NBA Lifestyle

NBA Cloth Talk: Air Jordans and the legendary moments we associate with them

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Iconic MJ moments mean iconic Air Jordan shoes (NBAE/Getty Images)

Welcome to Cloth Talk! An ode to the phrase coined by DJ Khaled, NBA.com's Gilbert McGregor and Kyle Irving delve into all things style in the NBA. From uniform reveals to sneaker choices and everything in between, the two experts give their takes and provide clarity on concepts that are impossible to ignore.

In the latest edition, the two discuss all things Air Jordan, specifically their favourite pairs and the moments they associate with them.

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): On April 20, 1986, a 23-year-old Michael Jordan went into Boston Garden and scored 63 (!) points on a Boston Celtics team that would eventually go on to win the NBA title.

You come for the highlights of a second-year player - fresh off of a serious injury, at that - and leave wondering, "what was on his feet?" Like we do so often with Jordan, who, in my opinion, has far and away the most iconic signature shoe line … ever.

And, in case you were wondering, it was a modified version of the Air Jordan 1 "Chicago," with the sole of a Nike Dunk.

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Well, first off, it's very easy to believe he suffered an injury while wearing Jordan 1s in competitive NBA games. Especially given the intensity he played with. I have a hard enough time walking around town in the pair that I have, haha.

But you certainly aren't the only one that scopes out the shoes on his feet during big moments. I felt like the entire time I was watching "The Last Dance" documentary, I was always looking to see what kicks he was rocking for each and every moment.

MORE: Re-live everything from "The Last Dance"

McGregor: Yeah, I really could not fathom playing in 1s. That's unreal.

It's crazy the way things go hand-in-hand like that. Maybe it's my sneaker fandom but with any iconic moment, I can envision what happened as clearly as I can envision the shoe that was on MJ's foot. Perfect example: "The Shot" over Craig Ehlo.

When I think of the iconic still frame, I think about the clean look you get at the sole of the Black/Cement 4s. I don't think it's a coincidence that those are my favourite pair ever.


There's gotta be a sneaker-centric highlight like that for you, too, right?

Irving: Absolutely, and in the same light as you just said, it's tied to one of my favourite pairs of Jordans as well. It's not a specific on-court moment but... the picture of Jordan laying down in the locker room after Game 6 in the 1996 NBA Finals, rocking the Bred 11s.

Both mentally and physically exhausted from what had been a historic, but also tragic, year for him has a person and player. Regular season MVP, Finals MVP, the greatest record in NBA history at the time, but also dealing with the passing of his father. It was a vulnerable moment for a superhuman who had just put together one of the best seasons in NBA history.

McGregor: I hate sounding cliché but that's the perfect example of a picture saying what words can't. That the Bulls were able to clinch that title on Father's Day at that … man.

It's chilling.

I always think of that specific moment when I think of those shoes.

While the naturally fitting nicknames and strategically calculated retro releases help, there's nothing quite like the moment themselves. Like when I see "Playoff" 12s, I think of the dunk on Dikembe Mutombo. The Black/Red 13s make me think of heading to the Charlotte Coliseum at four years old to watch Jordan's Bulls take on the Hornets in the 1998 East Semis.

I was too young to know what was going on in the game but I was old enough to see what was going on during the game. I'm stopping now because, as you can tell, I could go on for a while here.

I'll spin it forward, though. Now that we do know what's going on in the game - and write about it - do you still sometimes associate specific moments with sneakers? Or is that yet another element of the mystique of MJ?

Irving: As sneakerheads, I think I can speak for both of us when I say I still associate specific moments with the shoes on the players' feet.

For some reason, the first image that popped into my head when reading that message was Ray Allen tucking his Jordan XX8's behind the 3-point line for the game-winner in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals.

Very random, I know. But for some reason, I always liked those Jordans even though I know they faced some criticism for an odd design with the zipper and whatnot. Plus, you know Ray Ray always came with the PE heat.

But even with that being said, the on-feet sneakers don't shine through in specific moments the same way they do when rewatching Jordan's most memorable moments.

MORE: The 10 best games of Michael Jordan's career

McGregor: That's a good one, I think that speaks to how unique the design of the XX8 is and the fact that your eyes go straight to his feet to make sure it was actually a triple. Funny enough, another Ray Allen sneaker memory I remember - and I'm sure you'd appreciate - is him wearing one Jordan 9 and one Jordan 11 as he warmed up prior to the game he surpassed Reggie Miller as the league's all-time 3-point leader.

Also specific and random, but, again it speaks to the sneaker memory.

Also funny to me that these are still Air Jordan memories, even though it wasn't Jordan in them. Outside of him, though, I naturally go straight to LeBron James. The Soldier IVs he wore in his iconic performance at Detroit, the LeBron 9 PS he had on foot during Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder and, of course, the LeBron Soldier 10 he wore while coming back from down 3-1 in the 2016 NBA Finals but I have a personal tie to those, which is ironic because the shoes feature no laces.

I've told you that story before, though, right?

Irving: I'm not sure you have. Let's hear it.

McGregor: This was in 2015, so I'm sure the statute of limitations is up here but when I was playing at Wake Forest, the school's contract with Nike meant some athletes could be wear testers for upcoming products.

Long story short, our equipment manager dropped this blacked-out pair of sneakers with three straps, no branding, anything. It was somewhat secretive, so I couldn't take pictures of them or anything but someone mentioned to me they were the new LeBrons. I literally remember thinking to myself "no way he wears a shoe with no laces in them." I might have practiced in them twice before our equipment manager swooped them from my locker to send them back to Nike to, I assume, take a look at how the shoe responded to a few hours of wear and that was that.

Fast forward to June of 2016 and I hit the Leonardo DiCaprio meme when I saw LeBron lace uhh strap them up.

Irving: Knowing your fandom of LeBron, that had to have been a crazy moment for you. That's a very unique backstory that will undoubtedly leave a lasting impact in your mind, associating those sneakers with an on-court performance.

But to tie things back to Jordan, it makes sense that you have so many memories of LeBron in certain sneakers for big moments. It's gotta be something about that all-time great aura that helps those things stick out in our brain.

I do want to bring another Jordan memory into the fold here, especially since you and I had just talked about these shoes in a different conversation yesterday.

The Flu Game will always be associated with the Jordan 12s. I mean, when the brand retroed them, they literally named them the "Jordan 12 Flu Game."

McGregor: Really, though. To quote the overused meme, "I'm old enough to remember" those retroing in 2004, then the special suede pair coming in 2011 and again retroing in leather in 2016. I never had a pair of Flu Games but my first-ever Air Jordans were the white/red 12s when I was like two or three. I might be making this up but when I think of those, I think of Jordan wearing them against the Kings with the Bulls' pinstripe uniforms and scrunched-down socks.

But yeah, it's something about those nicknames being synonymous with the sneakers themselves. Are "Flu Game 12s" the most appropriately - and best - nicknamed shoe?

Irving: I gotta be honest, I can't say they are. I know I already brought the Bred 11s into this, but the Space Jams have to be the undeniable, best-named Jordan shoe. I can't imagine there's much argument there.

McGregor: Yeeeah that's tough to beat. Sneaker nicknames are much maligned but whatever, I will say "Banned" 1s might give that nickname a run for its money, though.

By the way, you've mentioned two pairs of 11s now. You said they were "one of your favourites" but are you crowning them as the best Jordan ever? Or dare I say the best sneaker ever?

Irving: I'm going to ride the fence on this one. I'd go as far as to say that the Jordan 11s are the best on-court Jordan ever, but as mentioned in previous Cloth Talks, the Kobe 6s take the crown for me for my favourite on-court sneaker ever.

But in terms of crowning the best sneaker ever in general, on or off the court, how can you beat the Jordan 1s?

McGregor: They're classic. They're timeless. And he dropped 63 on the Celtics in them.

That's pretty hard to beat.

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