On a cold, crisp morning in 1985, famed sports photographer Chuck Kuhn stepped onto a remote Oregon airstrip to shoot a rising basketball star -- Michael Jordan. Rather than wear his team’s iconic red and black, Jordan chose his personal favorite colors: royal blue and black. The shoe he wore that day, the Air Jordan I black/royal, was the first AJ I offered for purchase to the public. The portrait became an iconic poster, coined the Flight Guy — its image etched in street and sport style memory.
To commemorate this iconic moment, Jordan Brand launches the Flight Guy Collection this summer. Highlighted by the AJ I and AJ XXXI, the collection connects an iconic moment to modern innovation while paying tribute to the way legends surprise us… often out of the blue.
The Air Jordan I and Air Jordan XXXI ‘Flight Guy’ will launch globally on April 1.
The Air Jordan XXXI “Chicago” reflects on the energy of Michael Jordan’s adopted town — a city that defined a generation of basketball culture.
“Michael was the third pick in the draft, so he came in with a mentality that he was going to have to prove himself,” recalls Howard White, VP of Jordan Brand. “Training camp was at the Purple Hotel in Lincolnwood, Illinois and when he arrived to the city, he kept thinking ‘this is where I am meant to be’. His love of being the best, and leading the team, all meshed together. The city of Chicago was looking for a winner, looking for a hero. Some say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. So I believe that he wanted to take that challenge of being that for Chicago — the city that drafted him.”
Michael’s defiant play on the court put Chicago at the center of the basketball universe. His competitive drive was different from any other player on the hardwood. To wit, his love for the game transcended beyond the arena: For Michael, no place represented the game’s freedom like the playground.
“Michael bonded with the kids that played at the 18th and State courts in Chicago. Before every game, he went down there and gave away a few pairs of tickets,” says White. “Kids would line the streets waiting for their chance to see Michael drive by and the potential opportunity to see him play live.”
The new Air Jordan XXXI “Chicago” and remastered Air Jordan I “Black Toe” celebrate MJ’s love of the game and his second home. Both shoes will launch globally on November 5.
To start the season, Jordan Brand athletes will don “Battle Grey” footwear on the hardwood to represent the challenges they — age in some cases, inexperience in others — and their teams — particularly complacency and doubt — face at the beginning of a new campaign. United, these athletes play to overcome critical tests and prove naysayers wrong.
The Air Jordan XXXI "Battle Grey" will be available on Jordan.com starting October 29 for a suggested retail price of $185. Stay tuned to @Jumpman23 for the latest on Jordan’s family of athletes.
Throughout Michael Jordan’s career, he defied expectations through an indomitable will. However, on one special occasion in Italy, Michael took his love of the game to a small arena where he shattered basketball boundaries — and a backboard — in the process.
Fresh off the heels of a rookie campaign in Chicago, Jordan traveled to Trieste, Italy, and treated basketball fans in the coastal town to the same brand of ferocious play that thrilled his followers back home. It was just another game to Jordan; a game that happened to be punctuated by a moment everyone watching will never forget.
“Glass was everywhere. The backboard exploded. I’m looking at his eyes, his ears…looking for little bits of glass,” remembers Howard White, VP of Jordan Brand. “In the moment, it was wild. It was a little scary, because we didn’t know where the glass was going. They were playing and then there was that moment. I don’t know of any moment where one can detect something otherworldly has happened, but that one has become something grand. For MJ, though, it was just a moment in the game.”
The box score shows that Jordan scored 30 that night, but what isn’t revealed is this signature moment is now just part of Jordan’s long list of legendary lore and global appeal. The new AJ XXXI “Shattered Backboard” and AJ 1 “Shattered Away” colorways celebrate this historic Michael Jordan moment and reminds of his capacity to continually defy expectations.
Basketball was always more than just a game to Michael Jordan. It was joy. It was pain. It was everything. At times, it was a place of refuge from life’s trials.
In each contract Michael signed, a “Love of the Game” clause was present. This clause gave him the right to play whenever, wherever and against whomever he pleased — something Michael considered non-negotiable, even as other athletes were regularly contractually prohibited from extracurricular activities that could lead to injury. Naturally, Michael exercised this privilege often. During early trips to Oregon to meet and collaborate with Nike, he would find the nearest park, seek out pickup games and “call next.” It didn’t matter if it was Game 7 or a casual run; when Michael played, he played to win.
The Air Jordan XXXI “Fine Print” is inspired by the ink and paper of the contract and a rendering of Michael’s signature — as it would have appeared on those contracts — is evident on the shoe’s sole.
Defiance is at the heart of Michael Jordan’s success. Throughout his career, the champion faced hurdles — injury, repeated defeat, illness — and continuously soared above them to realize the unexpected. Along the way, he redefined basketball’s relationship to style, the sport’s connection to youth counter-culture and the game’s creative potential.
When Jordan’s footwear arrived during his rookie season, it shared with the world some of its namesake’s tradition-breaking bravado. A black and red colorway violated the league’s uniform policy, earning a stern letter from league officials and generating a $5,000 fine each time the player wore the shoes on court. “Around this time, if you knew anything about Nike…Nike stood on this kind of rebel behavior,” recalls Jordan Brand VP Howard “H” White, in reference to the runners and tennis players connected to the Swoosh. “This Jordan, that color of the Air Jordan I, kind of galvanized that universal scope.”
“The shoe represented that spirit that he brought to the basketball court by being so different," adds Larry Miller, President Jordan Brand. "Michael kind of threw the rules out on how you were supposed to play the game. The shoe kind of threw the rules out on what a basketball shoe was supposed to be… People who weren’t even into basketball found out about the shoe and it became this catalyst for where we are today."
The Air Jordan I set the tone for Jordan’s future, and his eponymous brand, transcending the court and finding favor across a broad spectrum of society, even with, as White reminds, skateboarders. “You just can’t make those stories up,” he says. “If somebody said, ‘Hey, here it is: Take the pen, take the pencil and draw it up just the way you want it,’ you probably couldn’t have drawn that up the way it came out.”
The Air Jordan XXXI represents a balance of Jordan Brand’s tradition of game-changing performance and its transcendent style: lightweight support for the world’s highest-flying athletes, including Russell Westbrook, and rich material details that exude an off-court sensibility.
The shoe’s first-of-its-kind Flyweave and leather upper incorporates a number of iconic Jordan elements, reintroducing the original Air Jordan “Wings” logo and a subtle Swoosh — not seen on a Jordan shoe since the Air Jordan I and the first time it has appeared alongside a Jumpman logo. And in its launch colorway the Air Jordan XXXI pays homage to the “banned” story.
“I think the spirit these shoes represent is a feeling of defiance. You know, you see the poster of MJ dunking with his gold chain, up in the air forever and defying gravity, wearing the Air Jordan I; you just can't stop looking at that poster," says Jordan Senior Designer Tate Kuerbis. "I think recreating and getting that feeling into a new game shoe is challenging, but it's one of the things we wanted to do — instill this almost magical quality."
Informed by Jordan himself, the Air Jordan XXXI also follows on a tradition of low-profile cushioning. “He needed to feel closer to the floor — that was his thing,” recalls White of the origin of Jordan’s desire for low-to-the-ground sole units. As such, the Air Jordan XXXI features FlightSpeed technology with full-length Zoom Air that enhances court feel, responsiveness and lateral support. “We really wanted to focus on propulsion in the forefoot, so when you're coming down you're engaging the FlightSpeed with the Zoom Air bag,” notes Kuerbis.
“With the Air Jordan XXXI, we celebrate the risks and rewards of Michael’s career and look forward to a future of continued innovation,” says Larry Miller. “The Jordan Brand story is a testament to Michael’s enduring cultural capital and undeniable performance legacy.”
The Air Jordan XXXI "Banned" will be available globally September 3 in select retail stores and on Jordan.com. Stay tuned to @Jumpman23 on Instagram and Twitter for more information on the Air Jordan XXXI.
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