Every year, hundreds of basketball 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 the signature shoe that shares in his glory. That’s what Sneak Peak is all about–highlighting players and their sneakers from the past 25 years who shared the spotlight with iconic play and iconic style.
For the time being, the Sneak Peak series will focus on the golden era of the top sig shoes, players, and their best overall seasons, which was approximately between 1994-1997 (the period itself being the literal peak of performance basketball shoes), which I have dubbed “The Wonder Years.”
The wunderkind from California was finally there. The flair, the size, the skills, the unusual look, and the shoes. Jason Kidd was becoming a star, and it was undeniable. At 6-4-inches and 205 pounds, the former co-Rookie of The Year of the National Basketball Association was bringin’ it. The No. 2 pick of 1994 was starting to look like the automatic No. 1 he should’ve been (no disrespect to “Big Dog”).
Going into a hopeful ‘95-96 season for the Dallas Mavericks, Kidd ran the break and continued to wreak havoc on the League. I remembered seeing him for the first time ever in an early-season game on TNT in late ’95 when he played against the Vancouver Grizzlies and was amazed at the sight of him. He was the type of player who seemed to mesmerize you with the way he ran the court, dribbled, and seemingly did whatever he wanted with the ball, and he was going to the hoop at will. I was (and still am) a Jimmy Jackson fan, but I instantly started to shift attention to the genius in Maverick blue. I started to handle the ball more on the court; I started to lay up the ball like him; I went to the mall and tried to find his Dallas jersey (“dang, all sold out”); pretty much, he and Scottie Pippen were my new basketball heroes, and then there were those shoes.
Those shoes of his seemed to be from another planet. With those large spheres lining the wavy sidewall and with enough curves to make a video model blush, the Nike Air Zoom Flight ’95 were like the inanimate version of your ideal dreamgirl. Terrell Brandon wore them prominently in the black/white-graphite with the Cleveland Cavs, Brent Barry had his own Clippers colorway made when he took off with the 1996 NBA Slam Dunk Competition, and Alonzo Mourning was wearing his very own player exclusive makeup in a high-top version (all-black with “AIR” on the ankle), himself being a newbie with the Miami Heat at the time. J-Kidd would take to the floor in his PE version of the white/blue ’95s and gooooooo. Those shoes were so well-built and versatile, even professionals at all positions were wearing them, as Kidd and Brandon as point guards, Barry as a guard/forward, and Zo as a center were all flourishing in the shoe. Simply, the Air Zoom Flight ’95 was its own beast. I’d see those shoes and drool wishing to pick those up.
(Not unlike other times in my childhood, I had to “suffer” and fast on the purchase, not able to get the $125 sneakers as a 6th-grader–I’m not complainin’, though!–and Colm, if you’re reading, I remember when you got those way back when…I was quite envious, sir.)
In reality, the AZF95s were just a sign of the times, and probably ahead of the times, too. With a very ergonomic design, starting from the bottom up, Kidd’s new signature shoe were simple, streamlined, stylish, and street-friendly. The cut of the shoe was cut as a mid, but sort of 5/8ths-ish around the ankle and low at the Achilles’ heel. The outsole was wavy, but didn’t quite have the close grooves of a herringbone tread. The aforementioned sidewall was high on the sides with the plastic bubbles that seemed to remind of some sort of alien-automobile hybrid. The lacing set-up was basic, but the mesh tongue provided great contrast to the full-grain leather upper. A faux-carbon fiber wrap was stitched into the leather for support and just above the Phylon foam that held the shoe in place…of course, an elite shoe like this had to have the Zoom Air introduced in a full-length platform. The Swoosh was right on the upper outside of the shoe…near-perfection.
Unfortunately for Mr. Kidd, he played his butt off for a wack team. Under the immortal Dick Motta, the Mavs finished with a 26-56 record, as Kidd, Jackson and Jamal Mashburn fought for the ball, complained, and bickered to their hearts’ deepest discontent (and The Three Js were later traded and dispersed to New Jersey, Phoenix and Miami within the following season). In Jason’s case, the year of the Air Zoom Flight ’95 ended up being a great stepping stone for his development. Averaging 16.6 points, nearly 10 assists and seven rebounds, with just over two steals a game, the mini-Magic left his imprint in ’95-96. 14 years later, he’s a future Hall of Famer with 10 All-Star selections, and probably the League’s best point guard of the last 15 years. Had Jason won multiple championships, we might have been talking about him as Magic Johnson’s equal (God knows the triple-double is almost made for them–speaking of which, remember when the media would track how many triple-doubles Kidd and Grant Hill would get in the midst of their seasons?).
(S. Dot Sidenote: Chris Paul is excellent and is Kidd’s equal in Jason’s exceptionally long ’97-07 prime [minus the microfracture years]; Steve Nash, Kidd’s brief understudy, has been equally great for the past eight years; but aside from unconventional point guards like Pippen and LeBron James, Kidd, to his credit, has reigned supreme. Tony Parker is a couple notches under the almighty Jason; Derrick Rose is right there next to the J-man, and Rajon Rondo is starting to really take form.)
The Air Zoom Flight ’95 soon got the retro treatment in 2008, as J-Kidd was planning to move from Nike (after having spent a brief time on Brand Jordan) to Chinese sneaker company Peak as his primary shoe carrier and provider (I failed once again to capitalize). Released in a variety of different colorways with some using premium leather, the AZF95s reminded admirers just how great those sneaks were.
Sandy Dover is a novelist/writer, artist and fitness enthusiast, as well as an unrepentant Prince fan (for real). You can find Sandy frequently here at SLAMonline, as well as at Facebook, Twitter and Associated Content.