December 29th, 2011 by Aaron Kr.
#4 – AIR JORDAN 1 ‘BANNED’
Until the concept of the “retro” release was instituted, most sneaker models had a fairly short shelflife, and in many cases, still do today. Some shoes break through the pack to gain legendary status and sneaker immortality, but it’s pretty rare that the same shoe has the chance to do it twice. The nature of retro sneaker launches has grown to be rather stale and predictable in recent years, but every once in a while, a curveball still comes along to catch us off guard and put a little of the adventure back into sneaker collecting. This past spring, perhaps the hottest commodity to ever hit a Nike Outlet came out of left field to shake up the sneaker world and become one of the most bizarre shoe releases of all time.
It was all the way back in August of 2010 that we got our first look at the special edition version of the iconic Air Jordan 1 “Banned,” paying homage to the gloriously controversial colorway with some clever additions to the original design. The story of the original Nike Air Jordan 1 “Banned” is now well known in the sneaker world. Back in 1985, when the shoe was first released, the NBA had a strict policy regarding how colorful your shoes could be. For the most part, basketball sneakers were white with little more than one simple accent color. Michael Jordan’s first Nike signature shoe featured a bold all black and red upper, flagrantly violating the league’s uniform restrictions. In true rebel fashion, Michael wore the shoe anyway and was hit with a $5,000 fine each time he stepped on court in them.
Recognizing the opportunity for some killer publicity, Nike gladly ponied up for the fines, and for a time, Mike went on wearing the offending colorway, gaining some great buzz for the shoe and the still relatively young company in the process. Taking things one step further, Nike produced a 30 second ad featuring Jordan with his shoes blacked out and featuring the tagline, “On September 15, Nike created a revolutionary new basketball shoe. On October 18, the NBA threw them out of the game. Fortunately, the NBA can’t stop you from wearing them.” Michael’s charisma and basketball prowess combined with the outlaw rollout of the shoe translated into huge sales for the shoe and the birth of the most beloved signature sneaker line of all time.
The original “banned” colorway of the Air Jordan 1 has now been re-released a few times over the years, but for the special 2011 version, some slight modifications were made as a tribute to the shoe’s historical significance. At a glance, the shoe stays true to the
OG right down to the Nike Air tongue label, but a closer look will reveal some slight tweaks, like the large “X” on the heel and the two banned dates printed inside the ankle and on the insoles. Further inspection will catch some additional touches like the small X’s inside the lining, the special “Imagine if…” laces and let’s not forget about possibly the coolest thing of all – a special revamped OG shoebox, updated with subtle corresponding “Banned” graphics.
After the initial photo leaks, a few more images surfaced in the following months, but eventually rumors began to swirl that the shoe had been scrapped and would not be seeing a retail release after all. It was looking like the “Banned” Air Jordan 1′s had been banned once more, but without any official word, optimistic Jordan devotees remained optimistic that something would come through. How could one of the most intriguing Air Jordan retros in recent years not get its proper release? Well, it might not exactly have been proper, but prayers were answered and the shoe triumphantly found its way to the people.
We can pinpoint the genesis of the Banned outbreak to a Portland, Oregon Nike Outlet on May 20th. An unexplained 150 or so “B-grade” pairs of the shoes arrived at the store at a retail price of $109.99 and with a firm rule of one per customer. Word quickly spread around the Portland sneaker scene and eventually onto the sneaker sites and forums. Phone orders were taken in addition to the in-store rush, and by day’s end, the initial batch was gone, leaving the lucky bunch who got a pair feeling like they just hit the sneaker jackpot. Shortly after the Portland drop, however, the rumor mill began to churn again, and it was eventually learned that more outlets would be receiving the Banneds on June 1st, leading to what were quite possibly, the first ever Nike Outlet campouts.
With no explanation or promotion from Nike or Jordan Brand, an undetermined quantity of the shoes made it out to the public, sold only through a select few high-traffic Nike Outlet stores who were all cleared out by the end of day. It’s still not really known why the release was initially scrapped and then how they came to show up at Nike Outlets of all places. Despite the B-grade stamp on the inside label and box, the shoes showed no real sign of any defects or imperfections outside of the minor flaws that can be found in most sneakers that actually make it to release. Maybe we’ll never know how or why this happened, but those who got a pair are sure glad that it did. The end result was hands down one of the best sneaker releases of the year and the shoe will live on as one of the great stories in sneaker history…again.