Sunday May 7, 1995. This is a date that should be very important to you as an Air Jordan sneaker fan. Why? That night, in Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Eastern Conference Semi-Finals versus the Orlando Magic, Michael Jordan debuted one of the most important and celebrated basketball shoes of all time: the Air Jordan XI. It was the evening that the world got their first glimpse of the patent leather clad sneaker unlike any shoe we’d ever seen before. The sleek and shiny shoe was certainly an attention grabber, but did anybody know just how legendary that shoe would become? Not even Michael himself.
The version of the sneaker that the world saw first that night was the white and black “Concord” colorway, which Michael wore again in Game 2 of the series. Making the shoe cause even more of a ruckus, it didn’t follow the league’s uniform guidelines, as the rest of the Bulls were wearing predominantly black sneakers for the playoffs. So what did he do when he couldn’t wear the Concords? To find out the complete story of Michael’s footwear for that playoff series that would end up being monumentally important to sneaker history, let’s Flashback to ‘95 for this special edition on the debut of the Air Jordan XI.
Game 1 – History is Made
Even though sneaker history was made that Sunday night with the world premier of the Air Jordan XI, MJ’s game was pretty forgettable. Michael was clearly still shaking off some of the post retirement rust during Game 1, as he was not his usual clutch self in the closing minute of the game. He first had the ball stolen leading to a dunk by Horace Grant at the other end, and then passed on a chance to hit the game winning shot, throwing the ball out of bounds after mistiming a pass to Scottie Pippen. The Magic would go on to win the game 94-91, but the Concords still stole the spotlight.
Game 2 – The Concords Again and #23 is Officially Back
For Game 2, the white and black Air Jordan XI was back to turn heads once again, but the storyline of that night was focused on the return of #23—both literally and metaphorically. With a move that was perhaps a bit superstitious, Michael opted to switch back to his original and iconic #23, which may or may not have propelled him to an impressive 38 point performance leading the Bulls to victory. Officially shedding the rest of his post-retirement rust, Michael Jordan was back to G.O.A.T. status. Many Air Jordan collectors have given the “Concord” Air Jordan XI greatest-of-all-time ranking as well, but the NBA had a bit of a problem with them. Bulls announcer Johnny “Red” Kerr explains in the video below.
Game 3 – Michael Scores 40 Points, But Not in Air Jordans
While the NBA’s front office probably couldn’t have been any more thrilled with MJ’s return to greatness, they did take issue with his footwear. With the rest of the Bulls wearing black sneakers for the playoffs, Michael’s predominantly white XI’s didn’t meet the league’s then more strict uniformity rules. For a temporary solution, Micheal did something he very rarely did throughout his entire career: wear a shoe that wasn’t an Air Jordan. He actually broke out a pair of Penny Hardaway’s Nike Air Flight One, matching his opponent’s shoes for the game. But there was one slight difference; Michael made sure to cut of the #1 heel tabs. No Air Jordans obviously didn’t bother his game, as he topped Game 2’s point total by dropping 40. However, it still wasn’t enough to secure a Bulls victory, with the Magic going on to win 110-101. Watch full highlights of his 40 point performance below.
Game 4 – Black XI’s Debut
Not only did the Concord Air Jordan XI make its debut in the 1995 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, but the all-black version—later known as the “Space Jam” colorway after it made an appearance in the movie the following year—was also unleashed, solving Michael’s uniform problems. However, something was not quite right with the shoes. We’ll let Ahmad Rashad fill you in.
Game 5 – Space Jams in Orlando
After evening up the series in Chi-town, MJ and the Bulls went back to Orlando where he continued to wear the “Space Jam” XI’s. Michael dropped another 39 points that night, but it again wasn’t enough to best the surging Magic as they took a 3-2 series lead.
Game 6 – The Air Jordan XI Goes on Summer Vacation
After a momentous debut, the Air Jordan XI would have to go on summer vacation along with the rest of the Bulls, as 1995 proved to be the year of the Magic after finishing off the Bulls and then the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals to make the franchise’s first Finals appearance. While Michael and the Bulls most certainly didn’t have their most memorable post season ever, there’s never been a more important playoff series as far as Air Jordan sneaker history is concerned.