Obviously, things have come a long way in the past decade, in many regards. For one, phones have cameras now. And with the business of sneakers growing exponentially, mainstream media coverage of what had once been a niche hobby has skyrocketed.
As such, the unveiling of the Air Jordan XX9 was a far more substantial affair. There were hors d’oeuvres and a small buffet, before a decent-sized group of invited media and the Jordan Classic high school all-americans entered an auditorium. After a brief video presentation, Michael Jordan himself emerged to give the world its first look at the XX9, which retails in September for $225. (You can see Russell Westbrook wear it in the playoffs.)
With the constant stream of retro sneakers, it can be easy to forget how involved the man behind his eponymous brand has been over the years. Hearing legendary designer Tinker Hatfield describe the midnight phone calls from Jordan during the two-year development of the sneaker–and seeing M.J.’s relative lack of enthusiasm when asked about the Bobcats making the playoffs–it’s obvious the game shoe is his baby.
“He’s not my wife,” Hatfield said about his level of interaction with Jordan. “But it’s close.”
The Jordan Brand set up two rooms dedicated, respectively, to innovation and craftsmanship. That was fitting, as the game shoe has always somewhat straddled the line between form and function, probably slightly prioritizing the latter. After all, it needs to be worthy of the greatest player ever, even if he long ago hung up his sneakers.
The XX9 brought back the Flight Plate cushioning system, its predecessor’s finest aspect and arguably the greatest technological advance in Air Jordan history. But just because something was already good didn’t mean it couldn’t become even better. A tendril on the outsole serves as a bridge between the heel and forefoot Zoom Air bags; Jordan compared its smooth ride to a Ferrari shifting into gear. (And he’s someone who would actually know what that feels like.)
“The Flight Plate for the XX8 was a new concept, and it worked really well,” Hatfield said. “But once a product’s been out there long enough, you learn more and more about really how well it works. … The wear testers were telling us that (the XX8s) were faster, played quicker; they felt the propulsion off the floor and the springiness of it, and the rigidity like a sports car.
“But we were also hearing that the transition from heel to toe wasn’t as smooth. [The XX9] is a direct reaction to smoothing out that transition.”
The true highlight, however, is the newest innovation: a performance woven upper they called Flight Weave, which feeds into the “Tailored for Flight” mantra assigned to the sneaker. The woven upper features 25 million pixels–Hatfield compared it to a high-definition TV–designed to provide the wearer with a unique fit seemingly tailored to his foot. As a result, though every sneaker has a story, the XX9 takes that concept to another level.
Much like the Air Jordan 2, the brand looked to Italy for luxury materials, in this case utilizing a manufacturing process that generally is utilized on silk ties, football jerseys and labels affixed to clothing. The one-piece upper was created in Italy using something called a weaving machine, and then was affixed to the sneaker.
The end result is a layer of fabric similar to Flyknit, but more high-end in terms of material. The upper met the brand’s goals in terms of “structure, support, interior comfort and exterior abrasion resistance.” In layman’s terms, though the XX9 is the most lightweight Hatfield-designed Air Jordan and provides a sock-like fit, it’s proven to be incredible durable in testing.