A Classic Returns: The History of the Air Jordan 11 “Bred”

There’s just something about the elegant simplicity of the Jordan 11 that has blown people’s minds since the first day Ahmad Rashad called attention to it during the broadcast of a Bulls playoff game.

The black and red version was famously captured on Jordan’s feet as he lay alone, face down in the locker room, grasping a basketball after defeating the Seattle Supersonics for his 4th title. When they came out, stores were cleaned out in minutes. There are tales of store managers who were offered ridiculous sums of money to sell the shoes early. There were incidents of violence, bringing unwanted attention to the brand and Jordan himself. Despite those negative stories, no one could deny the allure of what was shaping up to be the best-selling Jordan model in history.

MJ wore that bred pair in the locker room after an unfathomable 72-10 season during which he was crowned MVP of the All-Star game (more on that later), MVP of the regular season, and MVP of the Finals.

The Design

Because Jordan had retired to play baseball in 1995, the higher ups at Nike were expecting to discontinue the Jordan signature series after the 10th iteration. Apparently, no one checked Tinker’s notebooks, as he had been working tirelessly on Jordan’s 11th model even before the infamous “I’m back” fax that announced his return.

Hatfield designed the shoe (which he called his favorite that he ever made in a documentary called Just for Kicks) with advanced tech. Jordan reportedly had his eye on patent leather not only for its elegant look, but also because of its rigidity to keep his foot locked in during aggressive cuts on the hardwood. The ballistic Cordura mesh was meant to cut weight, take a beating, and allow for increased flexibility. Carbon fiber was enlisted on the outsole because it had great strength and cut weight. All told, the model was a huge flex from the crew in Beaverton, who had designed this shoe in secret.

In the Netflix documentary series Abstract, Jordan said about that first black and white edition of the 11: “I wanted a lifestyle basketball shoe where you still play the game with the shoe and then at the end of the day, you can wear it with a tuxedo.” Tinker Hatfield, the sneaker design GOAT responsible for the 11, said:

“We sourced this really high quality patent leather and a few months later pulled it out of a bag and showed it to him in a hotel room. He basically said ‘Holy Shit! This is amazing.’ Several months later, he unretires. We told him–don’t wear it in a game. It’s not ready to go to market.”

Against Hatfield’s advice, Jordan wore the black and white version in two May 1995 playoff games against the Orlando Magic, and even though he could only wear the shoe (which had his uniform number 45 on the heel) for two games before the league got involved, the buzz was immediate.  The league deemed them illegal because they had no Chicago Bulls red.

The OG’s

The retail version of what came to be known as the “Concord” Jordan 11 arrived six months later in November during the next season, with his original number 23 on the heel. During that season, Jordan wore the same black and red version that returns in December in its original form and even in its original box.

That season’s All-Star game was on February 11, 1996 in San Antonio, which was the only time Jordan ever laced up the “Columbia” Jordan 11 with white patent leather and Carolina blue accents. Though it lacks the Chicago Bulls black and red, this model is among the three OG colorways of the sneaker, and still demands respect among the myriad colorways that followed.

As for the three OG colorways mentioned here, there have been a total of four versions of the Concord released, three of the Columbia, and finally four of the Bred once this weekend’s release is complete.

A Million Pairs?

Nike says that the Concord release from last holiday season was the largest single release in the storied company’s history, and this season’s Bred release may challenge that record. Even if Nike makes millions of them a shoe steeped in this much history is sure to be a can’t-miss event for sneaker fans on December 14.

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