MJ's Greatest Sneaker Moments
May 3, 2019
It’s that time of year again when the NBA Playoffs are picking up speed and for most people that lived through the 1990s, you begin to reminisce about the moments that cemented Michael Jordan into the record books. It’s nothing against the present day NBA stars. Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, and many others are all future Hall of Famers. There was just something incredibly special about Michael Jordan.
While we could easily list off dozens of moments from MJ’s career, which earned him 6 NBA Championship Rings, 6 NBA Finals MVP awards, 14 trips to the NBA All-Star Game, 10 scoring titles, and the list goes on and on. The talk of whether Michael Jordan is The GOAT (greatest of all time) will be debated each and every time a new NBA superstar comes into his own because he is the gold standard. So, let’s take a look at some of his greatest plays of all time, and the sneakers he wore during those moments. Because as Mars Blackmon would say, “It’s gotta be the shoes!”
The Shot - Air Jordan 4 “Black Cement”
On May 7th, 1989, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls arrived in Cleveland to face the Cavaliers with the first round playoff series tied at 2 games each. In the first 47 minutes and 57 seconds of the game, MJ had scored 42 points to keep the Bulls within striking distance. The Cavs were up 100-99 after Craig Ehlo scored a layup with just 3 seconds to go. MJ stood at the foul line as the play began. Fighting through defenders to catch the inbound pass, Jordan faked right and then moved left to avoid Larry Nance, caught the rock, took two dribbles and leaped at the foul line, hesitating and hanging in the air to avoid Craig Ehlo’s defense, and nailing the game-winner. Bulls win! It was that moment of hangtime, and the leaping, fist-pumping celebration, that cemented the “Bred” Jordan 4, the one that re-released this year for its 20th anniversary, in the hearts of sneakerheads around the world.
God Disguised As Michael Jordan - Air Jordan 1 “Bred”
Early in Michael Jordan’s career, during his second season, Michael Jordan put on one of the most spectacular scoring performances in the history of the NBA while wearing an exclusive version the iconic Air Jordan 1 in the classic Chicago-inspired colorway made just for him. After making a quick exit from the playoffs in MJ’s first season, Michael and the Bulls were eager to prove themselves. However, the Bulls were up against the Boston Celtics, a team who won 67 games and went 40-1 at home during the regular season and is often regarded as one of the greatest teams in NBA history. On Sunday, May 20, 1986, with a national television audience watching, Michael Jordan set the playoff record for most points in a game with 63 points. “I didn't think anyone was capable of doing what Michael has done to us," said Celtics great Larry Bird after the game. "He is the most exciting, awesome player in the game today. I think it's just God disguised as Michael Jordan." Needless to say, the Chicago Air Jordan 1 became legendary at that very moment.
Oh, What A Move By Jordan - Air Jordan 6 “Infrared”
Although Michael Jordan is indisputably one of the greatest basketball players of all time, sometimes you can’t help but wonder if commentators like Marv Albert who called the incredible plays that MJ made, somehow added to Jordan’s allure. During the 1991 NBA Playoffs, the Bulls faced one of their toughest rivals, the New York Knicks. Just before halftime, His Airness juked past two defenders, spun out of a trap, dunked on Patrick Ewing, and drew the foul. The moment became indelible when Marv Albert yelled out “Oh, what a move by Jordan!” While sneakerheads had already added the “Infrared” Air Jordan 6 to the all-time greats list, Jordan himself would later call this dunk his favorite from his career.
The Shrug Game - Air Jordan 7 “Raptors”
Before Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were knocking down a record number of 3-pointers, MJ himself set an NBA Finals record wearing the Air Jordan 7 in Black and True Red. Much like the record books that have changed as time passed, this colorway of the Air Jordan 7 became known as the “Raptors” colorway due to its similarity to the colors of the Toronto Raptors jerseys. For Jordan fans, the moment that Michael turned to the announcer's table and shrugged after knocking down his sixth 3-pointer of the half made this Air Jordan 7 timeless.
The Flu Game - Air Jordan 12 “Flu Game”
One of the performances that really displays Michael Jordan’s greatness was “The Flu Game” during the 1997 NBA Finals. Playing through flu-like symptoms, MJ put up 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals, and a block, before being basically carried off the court by his teammate Scottie Pippen. The performance and the Air Jordan 12s on his feet have since become a part of the legacy passed on from one generation to the next.
The Last Shot - Air Jordan 14 “Last Shot”
The end of the Jordan era came as MJ and the Chicago Bulls sealed the deal on their sixth NBA Championship. It was the 1998 NBA Finals and as the clock ticked down under ten seconds to go in the game, Jordan knocked down the go-ahead jumper to beat the Utah Jazz. The slight pause and hold of the follow-through pose would close the Chi-town chapter of Jordan’s career and make the Air Jordan 14, which he was wearing nearly a year before their release, as legendary as the moment.
The Free Throw Line Dunk - Air Jordan 3 “White Cement”
Michael “Air” Jordan’s nickname never felt so appropriate as it did during the 1988 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Facing off with some of the greatest dunkers of the decade, including Clyde Drexler, Spud Webb, and Dominique Wilkins, as he seemingly always did, MJ rose to the occasion. After awing the crowd in a back-and-forth battle with “The Human Highlight Film,” Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan dribbled to the far end of the court to prepare for takeoff. The picturesque dunk from the free throw line that followed earned him a score of 50, and his second NBA Slam Dunk trophy. From then on, the Air Jordan 3 became a must-have for sneaker enthusiasts.
A Spectacular Move - Air Jordan 6 “Infrared”
On the road to his first NBA Championship, MJ made one of the most picturesque plays against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 2 of the 1991 NBA Finals. Leaping up in his usual tongue-out fashion, Michael attacked the basket as if to dunk. Then MJ switched the ball from his right and to his left mid-air and laid it off the glass to score. Laker legend Magic Johnson would later call it one of the three greatest shots he’s ever seen. It’s no wonder Magic keeps Michael on speed dial for when he needs to to get hooked up with Jordans, like the “Infrared” Air Jordan 6 that His Airness wore that very game. It was at this moment, the world wanted to be like Mike.
A Father’s Day Victory - Air Jordan 11 “Playoffs”
After losing his father and then his love for basketball, Michael Jordan returned to the NBA with a chip on his shoulder, to say the least. After leading Chicago to a record-breaking 72-10 season, Michael and the Bulls soared through the playoffs, finalizing their remearkable run by beating the Seattle Sonics on Father’s Day of 1996. By this time, the Air Jordan 11 was already one of the most popular sneakers ever but with Michael securing the victory in the “Bred” colorway, the nostalgia in the air is still almost palpable (and will be when they retro this upcoming holiday season).
The Steal, The Save, The Bucket & The Foul - Air Jordan 4 “Black Cement”
The Jordan Rules was not only the name of a book by Sam Smith in 1991, but it was also the type of defense the Detroit Pistons enforced while playing MJ and the Bulls. “The Bad Boys” as they were called, never let up on Jordan but on June 2, 1989, Michael added another tally mark on his list of unforgettable moments. Just minutes into the game, Jordan grabbed a steal, saved the ball from heading out of bounds, drove to the bucket and was completely spun around by Bill Laimbeer. MJ miraculously still spun around and had just enough strength to flip the ball up and in while his back was to the basket. While the play further solidified the Air Jordan 4 “Black Cement” as one of the greatest sneakers of all time, it also serves as a reminder to practice your free throws because Michael missed his and 1 opportunity.