LAS VEGAS — Just as there will never be another Michael Jordan, there will never be another Air Jordan 1, the bold, black and red sneaker that broke the mold on traditional basketball kicks and launched the multi-billion behemoth that has become the Jordan Brand.
"The [AJ1] shoe represented that spirit that he brought on the basketball court by being so different," Jordan Brand president Larry Miller recently said in a promotional video. "Michael kind of threw the rules out on how you were supposed to play the game. The shoe kind of threw the rules out about what a basketball shoe was supposed to be."
Attempting to replicate the AJ1 from a legacy standpoint is simply impossible, and trying to duplicate its industry-shaking visual impact in a crowded marketplace would similarly be a fool's errand.
With that in mind, it's best to think of the Air Jordan XXX1, unveiled Wednesday in Las Vegas, as a grounded homage to the AJ1 rather than as an overzealous attempt to reinvent the wheel. The XXX1 pays clear tribute to the original in multiple ways—the black and red colorway, the high cut, and the Nike Swoosh logo—and it aims to fulfill some of Jordan's favorite performance elements of the AJ1 like its snug fit, ankle support and low profile.
But, despite its ties to the AJ1 and its advertising positioning as a "defiant" shoe fit for a rebel like frontman Russell Westbrook, the Jordan XXX1 ultimately settles on a design that comes off as more thoughtful and nuanced, rather than radical and jaw-dropping.
Finding out exactly what makes the Jordan XXX1 new and different requires little bit of digging. Here's a full rundown on the new shoe with thoughts from Jordan, Westbrook, Jordan Brand designer Tate Kuerbis and Jordan Brand executive Yuron White.
Jordan XXX1 Inspiration
How many shoes have drawn inspiration from former NBA commissioner David Stern and Ferrari luxury automobiles?
Jordan XXX1's story draws heavily on the NBA's infamous decision to "ban" Jordan from wearing the AJ1s in 1985. At the time, the NBA's uniform policy required a player's shoes to match his uniform and his teammates' shoes. The AJ1s didn't fit that bill.
"It's like you're a young kid and your parents say you can't do something and they want to do it," Jordan said in a promotional video. "I felt like I wanted to be different."
When Jordan continued to wear the sneakers, Stern opted to fine him $5,000 per game for violating the league’s rules.
“I didn’t have $5,000 to be giving anybody at that stage of my career,” Jordan continued. “Nike said they would pay $5,000 a game for the rest of the year because they were getting more hype about it.”
Perhaps the most brash design element on the AJXXX1 is found on the red sole: the word “BANNED” appears in black, block letters that are big and obvious enough to feel almost like a political statement.
Jordan Brand plans to continue with the “Banned” messaging as it positions Westbrook as one of the company’s faces.
“Banned became part of our creative direction,” White told SI.com. “Not only is it leading the XXX1, but it will inform color and direction for the Jordan Brand on apparel. You’re going to start to see through media on social and other forms. It’s also part of the crossover between where we were at with Michael and where we take it to with Russ.”
Another one of the key phrases attached to the XXX1 is “Defy Gravity,” with an emphasis on the individualistic implications of the word “Defy.” To reinforce this theme, Jordan Brand handed out pins that read "Michael Jordan: 1, Isaac Newton: 0"—Who else would keep score and declare victory against a natural phenomenon?
Westbrook, obviously, has already cultivated a reputation as a player who pushes the limits with his style of play and with his fashion sense off the court.
“[Defiance] is something that’s gotten me to this point,” he said during a Q&A at the unveiling. “Staying with it, staying focused, staying consistent. Trying to find ways to keep that edge, keep being competitive, trying to find ways to work my way up the totem pole."
If the outside of the shoe is about being noticed and making a statement, the inside of the shoe is about comfort and fit.
Kuerbis said that one of the main design features—interior pods that grip the ankle—came from Jordan's love of Ferraris.
"I don't get to sit in Ferraris very often," Kuerbis said during a Q&A panel at the unveiling. "[Jordan] opened the door and it was his new LaFerrari. I sat in it and it was amazing. You're just supported, it's the idea of a one-to-one fit. That immediately got me thinking about how can we design the inside of the shoe like that seat. Where you strip the material away, it's strictly about performance, and it feels really good."
The Air Jordan XXX1 has six red cushion pods on the inside of each shoe: three on the outside of each ankle and three on the inside.
Asked to compare the feel of the XXX1 to a Ferrari seat, Westbrook smiled and said, "It's very, very close."
Jordan XXX1 Performance
Kuerbis said that Jordan had three favorite performance aspects from the AJ1: that the shoe locked down the forefoot so there wasn't movement, that the shoe contained his ankles with the high cut and leather feel, and that the shoe had a low profile to the ground compared to other shoes from the era.
All three items became priorities in the Jordan XXX1 as well. The XXX1 uses Flyweave technology to hug the front of the foot, it has a high cut with the ankle pods for maximum containment, and it uses a full-length Zoom Air bag to provide cushioning without raising the profile.
White said that those performance elements—particularly eliminating any "wasted motion in the foot" and ensuring maximum "responsiveness"—were keys for other Jordan Brand athletes, including Westbrook.
"With Russ, all he needs is half a second to go from the top of the key to dunking on you," White said. "Most of those are blow-bys and we want to make sure we continue to give that competitive advantage to him."
Jordan XXX1 Design
From a design standpoint, the XXX1 takes a blending approach to modernizing the AJ1. Most obviously, the shoe transitions from Flyweave technology—which has almost a knit-like look and feel—to an older-school leather upper. The interchange between the two materials just kind of happens, there's no obvious line of demarcation.
Similarly, the Flyweave allows the XXX1 to blend the Swoosh design into the standard Jumpman mark. The XXX1 is the first Jordan to feature both the Nike and the Jordan logos. With Jordan's own blessing, the shoe's Swoosh intentionally fades into the Jumpman as a nod to Jordan Brand's evolution and emergence from its parent company.
"That blend of the Flyweave into the leather material was a little about being irreverent, doing things no one else is doing," White said. "How iconic is that the Swoosh is actually fading into what ultimately now has turned into a 31-year-old brand?"
Remarkably, more than 100 people worked on the XXX1's design throughout the process.
Jordan XXX1 Colorways and Promotion
In addition to the black/red colorway unveiled Wednesday, Jordan Brand athletes Jimmy Butler and Carmelo Anthony have worn a white/blue/red "Olympic" colorway during their pre-Olympics training camp.
Jordan Brand also released images of a blue/green "Brazil" colorway this week, with Westbrook telling the crowd that additional team-specific colorways will come once the 2016-17 season gets closer.
As with previous iterations of Jordan' flagship shoe, Westbrook will be the primary frontman for the Jordan XXX1, a decision that makes sense given its positioning as a hybrid on-court/off-court shoe that seeks to push the envelope.
"Thirty years ago, that's me," Jordan said of Westbrook in the promotional video. "The attitude, trying to prove myself, showing so much passion for the game of basketball. You see it in his play. You can tell he loves the game, he plays with energy and flair. That's exactly what this brand illustrates."
Westbrook, who saw the video and heard those words for the first time during the unveiling, sounded genuinely honored by Jordan's blessing.
"That's crazy," he said during the Q&A. "I really don't know what to say. To have the best player who ever played the game to say that about you as a player and as a person is something that is going to keep me striving."
Jordan XXX1 Space
In typically ostentatious fashion, Jordan Brand went all out for its unveiling, creating a massive space near the Linq Casino for the shoe release.
Highlights of a tour through the space included a half-court basketball court where AAU players were testing the XXX1, a museum-like row of glass cases housing all-red versions of every Jordan model from 1 to XXX1, walls of Jordan-centric art, anti-gravity chambers, a Snapchat station for fans to take photos, a custom t-shirt shop and a barbershop filled with Dream Team memorabilia.
Here are a few photos from the Jordan space in Las Vegas.
Jordan-related art posters, including original promotional photos from the AJ1 shoot.
All-red versions of the AJ8, AJ11 and AJ28.
Original "Dream Team" artwork and media, including an old Sports Illustrated cover, decorated the space's barbershop.