Magic Love, Raptors Nostalgia & Air Jordan Alphas

by December 18, 2009

by Sandy Dover

The NBA has been continually been hard at work in promoting itself, on and off the court, and this season is really no different from any of the past several seasons, in that regard. In that same vein, the Hardwood Classics retro nights have been a big hit amongst fans of the game, and it shows particularly in the uniforms that many teams play in every so often. One example is the Orlando Magic, who chose to bring forth their classic game uniforms from 1989-1998 in a recent game against the Miami Heat.

While the team has played in the jerseys before in ’03-04, when Tracy McGrady and the Magic brought out the black away pinstripes against a rookie year-LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavs, they’re always great to see again. Everyone knows the uniforms to be iconic, as Shaquille O’Neal made his name in the same look, as the funky “Orlando” script, the primary black uniform (avant garde for the times, and somewhat taboo–think “black on black”), the metallic star on the front of the jersey and those lovable stripes took off with fans and admirers of the team. Dwight Howard has played in the uniform before, also, as he wore the same exact jersey in his second or third season for the same Hardwood Classics occasionDwight Howards, but it even greater to see today’s players wear the old look. For instance, Rashard Lewis wears the number 9, and never ever in my memories do I remember seeing a player wear a jersey number with the Magic’s custom 9 on the jersey, so that was interesting to see. Also, seeing guys like Vince Carter, Jason Williams and Ryan Anderson wear the look just seems right and brings about actual interest in watching the game, because I’m reminded of all the memories that the Magic had in those uniforms a decade before.

In my humble opinion, Orlando should keep the jersey as a staple for a number of reasons. The scoopneck collar is an instant positive; one of the worst trends I see is all the teams in the NBA going for some variation of the V-neck collar and it’s bothersome to me for some reason. I love seeing a roundneck collar, because it’s classic and aesthetically continuous, when you look at the lines and cut of the jersey. Also, none of the Magic’s uniforms after the first uniforms were actually any better; the 1998-2003 versions with the dazzle mesh and hidden stars were alright, but the stripes were kept to a minimum (side panels), the “Magic” and letter blocking were too big, and the V-neck was unnecessary; the versions from 2003-2008 were actually underrated and really nice, because of the V-neck/high chest star combination and the classic cut of the jersey, but the numerals and team script were too plain, and the side panel pinstripes were underplayed, and the uniform lacked “pizzazz”; the current ones are equal parts “great” and “horrible”, as the side panels and trim are cheap-looking and the collar is very much like the status quo of the current jersey cuts leaguewide–on the other hand, the lettering and numerals are nice and do have some sort of uniqueness in the fonts, while the pinstripes are subtle but visually appealing. Hands down, the ’89 unis are the best.

Moving on, the Toronto Raptors will be playing tonight’s game (or “are playing” or “have played,” depending on when you read this) against the New Jersey Nets in the old ’46-47 versions of the Toronto Huskies’ home threads. If you don’t remember them or the look, the Huskies were one of the first teams that were active during the NBA’s early years, and if you have a sharp mind and can remember the “NBA At 50” season in ’96-97, you’ll remember that the Raptors also played in the retro Huskies uniforms against the New York Knicks on what I believe was Opening Night in 1996; it was back when Damon Stoudamire was still on the team (and a rising star) and the Knickerbockers were actually wearing their own versions of an retro anniversary uni as well.

Anyway, the Huskies game threads are really basic, as they are all white with just the purple “HUSKIES” script, name, and numerals as the only traces of color. It’s a really nice, classic look, and while it’s quite plain, it’s so close to the original look, it’s actually refreshing to see just a all-white uniforms with hits of color, for the most part. It’s not something I’d recommend as a primary staple for the team, but it would be nice to see as a permanent retro alternate look, if that makes sense. Not that it matters much for the fortune of the Raptors, because they’re still playing lackluster basketball, but what’s funny is that the 96-97 team that wore the exact same versions of the unis were lackluster, too, and that team had the aforementioned Stoudamire and Marcus Camby on the squad.

Sneaker-wise, there are more goodies as well. The Jordan Brand is releasing the reincarnation of the original Air Jordan I, but in a new, radical package (at least when it comes to the materials). As yet another celebration of the past in light of the 25th anniversary of the Air Jordan sneaker, Brand Jordan has designed what is being called the Air Jordan Alpha I Playground. The shoe itself appears to be an exact replica of the original, and in many ways it is, but in other ways, it goes far beyond what the OG was and is.

What’s amazing about the new Air Jordan Alpha I is that it is up made of a one-piece upper and it’s seamless. It’s not leather, but a new sort of synthetic textile that allows for no-sew construction that molds to your feet, with perforations dotted in strategic places for breathability and great comfort, with no overlays (unlike the AJ I with its leather upper and multiple sew-overs around the sides and toe of the shoe). It gets even better at the midsole, where as the original Air Jordan has the rubber sidewalls and polyurethane with an Air-Sole encased in the heel, the Alpha I uses the famed Phylon foam for even more comfort, in addition to a full-length Zoom Air unit for elite cushioning and response–and check this, it’s bottom-loaded, meaning that the Zoom Air is beneath the Phylon midsole, so that it acts as last-line-of-defense cushioning when you first land on the Phylon foam, since the Zoom is closer to the actual floor surface. (S. Dot Timeout: Much of the time, Nike’s different types of non-visible Air are built either into the foam midsole or above the foam, in the sockliner/insole; at the end of the day, as long as the Air is there, World War III won’t start if it’s above, within, or below the midsole, but it’s just a unique matter of feel and responsiveness, depending on the shoe–Dovi out.)

Lastly, the outsole remains virtually identical to the original outsole, save for added herringbone patterns in the concentric circles in the met head (big ball of the foot) area. What makes this Alpha I a “Playground” version is that unlike the other Alpha I models releasing, this version comes with an ankle strap that favors playing on the blacktop and concrete outside in the summertime for some additional ankle support (although Kobe’s really putting that “fact” in the ground right now with his Zoom Kobe series). While details surrounding the Playground’s release are nearly nonexistent, expect a 2010 release date sometime in the spring or summer seasons.

Another HUGE thanks to Andrew for his continued partnership with me and treasured access and knowledge about the new stuff coming.

*NOTE: Because of issues concerning unauthorized disclosure of unreleased product, Nike instructed the source that enabled me to view (and allow you to view) the photos, that were previously published here, to be removed. Sorry guys.

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 Associated Content and Twitter.