Originally published in KICKS 12

by Tzvi Twersky

AND 1 Tai Chi mid. It’s hard to believe, but it’s been almost a decade since the historic Dunk Contest of 2000. Most remember that contest for the once-in-a-lifetime aerial show put on by Vince Carter. Some remember the contest for the entire bang session, from VC’s assault on gravity to Stevie Francis’ air acrobatics. Fewer still, myself included, remember that night for the kicks—most noticeably the AND 1 Tai Chis that helped launch Vince into slam dunk history. If you haven’t seen footage of that memorable night in a long minute, pop in the DVD or find it on YouTube, because years later, though VC may not be able to duplicate those feats, the AND 1 Tai Chis are making a comeback of their own.

In their first incarnation, in the early years of the third millennium, the Tai Chi was one of AND 1’s best-selling models. For good reason, too. Aside from the notoriety the sneak gained from the Dunk Contest, the Tai Chi was rocked with pride by the likes of then up-and-coming (and exciting) Larry Hughes and Knick star Latrell Sprewell (who had a major ad campaign, to boot). When you add those three big-name players to the kicks’ general popularity among fans and sneakerheads, it only made sense for AND 1 to reissue the iconic shoe. Re-debuting as AND 1’s major shoe release of the ’09-10 NBA season, the Tai Chi will have three separate products, aptly labeled the “Tai Chi Trilogy.”

The first leg in the series is the simplest segment: the reissuing, in November, of the AND 1 Tai Chi Mid—otherwise known as the kicks VC wore on the night he could have touched the moon. Sleek, stylish and most of all, comfortable, the bi-colored Tai Chi Mid (which will be available in various colorways) won’t give you the ability to fly, but that’s for a good reason. At only $70, they won’t lighten your wallet too much. In fact, conscious of the recession’s impact on people nationwide, the retail price is actually $5 less than it was in ’99.

That reissue is for the ballers. The second step of the Tai Chi’s return is geared toward the sneakerheads.

Only the second-ever limited edition AND 1 sneak, the Tai Chi Tribute will be available February 14 for $100. Made with premium materials and specially packaged, only 212 pairs will be out. So if you’re one of the lucky 212—the number is in honor of the 212 Tai Chi martial art movements—who cop the Tribute, consider yourself a hardcore collector.

The Mid is meant to be worn—and will be, by Rafer “Skip” Alston, Steve Blake, Monta Ellis and other NBA players during the upcoming season. The Tribute, if you manage to scoop a pair, is meant to be put on ice. The third and final part of the reissue works either way; whether you sport it on the court or keep it in the box, the Tai Chi TGR will look just right.

Half-toned like the traditional TC Mid, the Tai Chi TGR won’t debut until the 2010 NBA All-Star game in Dallas, when Monta may just get to rock a pair. Incorporating both leather and suede, the TGR is aesthetically pleasing but still built to handle the rigors of hoops. Setting you back $80, this just may be the kick to wear while entering the next decade.

AND 1 Tai Chi TGRNo matter which of these new—or is it old?—yin/yang looks you get, consider yourself fit to ball. Whether you handle the rock like Skip, in which case the shoe’s stabilizing shank will keep you from getting hurt, or utilize speed like Monta, whose quickness will be optimized with an outsole designed to maximize traction, the Tai Chis will only help you excel on the hardwood—though they still won’t get you airtime like Vince could back in ’99.

Now and then, you can catch the Y2K Dunk Contest running on cable. Sometimes when watching, I pause it, taking a moment to appreciate VC’s TC kicks reaching head-level. Hopefully, maybe, Monta Ellis or one of AND 1’s current cats will give me another jaw-dropping memory—one that also stars the Tai Chi.