What’s it like, getting my feet into the most technologically advanced shoe available on the market today? What is this thing? Why does it look like something out of the year 2200 A.D? These are the questions I shall try and answer in this week’s edition of Sneaker Sundays, featuring the latest in Nike’s Lebron line of shoes, The Twelve. Seen here in it’s lead ‘NSRL’ colorway, it sparks the usual ‘What colorful shoes!’ reaction from most folks who show up to the blacktop, people completely oblivious to the amount of science that goes into these sneakers. Technologically, this shoe is the equivalent of a microwave oven in the ’40s. Yes. That makes sense because all the shoes you’ve worn thus far were just born from ideas in a designers mind. This shoe however, came from a lab, The Nike Sports Research Lab. Created using data gathered from in-depth analysis of Lebron’s playing style. This is very important because James did not wear the Lebron XI much during the 2013-14 season, and claimed that he wasn’t happy with them. So Nike set out to design a shoe that could support Lebron’s raw power and big jumps, while keeping him safe. Looking at the Cav’s performance in the playoffs so far, and after wearing this shoe, I think they did a pretty good job.
The Air Jordan V. Designers find inspiration in the oddest of places. Legendary sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield sought inspiration from the US Air Force’s WWII fighter, the P51 Mustang, while creating this masterpiece twenty five years ago. You cannot mistake the shark teeth design on the side for anything else. Comparing Micheal Jordan to a fighter plane is quite apt I think, looking at the way he performed in the 89-90 NBA season, setting the best record that the Bulls had since Jordan joined the team as well as a franchise best record at 55-27, under new coach Phil Jackson. Jordan also hit his personal best of 69 points against Cleveland, took home the scoring title, and was All-Star, First Team, and All-Defense.
For a player who was pushing boundaries every single game, the shoe he wore had to match up too. The AJ5 featured Air bags in the forefoot and heel, over which was a translucent sole with a herringbone traction pattern, which I feel is the best pattern for performance, even today. This shoe was the first to feature a translucent sole, which has appeared in countless other models since. On older retros, like the one you see here, the sole turns yellow with time, an issue that was solved in later re-issues. To match Jordan’s spectacular personality, Tinker also gave the shoe a 3M tongue, which was meant to catch light from the arena lights and strobes, dazzling onlookers as Jordan did with his moves and making sure that all eyes would be on the two time Slam Dunk champ.
Lace locks and multiple options for lacing, along with the asymmetrical ankle collars ensure great midfoot lockdown while the mesh panels on the sides and the tongue, reminiscent of the Air Jordan III’s, took care of ventilation. The Black/Metallic silver colorway seen here was the first retro of the new millennium and was the final retro to feature ‘Nike Air’ branding on the heel. The OG shoes did not come with the ’23’ on the sides. This was a Jordan-exclusive feature until it was introduced in a later re-issue. Another interesting thing to note is that this shoe appeared in a lot of the sitcoms of the time, including Seinfeld, and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. In fact it also appeared on the Fresh Prince starting credit song, and made more appearances than any other shoe on that show (yes there are people who count these things), that Nike released a Bel-Air colorway, that was well, fresh as hell.
So what is my favorite colorway of the V’s? Without a doubt, the ‘Tokyo’ colorway. Few shoes ever look good in yellow. Also, being an exclusive, few shoes ever made it outside of Japan. Ah grails. Tinker Hatfield was not going for a subtle look with this shoe and boy did he succeed.
Sneaker Sunday! Welcome to the new Sneaker section on the blog, where I will talk about sneakers old, new and upcoming and try to drop from kick knowledge on all of you who wish to know about these beautiful things that adorn our extremities. So to start with I’ve picked one of the most special shoes to be worn by any human being (If Jordan is human, that is) ever- The Air Jordan I.
In 1984, Nike signed Michael Jordan, who was an unproven NBA rookie fresh out of college and had the $65 Jordan I designed for him by Peter Moore, in a black/red colorway to match his Chicago Bulls uniform. That was a big risk for Nike to take, which paid off beautifully and formed what is now a legacy. Michael’s rookie campaign resulted in an All-Star appearance, a Rookie of the Year award and he led the Bulls to the playoffs after a four-year drought. And these shoes were the first to come in what has become the biggest basketball brand in the world.
The first Air Jordan shoe, unlike its successors, was based on the then popular Nike shoes like the Dunks, the Air Force I and the Terminator. The Air Jordan I features a Nike Air unit for heel cushioning, padded foam ankle collars for additional protection, a perforated toe and a toe overlay for added lockdown which was very important for fast moving players like Jordan. The AJ I retro re-issues featured here have the Jumpman logo on the tongue but OG shoes come with the Nike Air logo.
Though the AJ I lacked any significant or game changing tech, the colors, in a world of white basketball sneakers, and its cultural significance made it a classic that is widely coveted by sneakerheads everywhere to this day. It is also the only shoe to feature the ball and wings Air Jordan logo, which was also sketched by Peter Moore. Some original retro AJ1s can fetch up to a thousand dollars in online auctions today, and rare shoes like the Black/Metallic Gold AJ1, of which only 12 were made can fetch up to 25,000 dollars. That also happens to be my favorite colorway, and I will never own a pair. Why would anyone in their right minds pay so much for some simple pieces of leather stitched together? History and beautiful design, that’s why. Take 10 popular sneakers today and tell me you don’t find design cues from the AJ I in there. You can’t.
And that’s a wrap from Sneaker Sundays for this week. Coming next is something new, polarizingly new.
The Air Jordan 1 is available on Myntra.com.
Pictures by Uday Shanker.
Big props to Nandith for letting me shoot this shoe and being a patient model.