By 1990, the amazing designs of the Air Jordan III, IV, and V propelled Michael Jordan’s signature line to the most popular and coveted sneakers on the planet. This trio of models made for no easy task when it came to a follow-up effort for 1991’s new Air Jordan. But as we now know, sneaker genius Tinker Hatfield continued his hot streak, giving the world another one of the most beloved Air Jordans of them all. Just in time for the return of the last yet-to-be-retroed original colorway of the iconic model, this week’s edition of Jordan 101 details the design and historical significance of the Air Jordan VI.
The Air Jordan VI released in 1991 at a retail price of $125. The VI was available in five colorways, including the two famous Infrared accented versions in white and black, the “Carmine” colorway in a bold red and white color block, and the somewhat lesser known “Sport Blue” and “Maroon” looks. The shoe was not offered in a low-top back in ‘91, but was converted to a low in 2002, which just returned again in 2015 for the first time since their initial run. For whatever reason, there haven’t been many NBA players bring the VI back as a PE despite the shoe’s popularity, but it has become a common sight in cleat form for Jordan-sponsored NFL players like Earl Thomas and Dez Bryant.
Like we mentioned in the introduction, the Air Jordan VI was designed by Tinker Hatfield, continuing his impressive streak of Air Jordans (and pretty much all of Nike’s best shoes in the mid-to-late ‘80s) for his fourth heralded model with Michael. No specific inspiration for the VI has ever been stated by Tinker, but it does feature a heel tab inspired by the rear spoiler of sports cars—the first of many references to automobiles in the Air Jordan line.
Michael’s Achievements in the VI
With all of the achievements Michael Jordan racked up while wearing the shoe, the question shouldn’t be what he did in the Air Jordan VI but what he didn’t do. In the regular season, Michael took home the league’s scoring title with 31.5 points per game, first-team spots on the All-NBA and All-Defensive teams, and above all, MVP honors. Things got even more serious in the postseason when MJ switched to the ‘Black/Infrared’ colorway of the VI, as he led the Bulls to the championship and grabbed the Finals MVP award after outdueling Magic Johnson and the Lakers. As the shoe Michael won his first championship in, the VI is one of the most historically significant of all Air Jordan models in relation to his storied career.
The Air Jordan’s Lasts
Michael got an important “first” while wearing the VI with his first of six NBA Championships, but meanwhile the shoe itself featured a few “lasts” within the Air Jordan line. Most notably, it was the last Air Jordan to have Nike branding on the exterior of the shoe, after Nike and Tinker made a conscious effort to market the Air Jordan line as a separate entity from the rest of Nike Basketball beginning with the Air Jordan VII. The VI was also the last Air Jordan to have a prominent visible Air window, again something the Air Jordan series departed from since it was a distinctly Nike design feature (visible Air would return later on the Air Jordan XVI, but in a minimal presentation). Meanwhile in the marketing department, the Air Jordan VI was the last model promoted by Spike Lee’s Mars Blackmon character in the commercial and print advertisement series that started with the Air Jordan III.
The Air Jordan VI was another of Tinker’s almost perfect balances of performance and appealing aesthetics, as the shoe proved to be popular on and off the court. Just like the Air Jordan V, the shoe featured clear rubber on the outsole and lacelocks, but was upgraded with large die-cut and rubberized tongues to go along with the “spoiler” heel tabs for easier access. It was constructed in nubuck or full-grain leather, depending on the colorway, and was equipped with generously perforated paneling for breathability. One last little feature is the stretchy panel of material on the tongue with a snap closure, which works in conjunction with the lace lock to thoroughly secure your shoe laces.
The Last of the Sixes Finally Returns
By now, almost every original colorway of the early Air Jordans has returned. One of the very last stragglers throughout the years is the ‘Off-White/New Maroon’ Air Jordan 6, which we haven’t seen since 1991. But that all changes this weekend, as the elusive colorway is finally back on December 5th, complete with the remastered treatment featuring the original Nike branding at the heels. With Jordan Brand’s excellent execution and attention to quality on the retro of the “Maroon” colorway, most collectors will agree that 24 years was worth the wait.
One of the Greatest
An amazing design. Michael Jordan’s first NBA title. Infrared. The VI is a certified legend in the sneaker world, and right up there in the argument for the best Air Jordans of all-time. Ask just about any Air Jordan aficionado what their top five favorite models are, and the VI will be named somewhere within. The VI’s looks are matched by its historic significance, making it by far one of the most important sneakers of all time.