. The $190 price tag is more or less in line with other high-end sneakers. And the heavy Prada Sport influence is less apparent to those who’ve never even seen a pair of Americas Cups.
Most importantly though, the Air Jordan XV no longer needs to be judged as a performance basketball shoe, where it was a literal clunker. In 2016 it’s a lifestyle shoe, where its woven upper and highly sculpted midsole are assets, not detractions. Made during the baggy jeans era, it’s a shoe that can (even despite that elven tongue) translate to skinnier silhouettes. If it was introduced today, it would fit right into the Magista/Mercurial family and be an obvious candidate for sneakerbootdom. It’s halfway there already.
If you’re already familiar with the Air Jordan XV and its backstory, imagine seeing it for the first time today. Look at it with fresh eyes as it fits into the current aesthetic. Consider it as a current shoe rather than a retro. Forget what you thought of it back then, and ask yourself what you think of it now. That subtle Jumpman in the heel counter, the leather mudguard, even the all-the-way-to-the-toe lacing. There’s a lot to like.
Plus, consider this: Hatfield has always said that Air Jordan designs need to be polarizing—that if everyone liked it, it wouldn’t be a good design. Considering that Hatfield himself doesn’t like the XV, maybe that means it’s one of his best Air Jordan designs rather than his worst? Makes you think.