The Air Jordan X “Chicago” drops tonight at midnight, and is no question a coveted sneaker simply because it hasn’t been around in a while. Until tonight, it hadn’t been released in 17 years, and OG pairs fetch a pretty significant premium on the secondary market. Simply put, a lot of Jordan aficionados have been waiting a long time to get a fresh version of Chicagos.
In addition, a big part of the Retro Jordan appeal is their historical significance, and the Chicagos provide more than their share of indelible images. The X’s were the game model for the 1994-95 season, the beginning of which Michael Jordan missed while playing Arizona Fall League baseball. Jordan wore Chicagos for his comeback game on March 19, 1995 against the Pacers, and he wore them for the Spike Lee-dubbed Double Nickel game.
(In what I’d imagine might be the only instance of this, Jordan wasn’t the first player to wear his own sneaker on the court. Scottie Pippen, for one, wore them for an offseason charity game, notably using them as a visual prop in an attempt to lure MJ back to the Bulls. Pippen also wore them in Jordan’s return game against the Pacers as a presumed show of solidarity.)
Jordan shot 7-for-28 in his return game, his shot flat and his legs understandably not quite under him yet. But watching him back where he belonged was significant in itself.
Over the next few weeks, there were glimpses of the old Jordan – a game-winning jumper against the Hawks with Phantom of the Opera playing ominously in the Omni, followed one game later by those 55 points against John Starks and the Knicks in the Garden. But the Bulls lost to the Magic in the playoffs, and Jordan wouldn’t totally have his groove back until the following year, when they kicked off another championship three-peat.
Jordan’s abrupt return to the Bulls was one final chapter in his surreal baseball experience. Sunday afternoon nationally televised game or not, could you imagine Jordan returning today on the road? Nike played off the entire year and a half as a dream sequence in their iconic ad for the X’s. (“I became a weak-hitting Double-A outfielder… with a below-average arm…”)
The interesting thing about the X is that much as Jordan was not yet comfortable in his own skin on the court, it didn’t appear he was totally crazy about the sneakers awaiting him upon his return. From his book, Driven From Within:
“I kind of lost connection with the brand the year I played baseball, because we came out with a shoe I didn’t approve. I had some dialogue with (designer Tinker Hatfield) in the early stages of the X design process, and he thought we were in agreement. I always liked my shoes clean-toed. When I saw the final version of the X, it already was in the marketplace, and it wasn’t consistent with the way I thought the shoe should look. There was a strap of leather going across the top of the toe.”
Jordan never actually wore the X with the extra toe box, demanding that Nike remove it for his own pairs and for subsequent retail shipments. From his standpoint, it was largely moot: As soon as Jordan saw the XI, he only had eyes for patent leather. According to Hatfield: “It was like the Jordan X had no longer become a factor in his life.” Jordan wore Space Jams in the Bulls’ playoff series loss to the Magic despite his version of the XI’s not yet having been cleared for a November release. Ahmad Rashad let the cat out of the bag, and a legend was born.