Sneak Peak: Air Jordan XIV
The Black Cat is given a crown for its/his most treasured moment.
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, peak season of his career–and the signature shoe that shares in his glory. That’s what Sneak Peak (pun intended) 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, with a few exceptions), which I have dubbed “The Wonder Years.” Only truly at the San Dova Speak-Easy.
The ‘97-98 NBA season felt different. The NBA was slowly changing as the new sacred cows of the League (Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett) were beginning to form even in their relative infancy. Nike was beginning to make league uniforms then. And of course, the Chicago Bulls were looking to win a third consecutive time in a second string of triad championships. Our beloved hero Michael Jordan was leaving and though we didn’t know it, we knew it. That meant every game he played was going to take on a greater bit of significance than we were prepared to understand…which of course meant that his shoes also took on a bit of that history. And he surprised us at the very end in something that we didn’t expect to see.
The Air Jordan XIV was given the ultimate test drive. Being that it was a shoe that was made for his next season, its iconic stature has less to do with its actual looks than for its physical location in history. MJ took his Last Shot of his Bulls career in that shoe. That shoe is a part of the embodiment of what greatness looks like when it peaks at the very best moment. A plain black shoe with red accents doesn’t just do that alone, but because of where it was when the Greatest of All Time, it became a part of history. I don’t need to retell the history of MJ’s game. Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals is legendary. You have to see it to believe it. Even with YouTube, I insist that you had to witness in live time for yourself.
At the time, I didn’t know what he was wearing, but it sure was different from the Air Jordan XIII—a shoe that resembled a bit of a panther’s profile and paw and was organically alien in its appearance. The XIV looked like luxury, surely because of its Ferrari roots. A lot of people don’t recognize the shoe for its technical brilliance. A lot of people see the deep black suede set against those dark red highlights and that’s enough. The full-length herringbone tread, the Zoom Air in the front and rear of the foot, the concisely placed air vents, the Black Cat silhouette from the 23 foxing graphic, the uniquely lower cut of the ankle…the AJ XIV was made to be remembered, and it is, even in subtlety.
It would’ve lived on forever in the hearts of dear Jordan admirers even if it hadn’t been Retro’d by Brand Jordan—but it was. In a lot of colors that were really great (and in all of them, I was unable to obtain even one pair). Ray Allen wore them in that shortened ’99 season, as did others, and they may be MJ’s least recognized Air Jordan that he wore in his signature catalog.
As for Michael, things have changed greatly for him. The Washington Wizards came and went for him. He’s now an owner of the Charlotte Bobcats and his sons have taken precedence over him in live action games, naturally. He’s a Hall of Famer now, and it’s not merely the most obvious forecast of the future now; it’s for real. The high-waisted jeans and full-bodied sport coats are now his uniform; the red, white, and black are gone, in favor of tans and browns and blues. The Jumpman might as well be his personal equivalent of Benny The Bull, his mascot (as it’s long been). He doesn’t even wear the signature model of his shoes anymore.
We remember what the shoes were. They aren’t gifts from the heavens. They aren’t celestial miracles for our feet. They aren’t anything but leather, plastic and rubber. But despite their primitive and humbling beginnings, those materials were crafted into a symbol of what greatness might look like were it featured in the right setting. And it’s all about timing, life is all timing. Had those shoes come later, they’d be another Air Jordan IX. If they came earlier, the brilliance of the prior model may be lost, but the timing of their breakout in accordance with MJ’s ultimate finale made the XIV as special as it is. It’s a part of the moment, it doesn’t stand alone there…but paradoxically, its contribution to the moment makes it stand alone.
Sandy Dover is a novelist/writer, artist, and fitness enthusiast whose work has been published by US News, Yahoo!, featured in Robert Atwan’s “America Now,“ and now in Buckets and Playmaker magazines. You can find Sandy frequently here at SLAMonline, as well as at Facebook and Twitter.