As I planned to move into my first real apartment back on New Year’s Day 2005, I knew exactly what my first purchase would be. Before I procured a television or even a refrigerator, I went on eBay and bought a Michael Jordan poster I’d loved since I was a kid. There’s a decent chance you know the poster, and a better chance you remember the commercial that inspired it.
My new place had a few quirks, to put it mildly. It was either 90 degrees or 50 degrees in the apartment at all times, and the building’s only thermostat resided in the hair salon downstairs. (I had a key, but it was still pretty weird.) I didn’t have a dedicated parking spot, so I had to walk about 10 minutes to my car, somewhat defeating the purpose of having a car. And the fluorescent light in the kitchen didn’t work for five of the seven years I lived there.
None of this mattered to me, of course. Your first place gives you a sense that you’re finally in control of your own destiny, an eternally cool feeling. And it’s great to have a space you can craft in your own image, even if that entails a room decorated for Halloween all year round. (Even I think it’s kind of a miracle I got married.)
The centerpiece of the apartment was, of course, the Jordan poster. I liked watching M.J. — at least when he wasn’t eviscerating the Knicks — and I loved his shoes, but the message was what stood out: “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that’s why I succeed.” For a 25-year-old still trying to figure it all out, it was a daily reminder that it was okay to stumble sometimes, provided you pick yourself up and keep moving forward.
I was working an overnight shift when I moved in there, and every night on my way out, I’d tap the poster and think of better days ahead. That alone wouldn’t be enough to get me through the night, but it at least got me out the door.
When I heard that Jordan Brand was planning to release sneakers inspired by iconic posters, I hoped they would use my poster. They didn’t — the XII was based on “The Master,” while the II was derived from “Wing It” — but I still dug the concept.
It helps matters if the sneaker looks great. The Wing It Air Jordan II, which was sent to DIME to preview, has the feel of an instant classic. The corresponding poster featured a close-up of the OG II’s in black and white, which was duplicated here for a simple, clean colorway. Even my wife, very particular when it comes to footwear, described them as “pretty.”
In general, I’ve long been intrigued by Jordan’s second sneaker, which was produced in Italy and was modeled after the leather dress shoes M.J. favored at the time. The AJ II couldn’t help but be overshadowed, nestled as it was between its uber-significant predecessor and the subsequent 13-sneaker reign of Tinker Hatfield, who dismissed the AJ II as an “industrial project” in Driven from Within.
For my part, I have a soft spot for things that identify as the prelude to something truly great. The AJ II is like a sneaker version of Nirvana’s Bleach: It was worthwhile in its own right — you can never take away the 63-point game at Boston Garden or “Negative Creep” — but got caught in the undertow when it all came together mere moments later.
Still, you can make the case the high-end feel of the II was a few decades ahead of its time, and recent events have backed up that concept. The XX9 ventured back to Italy for its unique materials, while Don C’s Jordan collaboration breathed new life into an unquestioned classic.
“I think the II was really a good shoe for us to do because the original II was produced in Italy,” Don C told Hypebeast in January, “and it was like the original luxury sportswear item in popular culture, period. So, I think because luxury sportswear is such a key point in what my brand represents, it ended up being really appropriate for our shoe to be the Air Jordan II silhouette.”
All that said, my favorite thing about the “Wing It” II – and Jordans in general – remains the storytelling element.
Call me a sentimentalist, but I feel that our sneakers can and should be far more than instruments of hype. I’ve always been much more interested in the stories behind our kicks, both the ones they arrived with and the ones we write ourselves.
As such, I always appreciate when a brand goes the extra mile to feature unique inspirations, like an obscure sweater or a beloved 90s sitcom. Likewise, I’m guessing there are at least a handful of people out there with the same relationship with the “Wing It” poster as I have with “Failure.”
Speaking of which, I moved to a new place a few years back, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that the M.J. poster came with me. It now resides in the basement, though I have a funny feeling it’s going to end up on my son’s wall someday. He’s six months old, so we have a little time.
Who knows? Hopefully by then, we’ll each have some matching sneakers to go along with it.