Sneakerhead confession time: Up until this past month, I’d never owned a brand new pair of original issue Air Jordans.
Sure, I’ve picked up my share of retro Jordan releases over the years, but to me that’s not the same as having the new Jordans when they release. Those retro sneaks are the old J’s coming back, you know? The exclusion of the OG’s from my sneaker resume wasn’t so much about cash (though I would have had to EARN those MF’s back in the day) as it was knowing that buying shoes like that brought with it a world of trouble that I didn’t want any part of. And I don’t mean some dude stealing them out of your locker, like what happened to my friend Kirk and his aqua VIIIs when we were in the ninth grade.
I’ve seen it happen from my first days on a basketball court. Some anonymous guy shows up looking for a game. He’s let in and inevitably, like dogs sniffing each other out, everyone checks New Guy’s kicks. In that instant, no matter how casual the conversation seems, everything changes.
“You got the new Jordans. Those are pretty nice, man.”
That’s it. Doesn’t matter what New Guy says back. It could be any of the following:
a) Yeah, thanks. I like them.
b) I’m a big MJ fan, had to get them.
c) Stop looking at my feet and shut the f*ck up. I’m gonna leave a Jumpman-shaped scar on your head before I get off this court.*
Regardless of how New Guy has responded, the weight of the world just backed its big old ass onto the court and it’s looking to get comfortable on this dude’s shoulders, whether he knows it or not. The comments start right away.
New Guy blows a layup; he turns the ball over at midcourt trying to run point; he misses a bunch of shots and gets roasted on D. It doesn’t have to be all of these things happening consecutively, but as any one of them pop up, you hear it.
“Nice move, Jordan.”
“C’mon man, be like Mike.”
“Is it the shoes? It’s gotta be the shoes.”
Having just stopped playing hockey before I got into ball, I had instant flashbacks to the poor kid who foolishly grabbed the 99 jersey at the start of the season that was (incredibly!) always available. Unless you had supreme game, the pressure that came from such an attention-grabbing move, whether it was 99, 23 or 23′s kicks, was only outweighed by the snide comments that followed said players’ inevitable shortcomings. And (cue Taylor Swift**) when you’re 15, or around that age, those comments feel like they last a lot longer than Funny Guy’s five seconds of being the court jester.
So with all of that in the back of my mind, a few days after their Feb. 13 release I strung together the sleek and thin laces in my new J’s and prayed to the basketball gods that I wasn’t making a death march from the locker room to the court at the Y. It’s a tough moment when you realize that you’re now that guy in the new Jordans, walking into what you know to be a lion pit.
With two weeks’ worth of wearing the shoes now behind me, I have to say that there was an unexpected factor that came with them. True, terrible games (I had a few) made the shoes feel much heavier than their 15 ounces and with every airball (there were a couple), turnover or brain fart where I’d stand under the basket with my hands down and a potential rebound sailed by me (there’s always a lot of those), I grew to assume that those comments were being made.
There’s a flip side to wearing these shoes, though, that makes it totally worth it to have them.
Great games are perfectly framed with J’s on your feet. Fadeaways out of the corner feel extra nice. A string of them is even better. Finishing at the hoop (even if it’s not a spectacular move), or sending an incoming shot attempt back to the free throw line, I felt like I got more bounce in every step afterwards. Smart decisions, a big rebound, a touch pass through traffic, doing it well in J’s is the basketball equivalent to doing it on ecstasy. Not that I’d know.*** I just thought that’d be a good simile.
We should talk about the shoe.
Look at the 2010, or talk about it with people and the first thing that comes up is its transparent window. Some have praised it, others hate it. I would have liked to have seen some sort of variation on it, like an embedded Jumpman or maybe a silhouette from a defining moment in Jordan’s career. I know they’re big on that over there. It’s classic JB to push the envelope with elements of their design. Sometimes it works, with materials like elephant print or patent leather. Other times, like using a giant steel-like encasing over the forefoot doesn’t go as well.
I look at the window (which I’ll admit is growing on me) and I wonder if it’s an example of Jordan Brand execs just sitting around and trying to come up with ideas that would never fly anywhere else, but because they’re JB, anything goes. Eventually, people will fall inline and lap it up.
It’s not like that concept is completely foreign in other industries. You can’t convince me that Eminem hasn’t taken this approach with everything he’s done after 2002, or that the people at Apple didn’t come up with the iPad on a dare.
But I digress.
Feelings of inadequacy or unjust superiority that the shoes stirred up in me aside, my experience with the 2010 has been a good one, but it wasn’t flawless. The toe box is a little wide on my feet, which led to a small blister and a slightly bloody sock in one of the first wearings I had with the shoe. Use of a neoprene ankle sleeve cut that problem off at the knees, protecting the outside of my foot where the blister formed and simultaneously cutting back on the movement in the shoe. If you tape your feet up or wear ankle braces when you play, you probably won’t notice this problem, if you encounter it at all.
From there, it’s all good. The full-length Zoom Air unit comes from Nike’s running line and is great if you like getting on the court and staying on for long stretches. Stacked Zoom Air in the heel adds to your overall comfort, and while I don’t notice the benefits of the asymmetrically lined up collar line on the back of the shoe — it matches the uneven placement of your ankle bones — the idea of it makes sense.
The shoe stresses breathability, with a mesh lining underneath its forefoot cover (the cover is another first for an Air Jordan). Perforations along the shoe’s upper also help air it out. And the window plays its part in breathability as well.
So at the end of the day, whether I leave the court feeling like the G.O.A.T. or just the goat, I’m trying to live up to my own ridiculous expectations in a comfortable and responsive sneaker. HOWEVA, if I have to play on an empty or a full stomach, or sense a 2-13, turnover-laden performance looming, I’ll be stepping onto the court in something a little more anonymous.
*I’ve never tried C, in any circumstance.
**The fact that I know even those four words to that song kills me on the inside a little. The ghost of Biggie Smalls should kick in my door.
***Really, I don’t know.