Staff Insights: 21st Century Air Jordans
Yesterday, Jordan Brand introduced the world to the Air Jordan XX9, a woven one-piece upper design that again makes use of the Flight Plate cushioning system. It’s no secret that not all of the legacy models have set the sneaker world on fire the way those early Air Jordan offerings did, but there’s no denying some of the bold achievements they’ve made along the way in the name of performance and innovation. It seems like after the XIV, many of the later models tend to remain a bit more obscure than their uber-iconic predecessors, so with the latest game shoe being revealed this week, it seemed like a perfect time to shine some light on some of the best post-2000 installments. In this edition of Staff Insights, our team pinpoints some of their favorite Air Jordans from the latter half of the line’s tenure.
Air Jordan XVI
To me, the XVI is one of the most underrated shoes in the Air Jordan legacy series. It was the first shoe since the III to not be designed by Tinker, but his influence could definitely be felt in its lines and shapes. While I admit, I was never much of a fan of the magnetic shroud, once you remove it, you’re left with one of the sleekest and most futuristic looking models ever to sport the Jumpman.
The unique midsole design featuring a visible Air unit embedded between phylon pillars immediately stands out as my favorite feature of the shoe, but honorable mention goes to the bold colorway options as well. Following the precedent set by the AJ XIII, the XVI was one of the first to make drastic color palette departures from the traditional Air Jordan norms as seen with the Ginger and Cherrywood editions.
Air Jordan XVII
When I think of the Air Jordan XVII, the first memory I have is of MJ half-floating to the hoop during the All-Star game, the hushed tone of the entire stadium as we were about to witness what could be one of the last great Jordan All-Star Game moments and then… clank! He bricks a wide open dunk! That moment came to define the Air Jordan 17 for me. Yes, MJ was back, but not in the legendary red and black and yes, he was wearing a brand new edition of Air Jordans… but they were expensive as hell.
The Air Jordan XVII was the second comeback shoe for MJ and was the second sneaker in a four shoe run that had Jordan Brand allowing you to cover the laces (or not) with a removable strap. While I was too young to get the Aston Martin and jazz inspirations behind the silhouette at the time of initial release, the metal casing it came in was enigmatic enough for me to declare these some sort of uneducated holy grail. The shoe had a certain allure to it. At the time I was busy traveling from local tournament to tournament with my fifth grade basketball team, and we hated anyone that wore these. If a kid sported a pair, there was an envious pit in your stomach for seeing a kid who had suckers for parents that would pay for these.
The “Wizards Home” aesthetic was clean, but things got even more interesting with the Low Top edition with that vibrant hint of yellow for All-Star Weekend. The shoe defines a strange time in the history of Jordan the man and the brand. Everyone would like to end the most polarizing career at the top of the key in Utah, but MJ did come back for two more years and his signature line did continue after his playing days. Hate them or love them, the Air Jordan 17 meant the brand was back in business, and they had the brief case as proof.
Air Jordan XX
Although it’s been almost a decade since they dropped, it seemed like just yesterday to me when Jordan Brand unveiled the 20th shoe in Michael’s signature line. At the time I was pumped to see what Tinker would cook up for the XX as he hadn’t designed one of MJ’s shoes since the XV. Reflecting on that release almost 10 years later, I can personally say he delivered in a big way.
The simplicity of the bold design capped off with all of the details about Jordan’s journey on the mid foot velcro strap were well executed and appreciated on my behalf. With so many stories about MJ’s life incorporated into the shoe, you’d almost have to take a course to find the meaning of each one.
The clean toe, unique traction pods on the outsole, the aforementioned forefoot strap and awesome packaging is what drew me to the XX and when I took them to the court they didn’t disappoint. I grabbed both the launch colorways and my favorite, the Stealth, and still play in them to this day.
Air Jordan XX1
The Air Jordan XX1 is to me the greatest of the post-retirement models. I feel like there are two main reasons it’s not as universally revered as Tinker Hatfield’s best. First and most importantly, MJ never played in them. Just imagine if the red suede edition were coupled with some heroic playoff victory on the road. The second reason flows from the first: our expectations for Air Jordans grew over time, to the point where it would be almost impossible to satisfy the demands of both purists and the evolution of performance tech. Basically, people love their favorite Jordan Retros so much that we might miss out on something new and brilliant. I must admit that it’s only in the past few years that I myself have come to appreciate these among several latter-day Jays.
Evaluate the 21 on its own merit and you are likely to arrive at a favorable conclusion. D’wayne Edwards’ peak achievement was every bit the combination of elegance and technical prowess that we see uniting the most popular pairs. All three of the suede colorways are bangers and that brings me to another reason I dig this shoe. Reaching back to our Staff Insights on upcoming releases, I noted my anticipation for the red suede XIVs. That’s another one on the cusp of ‘retirement era’ status that I feel is underrated. And if you consider the midsoles, the 21 offers something of a progression from the 14. It’s almost like the next step from the non-quilted 14s, which I always preferred to the stitch-heavy joints.
Air Jordan XX3
The second half of the Air Jordan legacy rarely gets the love it truly deserves. It’s fair to say the XVI and beyond can’t really compete with models like the Air Jordan 3, 6, or 11 in terms of popularity, but the post-2000 Jordans possess that level of modernity that no other sneaker has ever had. To put it simply, Tinker Hatfield and the team of designers put stuff on sneakers that nobody would have ever dreamed of, and while some are still unable to appreciate that type of never-done-before design ethos, others view it as the qualifying marker of the Air Jordan being the superior signature sneaker on the market.
Of that era, the Air Jordan XX3 is the ultimate stand-out. The Considered materials, the 3-D woven upper, the TPU chassis, MJ’s fingerprint – from whatever vantage point you viewed the sneaker, it was the epitome of innovation. It was constructed less like a shoe and more like a miniature sports car, with luxurious touches covering the entire silhouette. I admit I never owned a pair of the XX3 until well after the original release. It’s a shoe I just wanted to have, not to wear – a true collectors item, even if it isn’t something as coveted as you would expect a collectors item to be.
Air Jordan 2011
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not enough of a Jordan Brand fanatic to have a huge appreciation for the millennial models. To me you’ve really gotta separate this group into two different ones: sneakers that Mike played in and ones that he didn’t. It goes without saying that the Brand would have a lot harder time making the sort of earth shaking sneakers that they aim for without MJ on the court wearing them, so I’ve got extra respect for their post-Mike efforts. Among those I think the Air Jordan 2011 is one of their best achievements.
For the past handful of models Jordan Brand has really pushed the envelop in terms of aesthetics, from the see-through window, to the brogue look, to the extended shroud, but the 2011 proved that they didn’t have to do that to make a memorable shoe. They were still techy with those interchangeable insoles, but they were allowed to just look like a relatively normal modern basketball shoe and I appreciated that. As far as top colorways I’ve gotta give a nod to that Concord looking one, which I made the terrible mistake of skipping when they were floating around at outlets for the low.