One Step Back
Publish date: November 20th 2017
Written by Travis Tong
Edited by Michelle La
Although Jordan was an unstoppable force on the basketball court, he was not impervious to fault as a human being. Following a gambling scandal in 1992, the murder of his father in 1993, and burnout from being a celebrity, the superstar decided it came time to retire as an NBA professional.
With Jordan headed off to Minor League Baseball to fulfill his late-father’s aspirations of him as a baseball professional, Tinker Hatfield remained determined to keep Jordan Brand alive. During this period of time, the Air Jordan IX sneaker was released to celebrate Jordan’s international rise to fame. Descriptive words in various languages depicted Jordan’s greatness and represented his global influence. Meanwhile, the Chicago Bulls defied expectations and reached the ’93-’94 playoff semifinals before falling short without their star player. Despite their short-lived success, the Bulls would begin their ’94-’95 season with an abysmal 23 win to 25 loss ratio. Michael Jordan too, would find himself in a precarious situation with the Minor League Baseball entering a strike. In a turn of events which made it seem like the stars had aligned, the stage was set for the Jumpman to make his comeback.
On March 1995, Jordan marked his return to the NBA winning 24 of their next 34 games which propelled him and his to the playoffs. The Bulls hero played in the baseball cleat-like Jordan X which commemorated a list of Jordan’s achievements on the sole. The sneaker was emblazoned with the number 45 on its side as an homage to Jordan’s stint in the baseball minor league.
Although Jordan could play under his own number 23, he would continue to play under the number 45 in remembrance of his father. After handily defeating the Boston Celtics in the ’94 -’95 quarterfinals, Jordan would shock the world (and Tinker Hatfield!) when he debuted the prototype Jordan XI sneakers in the opening game of the semifinals. For many, the Jordan XI is considered the most popular Jordan of all time. Not only did it mark Jordan’s resurgence, but the unique patent-leather finish in the design appealed to not only Jordan fans, but also to a wide breadth of fashionistas. In addition to this, the cult classic Space Jam made the XI one of the most desirable Jordan’s of all time.
On that same day however, Jordan would lose Chicago the first semifinal game after losing the ball to Nick Anderson at a critical moment. Anderson would later comment that “number 45 doesn’t explode like number 23,” and would prompt Jordan to return to his old jersey to play his remaining six playoff games despite it resulting in a $100,000 USD fine. The Bulls would fall short after a hard-fought six game series, but this became the spark that reignited Jordan’s desire for his fourth NBA title.
Three Steps Forward
Driven by his playoff loss, Jordan and his all-star team dictated the Central Conference in the ’95 -’96 regular season with an astounding 88% winning percentage. Jordan was back with a vengeance and was awarded with yet another All-Star Game MVP and Regular Season MVP award for his standout performances. Carrying this momentum forward, the Bulls would dominate the entirety of the ‘95-’96 playoffs and would get their revenge against Anderson’s Orlando Magic which ended after four convincing games. After beating the Seattle SuperSonics in the Finals on Father’s Day, Michael Jordan was seen crying in the locker room as this was the first championship he had won since the murder of his father. Rocking the Jordan XI and his fourth NBA title ring, Michael Jordan became the second person in NBA history to sweep all MVP awards for the season. He was officially back in business.
In an era where flashier sneakers, such as the Nike Foamposite would be seen on the court, Nike and Tinker Hatfield wanted to differentiate Jordan XII as an iconic game-changer for both Michael Jordan and his fans. Inspired by 19th century Japanese women’s footwear and the Japanese flag, Nisshoki, Hatfield presented the Jordan XII to Michael Jordan in time for his playoff run. With another victorious season, Jordan would return to battle for his fifth NBA title. Facing strong resistance against the Utah Jazz in the ’96-’97 Playoff Finals, Michael Jordan wearing the full-length Zoom Air sneakers, would clutch the Chicago Bulls two decisive victories. In the fifth game of the Finals, Jordan suffering from a stomach flu, infamously wore a pair of red and black Jordan XII to score 38 points and would give the Chicago Bulls a deciding victory in a historic moment that is now dubbed the Flu Game (and thus giving the black/red color way the name). The Bulls yet again won another title with Michael Jordan as he secured his fifth championship ring after a hard-fought Game 6 against the Jazz.
Seeing how Jordan would prowl on the basketball court like a black panther, Hatfield created a panther-influenced Jordan XIII without consulting Jordan. When it came time for the shoe to be presented, the Jumpman was delighted and surprised, stating that only his closest friends would call him “Black Cat”. With a unique sole resembling a panther paw and a holographic “eye” on the heel of the shoe, the Jordan XIII became a defining shoe for Michael Jordan in his conquest to complete his second three-peat victory. It would be the first time since 1992 where Jordan and the Bulls would need to fight their way through a grueling seven game series. In the end, the Bulls prevailed and would meet the Utah Jazz once again for a Finals rematch. Tinker Hatfield, once again finding inspiration from exotic sports cars (this time a Ferrari), would give the star the “comfiest pair of Jordan’s” the Jordan XIV, on his route to achieve his sixth ring. Despite cautioning Jordan not to wear the shoe, Jordan would debut them in the Finals against the Utah Jazz. The Jazz, proving once again to be formidable opponents, displayed resilience as they took Jordan’s Bulls to Game 6. Yet it would be in this very game where Jordan would give his best clutch performance, which is considered unsurpassed to this day in NBA Finals history. With 42 seconds left on the clock in the final quarter, Jordan miraculously threw a shot into the Jazz’s net. Following a brief time out, Jordan would give the Bulls a dramatic game-winning jump shot with 5 seconds left, aptly named the Last Shot. The second three-peat was completed and Jordan’s record of six NBA championship titles has still not been broken.
Michael Jordan’s legacy as a Chicago Bulls athlete would come to an end with his second three-peat. Amidst a NBA lockout, fellow Bull star teammates and coach were due to leave and Jordan announced his second retirement. He later became the owner and manager of the Washington Wizards. Tinker Hatfield, too, would soon hand off his responsibilities of upholding Jordan Brand’s legacy after creating the controversial Jordan XV with its polarizing design.
Unparalleled during his time as a professional NBA athlete, Jordan set the stage to become an icon in the fashion and sports realms. Nike, without Jordan and Hatfield, might not exist today without the ingenuity of these individuals working together. Although Jordan and Hatfield would later collaborate to create the Jordan XX, XXIII, 2010-2013, and the Jordan XXVIII to XXX, it is unquestionable that the most memorable Jordan sneakers are the14 pairs that shaped Jordan’s career and brand.