It’s no shocker that a sneaker that was designed to wear with tuxedos has become a special occasion unto itself every year, and such is the case with the Air Jordan XI. Anyone who gets into shoes on a fanatic basis is taught from the beginning that this sneaker means something. Michael Jordan wore them during the Chicago Bulls’ record-breaking 72-10 season in 1995-1996. He also wore them in Space Jam, the 1996 film that occupies a special place for anyone who grew up during the decade. The Air Jordan XI also represents the madness that can occur within sneaker culture and has caused the public to collectively lose its mind every holiday season. To see just how crazy things can get over sneakers, let's take a look back at the last time Jordan Brand released the “Concord” version of the shoe, which re-releases this weekend, in 2011.
Before we jump into what happened two days before Christmas in 2011, we need to take a trip back in time to gain a little bit of perspective. People might think that sneaker riots are a new phenomenon, or at least one that was sparked by the release of the Nike SB “Pigeon” Dunk in 2005 in New York City. That’s not true. The “Concord” Air Jordan XI was re-released for the first time in 2000, and the hype over the shoe reached a fever pitch. Mike Richardson, who worked as a manager at Foot Locker for over 15 years, remembers the release at a store in Brockton, Massachusetts, and says the store had to put a sign up that the shoes were all gone. He goes on to recall that customers tried to break through the store’s gate and even smash the glass window to get the shoes.
A similar fervor also occurred when Jordan Brand dropped a special "Defining Moments Pack" with matching black-and-gold pairs of the Air Jordan XI and Air Jordan VI in 2006, which people have paid nearly $2,000 for in the past year alone. Sneaker Politics owner Derek Curry has recalled on numerous occasions a story of getting a boatload of the packs in a post-Katrina New Orleans that resulted in kids chasing him out of the local mall.
The tradition of Air Jordan XIs at Christmas time, though, starts in 2008. That year Jordan only released its retro product in two-shoe “Countdown Packs,” where the numbers of the shoes added up to 23. The final one to come out was the “Bred” Air Jordan XIs and “Taxi” Air Jordan XIIs. The shoes would drop on December 23 and those in the know camped out to get their hands on the shoes. There was violence over this release, but the overarching public weren’t into sneakers the way they are today.
That would change a year later when the “Space Jam” Air Jordan XIs came back out. The pop-cultural connection to the shoe, and the fact that a lot of people had missed out on the "Bred" XIs the year before, caused it to be one of the most anticipated sneaker releases of all-time. People had been anticipating the shoe for months, going into every footwear store to find out when they were finally going to release. These weren’t just the people who are clued into NikeTalk and sneakers on the internet, but rather folks who had never stepped foot into a sneaker boutique or ever worn an all-over print hoodie. They wanted those damn shoes, and they came out in droves to try and get a pair.
Stores didn’t know how to deal with the chaos—most Foot Lockers and other mall shops had never seen a release like this one. The managers weren’t equipped to deal with fanatic crowds, as most of them had never experienced it before. There were no raffle systems or definitive release-date protocol. They had to deal with people ripping at the gate, trying to cut in line, and pushing past others to get into the store and get the shoes. Even with all that, the public was hooked on Air Jordan XIs.
The next year saw the legend of the Air Jordan XI grow with the re-release of the “Cool Grey” version of the shoe, a colorway from Jordan’s days with the Wizards in 2001, and one caused plenty of its own chaos upon its initial release.
In 2010, I was working at a Foot Locker in New Jersey and saw the lengths people went through to try and get the shoes. Those who weren’t adamant shoe collectors and couldn’t tell you any historical background on the shoes wanted the “Cool Greys,” and they made sure they had their connect in line. There were people who were buying employees their own pairs to make sure they could get their hands on the shoe, or even flat out offering bundles of cash, on top of the retail price, so they wouldn’t miss out on the release.
The next year, 2011, was when the Air Jordan XI reached monumental levels. The “Concords” were coming back. The “Space Jam” was big. The “Cool Greys” were big, too. But the black-and-white version of the shoe made people lose their minds. It’s not because Boyz II Men wore them or that black patent leather looks damn good on those sneakers, either. It was more that everyone had seen the previous Air Jordan XI releases and wanted to get in on this pair. Positioning the release two days before Christmas is vital to understanding why the shoes caused malls to turn in war zones. If people missed out on the release, there was essentially no time to try and get whoever asked for the shoes their pair to put under the tree. If you didn’t live in New York, you couldn’t just pop into Flight Club and grab a pair. You couldn’t get anything shipped that fast. And even if you were to meet up with someone who had a pair, you were going to pay way over retail to procure them.
It’s no surprise that Jordan has learned from all of this and put the shoes out two weeks before the holiday instead of two days prior.
When you hear about crazy incidents taking place over sneakers, they tend to be isolated cases. Maybe one random mall or shop will have something reckless happen, but everything else will go as planned. That wasn’t the case with the “Concord” release. Malls from the East to West Coats saw disorderly mobs of customers and violence break out. Someone was stabbed at a mall in Richmond, California. Police had to use pepper spray to quell the crowds in Seattle, and a woman in Atlanta left her kids in a car while she tried to get the shoes, which prompted the police smash her car windows.
Nike even had to release a statement that disavowed everything that happened around the shoes, saying, “We are extremely concerned to hear of the reported crowd incidents around the launch of the Air Jordan XI at some select retail locations. Consumer safety and security is of paramount importance. We encourage anyone wishing to purchase our product to do so in a respectful and safe manner."
Luckily, I didn’t see any violence happen at the store I was working at over the shoes, but the threat of it was real. You knew going to the mall that day that you were opening the floodgates by offering up those shoes to the public. It was the sneaker version of Arnold Schwarzenegger fighting Sinbad in Jingle All the Way, except they didn’t want a Turbo-Man, they wanted “Concords.”
It’s not fair to say the 2011 “Concord” release was the exact moment that the mainstream public got into shoes, as that had happened a few years earlier with the “Space Jams.” But it continued to grow the space into what we see today. Shoes that would flip for two to three times their retail price were no longer exclusive to cool guys on the internet—everyone could get in on it and become a reseller. It also pushed people away from shoes. Those who had enjoyed wearing something cool could no longer be bothered with what would transpire over a pair of XIs. On the flip side of that, however, it also increased the art of backdooring sneakers. Store managers became the person with the keys to someone’s happiness, and the public would do whatever it took to get the shoes.
As the “Concord” XIs re-release this weekend, it’s a great time to remind everyone: It’s just a pair of shoes. It’s not worth risking your life or someone else’s safety over. Be cool. If you miss out, take the L and grab your pair off of StockX. You’ll still have them in time for when Santa slides down the chimney.