Every year, hundreds of Air Jordan VIbasketball sneakers are produced, issued, sold and played in on the hardwood worldwide, and for every year in the NBA, at least one star player has a special season that is the peak of his career—and a signature shoe that shares in his glory. Michael Jordan is the sole reason for the popularity of athletic shoes in the past quarter-century and just about every year was a landmark season. In honor of MJ’s induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, the Sneak Peak series will be highlighting the peak seasons and signature shoes that Air Jordan made legendary.

by Sandy Dover

.1666 of the Black Cat is better most cats’ batting at 1.100.

He finally did it. He finally cleared the hurdle.

Bird? Check.

Isiah? Pleeeeeeeease. Did you see him walk off like a punk?

Magic…the seemingly immortal Magic Johnson. Hmmmm…he had him, too.

In the ’90-91 NBA season, Michael J. Jordan made history and became an NBA champion with his Chicago Bulls squadron. They say the first one is always the sweetest. Those old slam dunk contests? The two regular season MVPs? The All-Star Games and all that? Great, yeah yeah, great. Made him a lot of good money. Gave him some spectacular press and face time, but what he needed was on-court credibility, and there’s nothing that takes that away quicker than six consecutive playoff knockouts in as many years. Nobody cares if you had to beat the Legend in Boston or the best six-footer in NBA history (arguably) to get a Finals saga. He needed that title—and Nike needed that title.

You see, the fact that Jordan became an icon in the world of media and product marketing is not any easy feat. Certainly Achilles or Hercules never had to sell shoes, but then again, they weren’t Michael Jordan. Remember, this man made Nike’s Air technology make billions of dollars, and Nike made him a star beyond compare. But championships bring credibility in the shoe game, too.

Slapping together finely-contoured full-grain Nubuck suede leather strips, throwing in a rubber tongue and Dynamic-Fit neoprene partial internal bootie, sewing several hundred lines of the thread for a “Nike Air” design on the heel, and sliding two full capacity Air-sole units over a dual transparent/opaque rubber outsole wasn’t the goal—it was the commemoration for the goal to be. It didn’t make Nike anMichael Jordan & Magic Johnsony less competent or without any standing—it just meant that they were waiting for MJ to fulfill some dreams so they could fulfill their dreams. And who would’ve thunk that only the world’s premier basketball shoe of 1990 and 1991 would be on the feet of a championship superstar. (They must have had a hunch.)

Michael certainly didn’t play like he had a hunch. After all, he sacrificed a little for the team. Okay, okay, I guess you wouldn’t call 31.5 points, 6 boards and 5.5 dimes by average much of a sacrifice—but it wasn’t even his best statistical season (okay, it was his second best stat-based season, according to John Hollinger’s PER science, but I’m trying to make a point). League leader in points scored and averaged (again), another regular season MVP award (again), All-NBA and All-Defensive First Team (again), league leader in games played, field goals both made and attempted (again thrice)? Hmmm, well, Jordan gave up the rock in the triple-post offense (aka the triangle)—you think he wanted to pass the ball to Bill Cartwright? Seriously? We know MJ loved pretty shoes, but he’d much rather scuff up those black (or white) and varsity red Vis any day than throw the graveling voiced big man. Primetime shots to Craig Hodges and Bill Paxson? I mean, we knew trusted Scott Pip, but man…Jordan went ahead with it, even if big Phil drove him crazy with the concept. A non-Jordan-centric offense that’s Jordan-centric? He didn’t get it, but you know what? It worked. No more ridiculous isolation defenses meant to take him and his teammates out of the game. “The Jordan Rules” need not apply there (or at least, less so).

Had to be some tough shoes, some real tough shoes. Polyurethane midsoles, kiddies—made solely for the pound (probably why Nike uses lighter composite foams these days). Max Air in the heel is definitely no joke (even though was an “extra medium” Air Max pocket by today’s standards), and those strips of leather just sewed on? Notice that “2” and “3” next to each other? Pretty slick way to let cats know when you’re switching hands in mid-air needlessly—he just had to get those L.A. boys mad while he was stylin’ on ‘em.

Well, we all know the story with the man and the machine.

Man won his first .1666 of the total championships that most players never see in an entire playing career. Man also expounded on his person in Europe, Asia and only God knows where. Said man also managed to literally get literal comparisons to the Most High and mammon on a semi-regular basis.

Air-filled machine(s) acquired near-equivalent treatment to the man’s legend. Duplicates of aforementioned machines not only have been produced in blockbusting quantities, but are still continued in signature models…and the man doesn’t even wear them. Machines, Jumpman-laden as they may be, are nothing and everything at once, because despite the relevance of the artifact, nothing has beat the inspiration for their creation.

In 1991, Michael Jeffrey no longer represented the inspiration—he became the inspiration.