My Kind Of Shoe: Air Jordan X “Chicago” Returns After 17 Years

The Air Jordan X “Chicago” drops tonight at midnight, and is no question a coveted sneaker simply because it hasn’t been around in a while. Until tonight, it hadn’t been released in 17 years, and OG pairs fetch a pretty significant premium on the secondary market. Simply put, a lot of Jordan aficionados have been waiting a long time to get a fresh version of Chicagos.

In addition, a big part of the Retro Jordan appeal is their historical significance, and the Chicagos provide more than their share of indelible images. The X’s were the game model for the 1994-95 season, the beginning of which Michael Jordan missed while playing Arizona Fall League baseball. Jordan wore Chicagos for his comeback game on March 19, 1995 against the Pacers, and he wore them for the Spike Lee-dubbed Double Nickel game.

(In what I’d imagine might be the only instance of this, Jordan wasn’t the first player to wear his own sneaker on the court. Scottie Pippen, for one, wore them for an offseason charity game, notably using them as a visual prop in an attempt to lure MJ back to the Bulls. Pippen also wore them in Jordan’s return game against the Pacers as a presumed show of solidarity.)

Jordan shot 7-for-28 in his return game, his shot flat and his legs understandably not quite under him yet. But watching him back where he belonged was significant in itself.

Over the next few weeks, there were glimpses of the old Jordan – a game-winning jumper against the Hawks with Phantom of the Opera playing ominously in the Omni, followed one game later by those 55 points against John Starks and the Knicks in the Garden. But the Bulls lost to the Magic in the playoffs, and Jordan wouldn’t totally have his groove back until the following year, when they kicked off another championship three-peat.

Jordan’s abrupt return to the Bulls was one final chapter in his surreal baseball experience. Sunday afternoon nationally televised game or not, could you imagine Jordan returning today on the road? Nike played off the entire year and a half as a dream sequence in their iconic ad for the X’s. (“I became a weak-hitting Double-A outfielder… with a below-average arm…”)

The interesting thing about the X is that much as Jordan was not yet comfortable in his own skin on the court, it didn’t appear he was totally crazy about the sneakers awaiting him upon his return. From his book, Driven From Within:

“I kind of lost connection with the brand the year I played baseball, because we came out with a shoe I didn’t approve. I had some dialogue with (designer Tinker Hatfield) in the early stages of the X design process, and he thought we were in agreement. I always liked my shoes clean-toed. When I saw the final version of the X, it already was in the marketplace, and it wasn’t consistent with the way I thought the shoe should look. There was a strap of leather going across the top of the toe.”

Jordan never actually wore the X with the extra toe box, demanding that Nike remove it for his own pairs and for subsequent retail shipments. From his standpoint, it was largely moot: As soon as Jordan saw the XI, he only had eyes for patent leather. According to Hatfield: “It was like the Jordan X had no longer become a factor in his life.” Jordan wore Space Jams in the Bulls’ playoff series loss to the Magic despite his version of the XI’s not yet having been cleared for a November release. Ahmad Rashad let the cat out of the bag, and a legend was born.

But I’d imagine there was more to it than MJ’s ardor for the XI’s. According to Hatfield, Nike had its doubts Jordan would ever actually come back to basketball at all, much less as the player he was when he left. The X was meant as a lifetime achievement award of sorts, with each stripe on the sole detailing a significant milestone in Jordan’s career. For obvious reasons, Jordan had to have bristled at the thought that his best was potentially behind him. The X’s had to go, as did the No. 45 jersey in favor of the classic No. 23. He described the XI’s as “a new beginning.”

This doesn’t take away from the X’s, of course. Aesthetically, they’re clean and crisp, Jordan’s intuition with the toe box actually right on the money. One difference from the 1995 OG is the inner lining, which has changed from solid red to a checkerboard pattern that I’d argue is an improvement. The Jumpman on the back has also switched from black to red, but for the most part, the new Chicagos are relatively faithful to the old faithfuls.

Combine that with the Birmingham Barons, “I’m Back” and the Double Nickel, and this is a sneaker for people with a serious passion for basketball history – especially if you remember as I do tuning in with the rest of America to see what Jordan looked like against the Pacers. Even without championships attached, the Chicagos represent a remarkable time in Michael Jordan’s life and career, and subsequently in American sports culture at large.

Even if they didn’t actually last very long on MJ’s feet.

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The hype on Chicagos doesn’t seem to be off the charts, which you can probably chalk up to Concord hangover. The thread on these is only at about 50 pages as of this writing, compared to thousands of pages about the Concords. If they had released these on, say, Black Friday instead of a month after the Concords, it’d probably be a very different story. Make no mistake, the Chicagos are fantastic.

For people who want to grab the Chicagos, which retail at $160, here’s my take on the best ways to do it:

1. As with the Concords, follow the @nikestore Twitter account, which generally will send out the download link at midnight EST sharp. If you want them, and you’re online at midnight, you’re going to get them. It’s hard to say how long they’ll last online; the Black Cement 3’s surprisingly sold out in about eight minutes. (Again, though, that was a Black Friday release.) I’d have to think these will probably sell out of most sizes at the absolute latest by midday on Saturday, though it’s tough to gauge demand until they actually go on sale. I’d contend Nike is the best site to handle heavy traffic, but all the other online retailers will have them online at midnight as well. Here’s a direct link for Foot Locker.

2. These aren’t an in-store midnight release to my knowledge, so you can head out Saturday morning to your local Foot Locker, Champs or Footaction. Check with NikeTown, they may have a wristband policy. They all should have the Chicagos, and I’d think if you went at about 9-10 a.m., you probably won’t have a problem. Winter weather might also keep some non-hardcores away. Again, I can’t say for sure, but I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to last through the weekend.

3. If you sleep on these, the overseas route worked for some (including me) with the Concords. One site that’s proven reliable is Crooked Tongues in England. I’d suggest for this release, you’re probably fine with American retailers, however.

Follow Bryan on Twitter at @SportsAngle.

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