Black socks, black sneakers: a big no-no in the basketball fashion world back in the early ‘90s. The combination just looked strange, until Michigan’s Fab 5 flipped the script and rewrote fashion history with their baggy shorts, black Nike socks, and black Air Force Max sneakers in ‘93. A few years later in the ‘96 NBA Playoffs, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls would pull off the same look on their way to winning the Championship. The Fab 5 started the black sock/black shoe trend. The Chicago Bulls mastered it.
In 1995, Michael Jordan returned to the League after a brief retirement. The Bulls would make the playoffs, and together would don black sneakers on the court (except for Jordan, who liked his new white/black Air Jordan XI so much, he decided to rock them instead of an all-black sneaker. He’d later be fined and ordered by the NBA to wear sneakers that matched his teammates, so he switched to Penny Hardaway’s Air Flight One for one game, and then to his Air Jordan XI “Space Jam” colorway).
The Bulls would come up short that season, but it was only fuel for the ’95-’96 campaign. Jordan would wear his AJ XI “Concord” colorway the entire regular season, but then break out a new color for the playoffs: the Air Jordan XI black/white/red. The Bulls as a team also switched to black shoes and socks for the playoffs. Along with Jordan, Scottie Pippen wore an all-black Nike Air More Uptempo, and Dennis Rodman sported an all-black Nike Air Shake Ndestrukt. Pippen’s Uptempo and Rodman’s Ndestrukt are now both considered classic ‘90s Nike basketball shoes, but Jordan’s XI stood out the most.
Touted as “the best performance basketball shoe for the best player on earth – Michael Jordan,” the AJ XI featured a lightweight, supportive, and breathable combination of ballistic mesh, full-grain leather, and reinforced patent leather with a nylon speed lacing system. A Phylon midsole with a full-length Air-Sole unit was supported by a full-length carbon fiber spring plate to encourage elevation. The outsole was a combination of clear gum rubber and solid rubber herringbone traction inserts. This sneaker was truly a work of art, and MJ would wear it during one of the greatest runs by any team in the history of sports.
During the regular season, the Bulls went 72-10, and then crushed their competition in the playoffs. The Bulls would win their fourth championship on Father’s Day – an emotional day for MJ. After the game, he ran straight into the locker room and collapsed onto the floor – crying and thinking about his father who died several years earlier.
Back in the ‘90s, not many shoes sold out as fast as they do today. But sometimes, a shoe was so popular that Eastbay couldn’t keep them in the warehouse long enough to edit the newest catalog. This was the case with the AJ XI black/white/red. The shoe was featured in two Eastbay Spring ’96 catalogs, but was gone by the time the second catalog went to the printers.