A Perfect Finale: The Air Jordan 14

02.03.13 5 years ago

Michael Jordan

A tree branch had smashed into a fence, leaving a gash in the railing. Pots in upheaval. Dirt scattered. Bushes and shrubbery laid out across the street like a giant puzzle. The tornado had done its work.

But inside, a television was on. It was Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, the final game of “The Last Dance.” There were six people: four adults and two boys, and the only voice in the room belonged to Bob Costas. “…crosscourt, Stockton. A three. It’s there!” Three-point game, 41.9 seconds left. For the first time all night, there was a feeling of finality in the air. This is it. You weren’t supposed to go against the god, yet there they were, wondering if time had finally caught up. Someone asked, “Who’s winning this?” and everyone responded. Jazz. Jazz. Jazz. Jazz and… Jazz. The last boy sitting on the floor wasn’t having it. Dreams come true right? The good guys always win? The 12-year-old still believed it. He didn’t know any better. It didn’t matter that it was a Game 6 on the road. It didn’t matter that the Bulls were old. It didn’t matter that the Jazz had stolen the last game, that Chicago had virtually no inside presence, that they were lucky just beating Indiana only two weeks prior, that Scottie Pippen was walking around like a calcified old man at the YMCA. They all waited for his answer, since no one really wanted to tell him he was wrong. In the end, when they turned to him and asked, “Who ya got?” he didn’t hesitate. Bulls.

Growing up as a kid who stuck his tongue out in pictures, collected Chicago memorabilia, played basketball, lived basketball, the sneakers never defined Michael Jordan. Nowadays, with MJ no long playing and an entire generation of fans having grown up with Jordans as cultural monsters rather than products of the best ballplayer on the planet, things are a little different. But back then, he made them.

When you watched Jordan play, the sneakers took on a life of their own. Inevitably, you associated each sneaker with your own experience of watching The G.O.A.T. The XIs will always make me think of a crown, elegant and breath taking, a re-mastery of the sport that made kids like myself kneel at the throne of 23. The VIs were the babies, a celebration of new life, an acknowledgement we were entering a new era of sport. The XIIs were hardened warriors, born through defiance. The XIVs were invincible. Through injuries, age and faltering knees, they moved with a speed and grace that blinded Bryon Russell, Shandon Anderson, Chris Morris and Jeff Hornacek.

I never wanted Jordan to return in Washington. I must’ve been one of the few. I respected… no, I cherished the way he went out in 1998. The SportsCenter highlight reels of that offseason were all taped, and they became my summer’s anthem. When he retired in January of 1999, I made my sixth grade class stop work. We went into the other room, turned on a television, and started watching the 24-hour Jordan coverage ESPN had going. We ooh’d when he went from the foul line in ’87. We smiled when he made “The Shot” in ’89. But no highlight ever compared to “The Last Shot,” with the XIVs on his feet. It is, by far, the greatest basketball highlight ever.

The XIVs, with their Ferrari-inspired Jumpman shield and low cut, aerodynamic side panels, and a midsole and mesh vents that appeared like they were taken straight off the car’s grille, were a fleeting sneaker. Mike broke them out too early, nearly a year in fact before they’d release. He only wore them (at times) in the Finals against the Jazz. Designed by Tinker Hatfield and Mark Smith, you could trace the details of the shoe back to the sleek sports car Jordan owned in Chicago.

Everyone knows how Michael Jordan finished off Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. He scored on Russell, stripped Karl Malone, and then came down and painted the most beautiful masterpiece ever seen on a basketball court.

The XIVs would go on to become one of the more sought-after Air Jordans, and would be released and re-released in some of the craziest setups of any shoe in the line. The sneaker got the low cut treatment, even though it basically already was a low cut. The details sometimes differed from shoe to shoe. It even got outfitted in strange colors like ginger, oxidized green and chutney.

But they were always popular – I distinctly remember going to the Hoophall Classic at Springfield College back in the winter in 2006 and seeing the recently released black/university blue XIVs (literally) everywhere. But more so than perhaps any other Jordan, these sneakers represented a single moment. They were the shoes Mike wore during his curtain call, his final opus: the lasting image we all had of him in the NBA (we’re not counting the Washington years).

The XIVs will always be about Ferraris, a smooth design and a low cut sneaker that killed on the court. They’ll also forever represent the hope of a kid who refused to believe dreams couldn’t come true.

To keep reminiscing about your favorite Air Jordan memories, stick with Dime, and Jordan (@Jumpman23 on both Twitter and Instagram) as the #XX8DaysOfFlight leads into the launch of the Air Jordan XX8.

Air Jordan 14

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