by Chris O’Leary /@olearychris

If the mark of a successful shoe release is buzz, consider the return of the Space Jam Air Jordan XI one for the books.

The stroke of midnight brought with it a frenzy that only the release of an XI can. Retailers opened their doors to hordes of sneakerheads from coast-to-coast last night and at the same time, those retailers watched their respective websites crash under the strain of thousands of customers who all wanted their J’s while sitting at home. By 2 a.m. Mountain Time, the term #spacejams had rocketed its way up to the fourth-highest trending topic on Twitter.

It’s easy to say that the return of the Space Jam has the sneaker community bursting at the seams. The staggering page count on message boards only hammers home the obvious, as it seems like heads everywhere are enjoying a long-awaited fix.

I was lucky enough to go through a much less dramatic pickup of the shoe this morning (a rare perk of being a sneaker enthusiast way up north). In all honesty, there was a longer lineup at Tim Horton’s than there was at Foot Locker in the West Edmonton Mall this morning.

SpaceJamXI_1

After the joy of adding an important grail to my collection subsided enough so that I could focus on writing again, I realized that the Space Jam provides the ultimate in conundrums. A shoe of this significance, with this kind of following, with this much justified hype on it, it almost demands that something be written on it.

But what more can be said about the Air Jordan XI?

The single-most iconic shoe of the last 15 years? Easy.
Revolutionary materials? Check.
The most-coveted sneaker, regardless of colorway, in the Air Jordan line? Definitely. 
A direction-changing sneaker for the industry? No question.

The fact that Jordan’s greatest single-season meshed perfectly with what was on his feet? Maybe we can get into that a little.

It’s not that the Air Jordan line was slipping in 1995. The Jordan IX and X were popular with consumers, and players across the league wore the X, Jordan included. But with Mike’s first full season back on the court being 1995-96, on the heels of a portion of a season played plus an unsuccessful playoff run the season prior, MJ was back for-real for-real, and everyone was waiting to see what would happen.

SpaceJamXI_2

The XI proved to be the personification of Jordan’s comeback. In the same way that Jordan returned that season hungrier than ever, flossing a refined outside game, the XI was the classed-up addition to the Air Jordan line. No need for being the cut-your-heart-out, coming-at-you-at-every-chance sneaker anymore, the Jordan XI was like James Bond: just as lethal, but killing you in style, getting the job done better than anyone else and still not wrinkling the tux. The results he had in those shoes: All-Star, regular-season and Finals MVP, League scoring leader, 72 wins and his fourth Championship might as well all be tucked into the sneakers themselves, then enshrined in Springfield.

There’s a reason why people wear this shoe to their high school/college graduations, to weddings, why they save them for big games only. The Air Jordan XI, the Space Jam in particular, is the Rolls Royce of basketball footwear. It’s aesthetic perfection, almost too nice to put on your feet. If there’s any one sneaker out there that you should treat like royalty, it’s the XI. And if the XI is royalty, the Space Jam is the crown jewel.

Having only worn the shoes in the Bulls’ playoff loss to the Magic in ’95 and of course in Space Jam, the shoes existed as player editions initially, only hitting retailers for the first time in 2000, just over nine years ago to the day. If you ask me, this is the best way that Jordan Brand could have bookended this decade. Now we can start lobbying for a cool grey XI re-release. Maybe by 2019?

Pics via Footlocker.