When the holiday season comes, sneakerheads generally have a few things to get excited about. Well, there used to be a few things. At one point, we had Christmas Day sneaker releases from all of the big brands, and we had the Air Jordan 11. Within the last few years, the joy of the Christmas releases has faded, but the energy around the Air Jordan 11 has remained.
This year, Jordan Brand is celebrating that shoe’s 25th anniversary with a “Jubilee” colorway releasing on Dec. 12. A few weeks ago, I was doom scrolling on Twitter and got my first “official” look at the sneaker, and my first reaction was the same it has been for the last decade: “I love the Air Jordan 11.”
Before we continue, we have to go back a bit. My love affair with the Air Jordan 11 runs deep. It started with the black/red, or “Bred,” as it is so affectionately called today. I’ve had real pairs, I’ve had fake pairs, and I’ve had pairs that I wasn’t sure about. Through it all, I have taken them to the court, worn them into the ground, and copped new pairs to replace them. At least that is how it was up until around 2010. At that point, I stopped playing ball in the shoes and they became more of a collector’s item. And that is how I engage with the shoes today.
OK, enough of the backstory. After seeing the news of the upcoming “Jubilee” release and getting over my initial excitement, I started to really examine the sneaker. Being both passionate about the world of sneakers and a daily participant in the quickly moving media around the culture, my eye has been trained to look at sneakers through a different lens. Like most, I enjoy the return of classic models that ring with nostalgia, and, like select few, I am prone to picking apart the nuances of a sneaker release to better inform the public on their buying choices. For the release of the Air Jordan 11 “Jubilee,” I felt more like doing the latter. There is something about it that just doesn’t sit the same way as the past models.
When the Air Jordan 11 originally released, Michael Jordan could do no wrong. His legend had reached godly levels on playgrounds around the world. Everything from the way he walked to the way he wore his shorts to, ultimately, the shoes that he wore had an everlasting impact on a generation of basketball players.
That included the clean lines and patent leather rand on the Air Jordan 11. The shoe’s designer, Tinker Hatfield, gave it patent leather partly so wearers could clean the shoe and let it shine like a sports car. The nearly blank upper left so much open for interpretation. I am not sure if this was Hatfield’s original intent, but it seems so obvious in retrospect that I’ve made it a part of my own personal storytelling about the shoe. The rand presented a muted reflection of the world around us, the cordura mesh signaled a toughness and tenacity toward the game, and the sleek and curvy midsole flowed like a physical manifestation of the effortless movement Mike made in the air. It was a nearly perfect design that didn’t need to show off a logo to establish how cool it is. It was cool all by itself. Apart from the thin 23 on the heel and the nearly imperceptible writing on the tongue, the Air Jordan 11 embodied everything we feel about Michael Jordan.
Or what we felt about Michael Jordan. As time passes and the legend of Michael transitions more into folklore told in drum circles of sneakerheads, so does the ability to reimagine the look of his signature sneakers. The story of Jordan leaping from the foul line in the dunk contest works because it is how we remember it. We’ve all seen it replayed countless times and can probably recreate it frame by frame if needed. And while we may miss a dribble here or skip that he actually stepped on the line, we’ll never really change the essence of the story.
The essence of that story has changed with the Air Jordan 11 “Jubilee.” The blank canvas that told a story of its own is now being painted, whether we like it or not. The addition of the word “Jordan” down the eyelets makes overt what we once cherished as sacred. For years, we’ve been forced to interpret what the Jordan 11 meant and what it represented through our own imaginations. Now, that onus is no longer there. My thought is that Tinker Hatfield, a man much wiser and far more talented than me, left the Jordan script off for a reason. Yes, I am aware it once was a part of his vision for the shoe, but in the end, it was left on the drawing table.
Because of how much I love the design of the Air Jordan 11, I’ve looked back and tried to reconcile my feelings for the change. Each time, despite those efforts, I come to the same conclusion: It shouldn’t be there.
Maybe if it was a part of the original design that was released, I wouldn’t have the same attachment to the logoless blank slate. Maybe I wouldn’t have the same attachment to the sneaker as a whole. Maybe I would have found another playground for my imagination and manifested my feelings for Mike in something else. But since we can’t go back in history and change things, I have to make the best of the present and find a way to escape my own bias. A bias that has me looking at multiple versions of the Air Jordan 11 in a storage unit that I visit once a month. (All pairs that I may have worn once, maybe.) Or a bias that has me still wanting to get another pair of the black and red 11s, because, apparently, two isn’t enough. That colorway might not even be enough. Because, let’s be honest, even though I love and hate the way Jordan Brand is celebrating the 25-year anniversary of the sneaker, I’ll still be trying to grab a pair when they release in December, like everyone else.