The city of Chicago and the Jordan Brand are two entities that are forever intertwined, with six NBA trophies serving as the framework for Michael Jordan’s lasting legacy as a member of the Bulls. And with the impending release of the Air Jordan XX9, there was no better place than the Windy City for Jordan to usher in its next generation of signature performance footwear.
During a packed week of Nike-approved hoops around Chicago, with the World Basketball Festival and Tournament of Champions, the high school star-studded Global Challenge and USA Basketball all in town, Jordan Brand unveiled the XX9 to a select group of media members, myself included—as one of us aptly put it, the “sneaker mafia.” All we knew was that we would have an opportunity to hoop in the cutting-edge shoe ourselves. As our bus pulled up in front of those iconic “23” gates, it was clear that we were getting the full Jordan experience.
Michael Jordan’s mansion from his Bulls days just north of the city in Highland Park has been up for sale a number of times—His Airness can’t seem to get rid of it (the $16 million price tag as of January may have a part in that). The full-sized indoor court attached to the guest house provided the perfect backdrop to give the XX9 a test drive. A customized locker room set up in the garage and uniforms with our Twitter handles emblazoned on the back nearly brought some of my new, more esteemed sneaker-loving colleagues to tears. As we sat in an unplanned silence, I unboxed the latest product of legendary Nike designer Tinker Hatfield’s imagination—and it proved to be all that, and then some.
The first thing you notice is how light the XX9 is—Nike has made major technological strides in the past several years, ushering in the beloved Flywire and Flyknit technologies, and Jordan Brand has taken the concept of lightweight, and with some love and care, translated it into quality on the court. The upper is made of a one-piece, performance-woven material that you barely feel after lacing up, offering an insane amount of support but without the feeling of structure or a lack of flexibility around your ankle. They’re pitching the shoe as the lightest Air Jordan ever, and that statement isn’t the least bit hyperbolic. Hatfield went to Italy to gain insight and adopt technology from master craftsmen, and returned with an innovative blend of comfort and style.
Once you step onto the court, the advantages of the shoe are even more apparent. The sole provides incredible traction, allowing for quick change of pace and direction that even the casual athlete (read: myself) can fully appreciate. A “tendril” connects the forefoot and heel regions on the sole and offers an easy, springy-feeling transfer on the run. Jordan also reincorporated its FlightPlate technology from the XX8 back into the footbed, meant to help maintain the cycle of energy in the foot—though I’ve never tried the XX8, the sneaker experts around me seemed mostly satisfied with the modifications. And overall, the XX9 needed little to no break-in time, which was quite a feat indeed (no pun intended).
The shoe will debut September 6 at $225, in the two colorways we got to see—Hatfield’s original red-and-black concept with classic Jordan elephant-print accents, and a sleek model with a large Jumpman toward the heel per the specifications of the XX9’s main athlete Russell Westbrook, with the orange of the logo and icy blue sole creating a subtle Thunder motif. Though the two shoes look radically different on the surface, they’re exactly the same—and the design variety offered by the performance woven material should have sneakerheads salivating at the possibilities. The XX9 looks great on the court and offers some functional style off it, as well, and the always fashion-forward Westbrook might be the perfect pitchman.
Lightweight, structured, powerful and stylish, the Air Jordan XX9 provides a unique on-foot experience that pushes the boundaries of basketball footwear. The modern Air Jordan is off to a truly exciting start.