Michael Jordan debuted the 11th iteration of his signature shoe in the 1995 Playoffs against the Orlando Magic. It wasn’t until the next season that he debuted the all-black version with the white and red trim. He went on to win a league-record 72 games and took his team to their fourth NBA championship while wearing these shoes.
They’re known as the “Playoffs” or, where I’m from, they were the “black and red Patent Leathers.”
When I was in elementary school, one of our after-care instructors had these shoes and I was f*cking hooked. These Jordans, my friends, are my Holy Grail. To me, they’re the best shoes ever made. Not only do they look awesome, but they came out at what is arguably the height of MJ’s dominance. Who can forget those new road black pinstripe jerseys the Bulls would wear that year, too? For 16 years, I’ve been dying to have the black and red “Patent Leathers.”
Of course, when I say this,
d*ckheads sneakerheads always come back with “Well, how can they be your holy grail when they come out every couple of years?”
Simple: I already explained why I couldn’t get the originals. When they re-released in 2001, I was still in high school and getting them was a no-go. When they came out in 2009 as part of the Countdown Pack, I was in grad school and too poor to drop $300 on two pairs of shoes. So I waited. And waited. And waited.
Last week, thanks to a connect (you know who you are, so shout out to you, brotha), I was able to cop the Jordan 11s without having to deal with sites crashing, rolling the dice or standing in line for three days. I didn’t get the shoes for free beforehand like the cool kids, either. When the shoes came in the mail and I laid hands on them for the first time (oddly, I don’t think I’d ever even touched the shoe before), I was ecstatic. It was one of those out-of-body joys you get from hearing a classic album or watching a legendary live performance. I finally owned the Crown Jewel. I finally had my hands on the shoes that defined so much of my childhood.
“They’re just shoes, though.”
If you go to enough message boards or follow enough of the right people on Twitter, then the “shoe game” can appear callous and soulless with guys collecting kicks just to have them. On the outside, shoe collectors may just seem like guys grabbing the latest trend to appear cooler than everyone else. Kicks get scooped up half the time by guys (and girls) more interested in making extra money or taking an Instagram picture than actually wearing something they think is dope. I actually found it funny over the last couple of weeks watching so many kids who are barely old enough to have seen any of the Bulls’ 72 wins fighting over 11s like they hold any emotional significance.
For me, the XIs represent more than a dope colorway or some “rare” shoe for my collection. They’re a sign of the culture. They represent the best year any NBA team ever had. They represent a guy losing his dad and crying on the floor because he couldn’t handle the emotional weight of winning an NBA championship on Father’s Day.
They’re just a shoe? No. They’re so much more. And I hope everyone with a shoe collection big or small is able to keep sight of the why we fell in love with them in the first place.