Why the Air Jordan II Matters: A Conversation With Don C

“I knew I couldn’t hoop so I wasn’t gonna get no shoe that way! I had to figure out another way. I cannot hoop at all, but I have a Jordan.”

Image via Nike

Don Crawley, known to the world as Don C, doesn’t even pretend that he’s got that kind of game. This son of Chicago’s South Side might have put his name to some coveted basketball shoes, but he’s not feigning sporting skills. “I knew I couldn’t hoop so I wasn’t gonna get no shoe that way! I had to figure out another way. I cannot hoop at all, but I have a Jordan," he says.

Don’s humility is almost at odds with the Chanel lambskin handbag inspired lavishness of the latest Just Don Jordans. He’s in London for a pre-launch of the new package — a colossal box that contains the new cream-colored version of the Air Jordan II, a leather cap and a pin. It’s the kind of packaging you have to buy its own storage unit after taking a deep breath and shelling out £535 in the 1948 NikeLab space.

Building a brand on a love of storytelling in product and his experiences with luxury goods, the Just Don line of premium, snakeskin brimmed baseball caps (based on the custom “buck fifty” hat — a Chicago hustler staple back in the day) has complemented Don C’s G.O.O.D Music career. While he professes an ambition for the brand to become the Jordan of hats, he spins the success into a motivational story for anyone else looking to make their mark, “I was able to do a Jordan Brand collaboration just off a hat! It’s not rocket science.” 

30 years old this year, and sold for a staggering $100 when it debuted, 1986’s Air Jordan II remains the most underrated shoe in the dynasty’s history. That price, and a high-end look, made it one of the original dope boy necessities, as Peter Moore and Bruce Kilgore’s Italian-made creation eliminated the swoosh to create something truly unusual. The world wasn’t ready for it after the smash hit of its predecessor, so part II remains a cult shoe rather than a phenomenon. 

“From a design aesthetic, I think it’s fresh. It’s so 2016. It’s like cream so you can wear it with everything,“ explains Don of the latest collaboration, “It should age real well. You can hoop and style in these.” 

Narratively, this partnership makes sense — Don’s python accented vision of sports basics parallel the original Air Jordan II’s iguana texture panels. The celebration of the street-level trendsetters as well as the trendsetter on the court, plus of course, the Chicago connection, is a set of logical connections. Don reiterates that while it had its share of imitators, you can’t beat the real thing, “I promise, with this one we tried to step it up more and more. No other luxury brand can give you a sole like this.” 

What he lacks in buckets, he makes up for in other techniques, “I play defense and hustle — that’s my mentality.”

Ahead of the Air Jordan and Just Don collection’s global release at the end of the month, we sat down with Don C to discuss the nuances of an occasionally overlooked masterpiece.

Look out for tweets from @Jumpman23 and @NikeLab for a chance to get your hands on the Jordan x Just Don Pack via a raffle system. Raffle closes January 29. Those successful will be notified by email on January 29 and the shoes will be available for collection at NikeLab 1948 London 30th January.

I liked some of the old fake gear like the BOSS AMERICA hats and sweats more than some of the actual product.

Yeah! It's funny – on tours, I would always go outside the venue and pick up bootleg tour merch because I'd get ideas from it. They had some good ideas! They're not controlled by a company. Sometimes when a company asks you to design something, there are all of these perimeters. But a bootlegger is just like, “These look the freshest!

They don't have those corporate interruptions so they know exactly what the consumer wants.

They know exactly what the streets want to see.

It's interesting that you've shone a light on the II. The Jordan I came out in the UK briefly back in the day, but the II never really dropped over here originally. The IIIs were hard to get, then the IV's were everywhere, so it's good to talk about the II for once.

Really? So did the Jordan I sell out right away in the UK?

Not to my knowledge. That 1987 issue of Sports Illustrated is odd too, where Michael’s dunking in Court Force Lows for some weird reason on the front, but on the back cover there's a Newport ad with a guy smoking while wearing a pair of Jordan II's.

On the same issue? That's a great marketing idea for a company – front and back.

But with good health and bad health on opposite sides. Do you feel that Chicago style has been acknowledged until recently? In the UK it's easy to get very New York-centric and forget that cities like Philly and Chicago have their own distinct styles and crazes. Even the braids lately were picked up from your city.

Oh yeah. Chicago is like any other big city in that it has its own styles, and it's hard to say which ones it can claim, but I will say that Jordans are one of those styles. In the late 1990s and early 2000s – I moved to New York in 2002 – I was aspiring to be in the music business, playing beats for A&Rs and record labels. Every time I'd walk up to anywhere, I'd have retro Jordans on.

That was back when the V's and VI's kind of sat for a moment.

I'd have VIs, VIs or Vs on my feet. People would freak out. It wasn't that long ago...actually I guess it was a long time ago. I'd go into people's offices and they'd be like, “Are those the Jordans from back in the day?” I think maybe two years later, everybody in New York was wearing Jordans. Friends from Chicago came to visit and they'd look down and say, “I see y'all New York niggas wearing Jordans now huh?” It was funny. They never knew that they wore Js there.

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