When discussing sneaker grails, the Air Jordan XI is one of the first that instantly comes to mind. The shoe changed the way we look at design forever. The crisp patent leather and translucent sole showcased a balance of elegance, style and performance. Michael Jordan first unveiled them on May 7, 1995, during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals after a 17-month retirement from the NBA. Jordan brought out the XI ‘Concord’ with the No. 45 on each heel during the Chicago Bulls' series against the Orlando Magic.
Tinker Hatfield, the iconic designer behind the sneaker, told GQ in 2012: "I started designing the Air Jordan XI during Michael's first retirement—I kept saying he would un-retire. People at Nike gave me a hard time, so I wanted to show those a------s that we could make the best Jordans ever. The XI was the first basketball shoe to have a carbon-fiber plate in the sole and patent leather. By the time I showed Michael, he'd started playing again."
MJ laced up in the XI’s in one of the best years of his life. The 1996 NBA season was the peak of Jordan’s celebrity. Here are a few accolades that ring off: MVP, All-Star MVP, Finals MVP, fourth championship, a then-record 72 regular season wins, a blockbuster hit with Space Jam and the release of the Jordan XI. Jordan was perhaps the most famous person on Earth.
While the innovative design makes the Air Jordan XI unique, it is the colorways that really make extra special. The "Concord" dropped first, in 1995, followed by three other colorways in 1996 headlined by the ‘Bred’ colorway. Adding to the popularity was the player editions worn by NFL stars like Deion Sanders, Randy Moss and Earl Thomas and MLB stars like Derek Jeter and CC Sabathia. We can’t forget the numerous Ray Allen PE's.
With the Air Jordan XI ‘Concord’ releasing on Saturday, December 8, The Crossover ranked the five greatest colorways for one of MJ’s most iconic sneakers.
5. Air Jordan XI "Colombia"
The 1996 All-Star Game is peak nostalgia and perhaps the greatest roundup of sneakers worn on the same court.
Nike had a whole list of classics: Jason Kidd wore the Zoom Flight, Mitch Richmond wore the Air Max Uptempo, Penny Hardaway wore the Air Penny and Charles Barkley rocked his Nike Air Max CB34. Shaq brought out the Reebok ‘Shaqnosis’ while Grant Hill wore his FILA GH2 signature sneaker.
It is also worth noting that Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon and Glen Rice all wore some of the most random sneakers in NBA history that night, with Malone in LA Gear, Olajuwon in Splading kicks and Rice in sneakers made by Warner Bros.
But the highlight of the night was worn by MJ with the white/colombia blue Air Jordan XI colorway. The clean white-patented leather silhouette meshed well with the over-the-top All-Star jerseys.
4. Air Jordan XI "Cool Grey"
While seeing MJ in a Wizards’ jersey is still weird, 40-year-old Mike did not lose his grip when it came to shelling out new colorways. The Air Jordan “Cool Grey” instantly became one of the most sought after kicks following its 2001 debut. The grey upper with a darker grey patent leather blends in perfectly with the white midsole and the icy blue translucent outsole. This shoe is just a reminder that MJ was still giving guys buckets to the very end.
3. Air Jordan XI “Bred”
Black and red is obviously synonymous with the history of the Air Jordan line. While Jordan made bold statements with the “Concord” and “Colombia” colorways, he went back to his roots with the Air Jordan XI “Bred” during the 1995-96 NBA playoffs. The Bulls defeated the Sonics 4-2 in the NBA Finals and it was Jordan’s first championship since his retirement. The final game was also played on Father’s Day, which was MJ’s first title after his father was murdered in 1993. The “Bred” could easily be the best colorway on any other sneaker ranking.
2. Air Jordan XI “Space Jam”
Space Jam probably is not one of the greatest movies ever but it is definitely a cult classic, and it came during a time when no star shined brighter than MJ. After leading the Bulls to their fourth NBA title, Space Jam released on November 15, 1996. Jordan’s marketability stretched beyond any athlete and he became a pop culture figure. The Air Jordan XI “Space Jam” is considered one of the greatest Jordan’s of all-time due to its black/dark concord/white colorway, which MJ wore during the movie in the game against the “Monstars”.
1. Air Jordan XI "Concord"
In terms of aesthetics, there is probably not a better sneaker from a visual aspect. The sneaker is flawless and versatile enough to wear in any occasion—prom, wedding, or on the court, it doesn’t matter. The black/white colorway went against the wishes of Tinker Hatfield and the NBA, but when has a colorway and a fine ever stopped Jordan from wearing what he wants on the court? The “Concord” is a must-have grail for the ultimate sneaker collector. The shoe will return December 8, 2018, featuring the original patent leather cut, Nike Air details on the insole, the OG box it came in and, of course, the No. 45 on the heel.