Jordan 101: A New Era Rises With the Air Jordan XII

There are a few Air Jordan models that are a little more important, not because of their design, but because of their benchmark place in the history of the signature line. The Air Jordan XII is one of those shoes. Of course, the design of the Air Jordan XII is outstanding—it’s among the very favorite models of many Jordan collectors—but it’s a pivotal moment in Air Jordan history for so much more. Why is that? Continue reading this latest edition of Jordan 101 to educate yourself (or brush up on the facts for all you more experienced Jordan fans) on the historical impact, design details, and legendary moments of the Air Jordan XII.

The Basics

The Air Jordan XII debuted in late 1996 with the ‘White/Black/Taxi’ colorway, and was followed by four more colorways in 1997 for a total of five original versions. All feature a Bulls color scheme except the “Obsidian” colorway in dark blue and white. There was no low-top of the Air Jordan XII until the 2004 retro release.

Looking to the Far East for “Rising Sun” Inspiration

Yet another classic Air Jordan model designed by Tinker Hatfield, the Air Jordan XII was inspired by the Japanese “Rising Sun” flag emblem. The bold motif was translated onto the shoe more subtly with the large solid leather panel from the midfoot to the toe and stitched lines running across the rest of the contrasted upper. With an all-leather build with minimal detailing, the result is one of the most simple, yet simultaneously bold Air Jordan designs of them all. The high-contrast look made for one of the most visible and easily recognizable basketball shoes on the court (as in, if you were watching a game on TV) still to this day.


The XII was the first Air Jordan model to utilize Zoom Air, and did so gloriously with a full-length unit from heel to toe encased in a Phylon midsole. It also continued where the Air Jordan XI left off with a carbon fiber midfoot support shank. With the upper made almost entirely out of full-grain leather, one complaint some people had with the XII was the lack of ventilation if you were actually playing in them. One advantage to the solid leather upper, though: the XII is extremely durable.

A New Era Rises for Air Jordans

With Michael Jordan branching off from Nike and founding Jordan Brand in 1997, that means the Air Jordan XII was the first shoe officially under MJ’s new enterprise. The XII was the first Air Jordan to not have a Swoosh anywhere on it (Air Jordans 7-11 still had Nike logos on the insoles), and was the last one to come in a Nike-branded box. Jordan Brand was still technically part of Nike, of course, but the founding of Michael’s own brand only further confirmed the power and marketability of the Jumpman. As we now know, what began in 1997 has only expanded to one of the most popular and profitable sneaker brands in the world, at times even rivaling Nike proper.

The Flu Game

With a serious case of the flu, Michael Jordan turned in one of his most legendary performances of all time for Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz. Fighting sickness, dehydration, and exhaustion, MJ managed to persevere and pour in 38 points on the way to a crucial series-shifting win. Barely able to make it to the bench by the end of the game, the iconic shot of Scottie Pippen helping MJ walk also features one important thing: the black and red colorway of the Air Jordan XII on Michael’s feet. Being the memorable performance that it was, that colorway has since been dubbed “Flu Game”.

Air Jordan Retro Hype Begins

In 2003 when the Air Jordan 12 first retroed, Jordan Brand presented a new ‘Black/White/University Blue’ colorway of the shoe constructed with Nubuck instead of the usual full-grain leather. Thanks to its limited quantities and online-exclusive release, the shoe became one of the very first retro editions within the Air Jordan line to cause some serious hype and hysteria—something we now know to expect with almost every Air Jordan retro release. Packaged with a matching hoodie and hat for the online drop, the “Nubucks” were priced at $200, making it that much more of an elite release. Much to the chagrin of all those that were able to snag the online drop, the shoe soon after released at additional retailers at its normal price.

Time Freezes in the Air Jordan XII

For the Air Jordan XII’s ad campaign, Nike was back with yet another unforgettable commercial spot. The “Frozen Moment” commercial features MJ spinning and gliding to the rim while time seems to stop and the world watches. Watch greatness in action.

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