To the delight of basketball fans across the globe, Michael Jordan was back for more in 2001 after deciding to give it a go with the Washington Wizards. But the aging MJ wouldn’t be around long, only lasting two seasons with the team before officially calling it quits on the NBA court for good. As you already know if you’ve been tuning into Jordan 101 each week, Michael made his comeback in the Air Jordan XVII in 2001, which means he finished out his playing days in his next Air Jordan model for the 2002-03 season, the Air Jordan XVIII. But the eighteenth Air Jordan isn’t important only for its historic aspects, as it’s one of the favorite designs of the “late-teens” Air Jordan models, usually considered right up there with the XVI and XVII when it comes to aesthetic appeal. This week’s edition of Jordan 101 details the Air Jordan XVIII, showing why it should be celebrated for more than just being the last shoe Michael ever wore on court.
The Air Jordan XVIII released in 2003 in three colorways, including ‘Black/Sport Royal’ in nubuck suede, along with ‘White/Varsity Red’ and ‘White/Sport Royal’ in full grain leather builds. The XVIII also released in a low-top version in two colorways, as well as the 18.5 featuring a modified design without the lace cover, for a total of seven original releases. The Air Jordan XVIII has retroed only once, as part of the Countdown Pack collection in 2008. Ray Allen also resurrected the shoe once again for a special red suede Christmas day PE in 2012.
Race Car Design
The Air Jordan XVIII was designed by then Jordan Brand Senior Designer Tate Kuerbris, who got his first, but not last shot at designing the Air Jordan—he also led the XIX design the following year. The shoe’s design was inspired predominantly by the sleek design of Formula 1 race cars, as well as the footwear race car drivers wear. This translation came through most obviously on the rubber sole that wrapped up onto the heel of the shoe in a tire-like design much like the design of racing shoes. Carbon fiber, the material used for the bodies of Formula 1 cars, also played an important role in the midsole of the shoe. Like many Air Jordans, the design was also partly inspired by luxurious Italian dress shoes with the clean lines and premium materials.
Modern Tech in a Luxurious Build
Just like every great Air Jordan, the XVIII packed plenty of useful performance technology into an appealing design. The shoe’s upper kept things fairly sleek and simple thanks to both the race car and dress shoe inspiration, with a virtually one-piece leather build featuring a cover over the quick-lace system and air vent panels at the ankles. Another defining feature of the XVIII is the unique TPU paneling that covers the majority of the midsole. Down below, the shoe was cushioned with a full-length Zoom Air unit, double-stacked with another heel Zoom bag for one of the most amply cushioned Jordans ever. A carbon fiber “comfort plate”, as the insole graphic described it, supported the midsole, while more carbon fiber was found at the heel of the upper.
Playing into the luxurious dress shoe theme of the XVIII, the shoe came packaged with a hand towel and brush for cleaning and upkeep—long before the days of shoe cleaning kits became popular. Each pair also came with a “Driver’s Manual” booklet, all packaged inside a special slide-out shoe box with a die-cut “18” logo on the top.
The End of An Era…Again
Michael wore the Air Jordan XIV for his epic “Last Shot” as a member of the Chicago Bulls before retirement in 1998, but the Air Jordan XVIII would end up becoming the shoe he officially finished his NBA career in after his final game on April 16, 2003. His last game as a Wizard wasn’t even as close to as legendary as his last as a Bull, as Washington was at the wrong end of a blowout loss against the Philadelphia 76ers with forty-year-old Mike on the sidelines for most of the second half. But the Philly crowd made sure MJ’s career was much appreciated, chanting for Wizards coach Doug Collins to put him back in the game for a chance at one last bucket. He go his two last points at the free throw line, completing a 15-point night for the last game of his fifteen-season career.
The Next Generation
Michael Jordan may have been leaving the game for good, but the Air Jordan legacy was still secure in the NBA thanks to the next generation of Jordan Brand athletes like star point guard Mike Bibby and one of the NBA’s newest marquee players, Carmelo Anthony. Both players wore PE versions of the 18.5 on court, while Melo also soon thereafter received his own signature line. Along with other team Jordan players like sharp-shooting Ray Allen keeping Air Jordans on the court, the future was bright for the Jumpman.