On his 60th birthday, 23 little-known sneaker stories about Michael Jordan — Andscape
Everyone has a story about Michael Jordan. And a lot of those tales surround sneakers.
That’s one thing I’ve learned in five years of covering the Jordan Brand — and, by proxy, the man who changed the world with his own line of shoes. Jordan, by many metrics, is the most colossal figure in footwear history.
Back in 1984, a young African American basketball player from the University of North Carolina took a chance on a still-emerging sportswear company. Nike also went all in on Jordan, with a goal of selling $3 million worth of products in the first four years of their partnership. During his rookie season, Nike raked in $126 million, marketing and selling a sneaker inspired by and designed specifically for Jordan. Nearly 40 years later, Jordan now has 37 signature shoes to his name and counting — the most of any athlete. And according to a recent report, the Jordan Brand now generates that original $3 million benchmark in sales every five hours.
Jordan turns 60 today, fittingly in the year ending in “23.” I’ve never asked Jordan a single question about a sneaker. But I’ve spoken to countless people surrounding him — from executives to designers, athletes, and entertainers — about the impact his sneakers and brand have had on them. Again, the takeaway: Everyone has a sneaker story about Jordan.
In honor of His Airness’ birthday, this is a collection of the 23 best stories I’ve heard — about Jordan, his brand, and his sneakers.
1. The one about the burger before the pitch
On Oct. 26, 1984, the same day he made his regular-season NBA debut, a 21-year-old Michael Jordan signed a five-year endorsement deal with Nike. The unprecedented contract was worth $500,000 annually, just shy of the $550,000 rookie salary he received from the Chicago Bulls. Before an agreement was reached, Jordan reluctantly traveled from North Carolina to Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, where the company delivered its pitch.
Told by Howard White, longtime vice president of the Jordan Brand.
“One of the attorneys at Nike was like, ‘Let’s go get some lunch.’ I said, ‘Man, I got this big meeting coming up.’ He said, ‘We ain’t gonna be that long.’ He said, ‘I’m gonna take you to Helvetia Tavern, where they have one of the biggest hamburgers you’ve ever seen. Don’t worry, we’ll be back!’
“Needless to say, we did not get back in time. MJ and his family were already there. I’m sure they said, ‘Lord, have mercy. He’s late.’ But you have to remember: Michael didn’t even want to be [at that Nike meeting]. His agent David Falk wanted him to go to Nike, but Michael was like, ‘Why don’t y’all go and tell me what you see?’ Michael said that he wasn’t going. So, David called his mom, who said, ‘First, talk to his dad.’ Pops talked to him, and Michael said no again. Then, Mama J said, ‘No, he will be there. And we will be there.’
“MJ was an Adidas guy. He loved Adidas. He wore Converse in college, but he was an Adidas man. They gave him stuff, and he loved wearing it. So, he was going to a place [Nike] he didn’t even want to be. So, we talked and we pitched. I remember they played the Pointer Sisters at the end. They had this song called ‘Jump.’ They had clips of him dunking and doing his thing all different ways. I think that excited him. But he had a poker face … So, why would Nike want some young kid nobody knew? That was Sonny [Vacarro], Rob Strasser, Peter [Moore] and Phil [Knight]. They took that huge leap of faith. And you see where we are today. Sometimes, you just have to believe. Lo and behold, here I was, sitting and watching all this.
“People need something to believe in. For me, that’s what MJ was — principles, work ethic, belief. That’s not that hard to sell. And I think that’s what we did with this Jordan thing — we bottled it and sold it to the world.”
2. The one about the OG Chicago 1s
Told by Mark Bostic, former University of San Diego (1983-86) basketball player and longtime Air Jordan collector known as @JumpmanBostic.
“My connection to MJ goes all the way back to 1985. I was in college at the University of San Diego when MJ left UNC to go to the Chicago Bulls. We’re the same age. Born the same year, in the same month. [Back then,] the University of San Diego was an Adidas school, so we had to wear Adidas gear on the court. But I still remember seeing the ‘Chicago’ 1s for the first time. And I had to have them. So I bought them for $65. And I wore those shoes whenever I could. I couldn’t wait to graduate and rock the Air Jordan 1s without having to sneak around wearing them. I still have those shoes in my collection and wear them on the first of every year, just to keep them wearable. I’ll never get rid of those shoes.”
3. The one about Skechers
Told by Jasmine Jordan, oldest daughter of Michael Jordan
“As a kid, I was rocking a lot of Skechers, which was not OK in my father’s eyes. I used to beg him, ‘Please, let me get the light-up Skechers!’ Or, the shoes with the wheels. He would let me wear them for a day, then the next day, they would end up in the trash. It didn’t matter what pair they were. It didn’t matter who bought them. If they were in his house and they weren’t Jordans on my feet, they were in the trash by the next day.”
4. The one about the other dunk contest in ‘White Cement’ 3s
Michael Jordan defeated Dominique Wilkins in the 1988 NBA slam dunk contest at Chicago Stadium. Jordan clinched the victory by scoring a perfect 50 after taking flight from the free throw line and throwing down a one-handed jam. That dunk made the shoes he wore on his feet that day — “White Cement” Air Jordan 3s — timeless. Three months later, on May 18, 1988, he laced them up again for an impromptu dunk exhibition at the Carolina Coliseum in Columbia, South Carolina.
Told by Jo Jo English, a former player at the University of South Carolina (1988-1992) before playing 50 games for the Chicago Bulls (1992-1994).
“I always jokingly tell my kids that a trivia question could be: What two people made Michael Jordan take off from the free throw line? The answer is Dominique Wilkins at the All-Star in Chicago, and then me. This was May 1988, and I was 18 years old. I won the South Carolina high school dunk contest in my junior year. Coach George Glymph, who passed away [in 2021], put together another one my senior year. He knew Jordan from his days working Five Star Basketball camps. So, Jordan came to be a judge. The Carolina Coliseum was packed with 12,000 people because the tickets were only $3.
“I couldn’t officially be in the contest because I had already signed my letter of intent to go to the University of South Carolina. But Coach Glymph said, ‘You’re gonna do a little dunk exhibition with MJ.’ I was all geeked up because I had on the ‘Fire Red’ 3s, black shorts, and a red Bulls top. Michael was wearing some dress shoes because he didn’t plan on coming out there to play. So he borrowed ‘White Cement’ 3s from a kid there named Terry Baker who wore a size 14.
“I was all nervous after he said, ‘You do one, young fella. And I’ll follow you.’ It was supposed to be like two or three dunks. I did the kiss-the-rim dunk, and he came right behind me and dunked it. I did the rock-the-cradle, then he rocked the cradle. I did a backwards dunk, and he went backwards. Then I said, ‘You go first.’ So, he went and took off from a little bit outside the block. So, I told one of my friends to come out and moved him further back. After the free throw line dunk, he wanted to keep on going. Because of how the crowd responded, he could feel that I was winning. He said, ‘C’mon, young fella.’ I said, ‘Nah, I’m good. This is history right now. I don’t want to mess it up.’
“Fast-forward to a few years later, when I went to the Bulls rookie free agent camp. Out of 40 dudes, I was one of six players who made it to the veteran’s camp. Jordan remembered me but refused to call me by my first name. So, he called me ‘South Carolina.’ ”
5. The one about the “Wings” poster
Told by Gary Nolton, the photographer behind Nike’s 1989 “Wings” ad.
“That shoot was the first time I worked with Michael Jordan. That was his fourth or fifth season, right before the whole Air Jordan movement really took off. He came to my studio in the Chinatown area of Portland. I used a large-format camera. The actual negative is 4 by 5 inches, which is quite large compared to 35 mm film or medium format film. You don’t typically use those with people — and especially never sports. It’s the old-school, look-through-under-a-hood camera. Those cameras are really made for landscapes and product photography.
“Michael obviously could palm a basketball, but we propped the ball up on a stand, so all he had to do was place his hand on it. He didn’t have to hold it. As soon as he walked in, we were like, ‘This is the pose. And we’ll get you out of here.’ The whole shoot, between makeup, getting the jersey on, shooting, and talking a little bit, I don’t think we spent more than an hour. He had on his jersey, and I think a pair of gym shorts. But they weren’t his playing shorts. I couldn’t even tell you if he even had sneakers on. He could’ve had on sandals, for all I remember. The photoshoot wasn’t productcentric. It was about selling the brand and being represented by this supreme athlete.
“In the early 2000s, Jordan’s people called me. He had a golf course in Aurora, Illinois, and for the clubhouse, he wanted to have the Wings poster, but big. Like 25 feet wide. So I did a little homework and went through the whole process. Jordan spent a lot of money on it. A big part of the bill was shipping because the thing was so damn big and had to be mounted. All told, it was probably about $15,000.”
6. The one about Mike — not Nike
In the early 1990s, English — an undrafted NBA free agent — bounced back and forth between playing in the CBA and holding a coveted roster spot on the Bulls. In the days before the G League, a two-way player like English had to come out of his own pocket for sneakers. That was until Jordan stepped in.
Told by Jo Jo English.
“One day, I needed some new basketball shoes. I was getting ready to go to the mall and buy some. MJ looked at the back of my shoes and said, ‘They need to change that N to an M and call it ‘Mike.’ [pronounced mi-key instead of ni-key] He asked, ‘What size shoe do you wear, young fella?’ I told him a 12.5, and he walked out of the locker room without saying anything. The next morning, boxes of shoes were sitting at my locker before practice. It was four different pairs.”
7. The one about the 1966 Volkswagen Bug
Told by Jim Riswold, former Wieden+Kennedy copywriter behind the original Air Jordan and Mars Blackmon commercials.
“It was a Saturday, and we had a meeting to present some scripts at Nike’s headquarters. At the time, I drove a baby blue 1966 Volkswagen Bug. In the meeting, Howard White says, ‘Jordan wants to play golf with you after we’re done.’ I said, ‘Sure, I’d love to.’
“After the meeting, Michael says, ‘Rizzy, let’s go play.’ He starts to get into my car, but Tinker and Phil Knight freak out. Like, ‘Michael, you’re gonna ride in a Volkswagen?’ They’re all offering me the keys to their Ferraris or whatever. The golf course was only about 15 miles away and Michael said, ‘My college roommate drove one of these. I’ll be fine!’ It’s a beautiful morning, and we’re driving on Highway 26. He has the window down and his elbow out of the window, and people driving by are going, ‘That’s Michael Jordan!’
“We played and stayed at the golf club until it was dark. He always stayed at the same hotel in Portland back then. This was the early ’90s, and there was no social media, but everybody always knew when Jordan was in town. So, when we got back, there was a crowd outside the hotel. A Porsche drives up, and everybody goes nuts. Then, here comes this little Volkswagen. He gets out, goes through the back door, and nobody sees him.
“I sold the car last year to a friend. And Michael had signed the inside of the glove box that day. I had the car detailed because it was just sitting in my mom’s garage in Seattle. But when I looked, the signature had gotten washed away. So, I once had a Volkswagen signed by Michael Jordan. Nobody can top that.”
8. The one about the infamous line in the commercial script
On Oct. 6, 1993, Michael Jordan announced his first retirement from basketball to mourn the murder of his father, James Jordan, and pursue an MLB career. Jordan spent 17 months away from the court playing outfielder for the Chicago White Sox’s double-A affiliate team, the Birmingham Barons.
Told by Jim Riswold.
“We had just finished shooting the first baseball Jordan commercial with Bill Buckner, [Stan Musial, Willie Mays, and Ken Griffey Jr.] It runs for a week, then we have a meeting and find out Michael’s gonna go back to basketball. We were all like, ‘Thank God!’
“So, I wrote a spot that Jordan playing baseball was all a dream. I wrote the lines, ‘I walked away from the game I love and became a weak-hitting double-A outfielder with a below-average arm.’ I present the commercial to the Nike group, and they say, ‘Well, how do you think Michael is gonna react to that line? Because we’re gonna present the idea to him over the phone right after this meeting.’ So, they dial Michael, and I read him the script. He chuckles and goes, ‘What the f—? Why do you wanna call me a weak-hitting outfielder?’ I say, ‘Well, what else would you call someone hitting .202?’ Then, there’s silence. And Michael said, ‘F— you, Rizzy!’ and hung up the phone. We shot the commercial about a week later, right after his first game back on the court, when he shot 7-for-28. Then, he drops a double-nickel against the Knicks.”
The line didn’t make the final version of the script. Instead, Spike Lee recites, “I’ve got a bad dream. I dreamt Money retired. Then, he became a baseball player who had trouble with a vicious double-A curveball.”
9. The one about the ‘Chicago’ Air Jordan 10s
Told by Jo Jo English.
“I wore Jordans once on the court in my career; the pair Scottie Pippen held up and pointed at to get MJ to come back to the Bulls. One day, I went to my locker at the Berto Center [the Chicago Bulls’ former practice facility] and we all had a pair. So, I didn’t think anything of it and wore them in one of the first five games of the [1993-94 NBA season]. Before the following practice, I’m in the Berto Center getting taped up. MJ, even when he was retired, used to come by the facility. He was sitting on the training table and said, ‘Yo, young fella. Who gave you permission to wear my shoes?’ He was kind of joking, but he kind of wasn’t. He said, ‘You have to get my permission. Don’t worry about it. Just don’t let it happen again.’ Back then, nobody was really wearing Jordans but him. Scottie wore them to get him to come out of retirement. But I wasn’t supposed to.”
10. The one about the ‘Concord’ 11s
On May 7, 1995, Michael Jordan debuted the Air Jordan 11 during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic. Designed by Tinker Hatfield, the sneaker drew inspiration from spats and became the first basketball sneaker incorporating patent leather. On Nov. 10, 1995, the debut white and black “Concord” colorway of the Air Jordan 11 dropped at retail for $125 a pair.
Told by Marvin Barias, longtime Air Jordan collector known as @mjo23dan.
“I remember watching that game and thinking those are the cleanest sneakers I’ve ever seen. Going to school the next day, people were talking about it. Some thought it was ugly. But I was like, I can’t wait for them to come out. I looked all over San Diego for that pair before I finally got to a shop that had them. I remember holding the sneaker on the car ride home and sleeping with it right next to my pillow. It was weird. But I was 15, and they were my first pair of Jordans. I wanted to keep them clean, but not knowing how to do so, I threw them in the wash and poured bleach all over them, which turned the soles yellow. I had a friend who was interested in them. I don’t know why. They were supernasty then. So I said, ‘Yeah, 50 bucks,’ and I gave him the shoes. He didn’t ask for the box, so I still have the original box.”
11. The one about the night MJ didn’t wear Air Jordans
After lacing up the “Concord” Air Jordan 11s during the first two games of the 1995 NBA Eastern Conference semifinals against the Orlando Magic, the NBA fined Jordan $5,000 for violating the league’s uniform guidelines by wearing white and black sneakers that didn’t conform with the Chicago Bulls’ team colors. So in Game 3, Jordan broke out a pair of Nike Air Flight Ones, a sneaker headlined by Orlando star Penny Hardaway to avoid additional fines. That game, on May 12, 1995, marked the only time in Jordan’s career that he wore another player’s shoe in an NBA game.
Told by Penny Hardaway, four-time All-Star point guard for the Orlando Magic and longtime Nike signature athlete.
“He’s Michael Jordan. He was the man. He didn’t ask me for them. He just told Nike to give them to him. He said, ‘Hey, give me some of the kid’s shoes.’ When I heard that, I thought, ‘Of course. How many pairs does he need? Does he need mine?’ It was like, that’s Michael Jordan wearing my shoes.”
Writer’s note: Original pairs of 1995’s Nike Air Flight One featured heel tabs with Hardaway’s signature “1 Cent” logo. But the heel tabs on each shoe Jordan wore that night were missing.
“I didn’t notice he cut the 1 Cent tab off. I haven’t noticed it’s gone in the older pictures. I just noticed the shoe, but maybe he did.”
12. The one about the first player to join Team Jordan
In 1996, Ray Allen became the first player Michael Jordan selected to represent the Jordan Brand before the subdivision of Nike officially launched in September 1997. Allen, Derek Anderson, Vin Baker, Michael Finley, and Eddie Jones were the original five “Team Jordan” endorsers.
Told by Ray Allen, two-time NBA champion shooting guard and Hall of Famer.
“The first time I met Michael Jordan, I played against him on Oct. 15, 1996. That was my second NBA game. It was preseason. Seeing him was surreal for me, and I was intimidated because I was not supposed to be in this moment. I’m supposed to be on the other side, watching and cheering for him. That’s been my whole life as a basketball player. Now I gotta beat him? Now I gotta stop him? I was like, ‘Man, you know how many times I rooted for him to destroy whoever was on the other end of the floor.’ Now, I’m this kid in this position, and I’m thinking, ‘Is this moment too big for me?’
“So, I start that game, and I give him a pound when we walk out on the floor. He said, ‘What’s up, Ray? Welcome to the NBA.’ I was like, ‘Man, Michael Jordan knows my name. I have definitely made it.’
“I was the first guy in the league who had Brand Jordans on my feet. I was in the middle of signing a contract with Fila. But my heart was with Nike. At the time, Nike was creating a new Jordan line and wanted me to be a part of it. Joining Brand Jordan was one of the best decisions I made in my career.”
13. The one about the boardroom meeting
Told by Derek Anderson, former NBA guard and original Team Jordan member.
“I was invited to the Nike campus. I had no idea who I was meeting. I didn’t know anything about the Jordan Brand. I thought I was meeting with just Nike. I came onto campus. They walked me around. I finally get to a boardroom, and there’s Michael Jordan. He says, ‘Hey, DA, how’s it going?’ I’m thinking, ‘Wow, Michael Jordan actually knows who I am.’ I’m freaking out, but I’m being cool. I’m just kind of looking like, ‘I’m good. How are you, sir?’ He sat me down and said he’d like for me to be a part of the Jordan Brand family. I told him I’d be honored.”
14. The one about the Jordan Brand launch party
On Sept. 9, 1997, a few months before the start of the Chicago Bulls’ “Last Dance” season, Nike unveiled the Jordan Brand at NikeTown in New York City during a celebration featuring performances from Blackstreet, A Tribe Called Quest, and Kenny Lattimore.
Told by Kenny Lattimore, Grammy-nominated R&B singer/songwriter.
“I got a call to go to New York because Michael Jordan was launching the Jordan Brand and wanted me to come and sing. I was like, ‘OK! But I have to bring [producer] Barry Eastmond.’ I had to make sure my presentation was right because I was singing for the great Michael Jordan. We got there, and the moment he came in was when I met him for the first time. He was just so gracious, but his energy was so high. He was like, ‘Oh, my gosh! This is my dude right here!’ I was like, ‘Wow, this is Michael Jordan.’
“He called me to the side after Ahmad Rashad came into the room and asked me to sing him and Ahmad a song called ‘Forever.’ I was like, ‘OK, wait a minute. If you know ‘Forever,’ then you’re a real fan.’ Because that was an album cut. Crazy enough, Barry Eastmond, the producer, happened to know ‘Forever.’ We didn’t plan to sing that song for him, but Barry started playing, and Michael loved it.”
15. The one about the game of H-O-R-S-E
Told by Michael Finley, two-time NBA All-Star and original Team Jordan member.
“I had an opportunity to play against MJ when I was in high school way back when. A local TV station in Chicago had this dream-come-true special. At the time, my high school team was the hottest thing in Chicago, and the Bulls were as well. So they thought it would be great to get one of the best players off each team and put them in a one-on-one, H-O-R-S-E situation. They asked me if I would mind doing it. I was like, ‘Of course.’
“We ended up going to the Bulls’ practice facility. A lot of people don’t know this, but when I got there, the late Jerry Krause said, ‘No, we’re not going to have this kid play with MJ and risk an injury.’ At the time, they were starting the playoffs. Krause was like, ‘No.’ But MJ came out, being the professional that he is, and said, ‘The kid has come all this way. Let’s just play a little bit.’
“We ended up playing and having a great time. I was nervous as heck, getting a chance to not only meet my role model but to have a chance to play with him on the court. Definitely, a dream come true. We both had on the Air Jordan 6s. I remember because I wore the 6s in the state championship in ’91, and MJ wore them in the playoffs.
“Let’s just say Michael won. That’s my answer, and I’m sticking to it. I’m taking the full story to my grave.”
16. The one about spring cleaning at The Forum
Told by Eddie Jones, three-time NBA All-Star and original Team Jordan member, who received two signature shoes from the Jordan Brand, the Jumpman Quick 6 (1999) and Jumpman Swift 6 (2000).
“I remember we used to do this thing once the season was over where everybody would take all their sneakers out of the team facility. I never forget going to the Forum late to clean out my locker. I swear every guy that wore a size 13, size 14, was like, ‘Eddie, man. I gotta have these. I didn’t want to take them without you knowing, but can I have them?’
“I had no sneakers by the time I left. I remember Usher even asking me for some sneakers.”
17. The one about the ‘Black Cat’ idea
Told by Tinker Hatfield, the longtime Nike footwear designer and lead designer of 15 models from the Air Jordan signature line.
“I had been working on his new shoe for a couple of months and finally had this vision of the ‘Black Cat’ idea. So I immediately asked where Michael was at the time, and he was shooting a commercial in Los Angeles at the Forum. It was the Frozen Moment commercial, which is considered, I think, one of the all-time best Jordan commercials. I had this presentation board in between takes, and I was trying to get him to come over to show it to him behind a prop. Finally, he had a big enough break and came over where no one else could see us. I showed him the presentation board, which had two black cats on it, a side view, and a bottom view of the shoe design, which was very pawlike.’
“When he saw the board and heard me mention the words ‘Black Cat,’ he stopped me and said, ‘How did you know?’ I’m like, ‘How did I know what?’ He goes, ‘How do you know what my nickname is? Only my best friends use it.’ I said, ‘I didn’t know anybody ever called you the Black Cat.’ I just thought it was, in my opinion, a way to describe how he played the game at this point in his career. He was very strategic, sinewy, powerful, and smart. He sort of knew how to conserve his energy and use it at the right time, and basically continue to be the best player in the world.
“So that’s kind of how this thing got rolling. He was kind of incredulous when I spoke the words ‘Black Cat.’ And I felt this was a neat little moment because it’s like we were communicating on a different level.”
18. The one about the bloody ‘Chicago’ 1s
On March 8, 1998, Michael Jordan played his final game as a member of the Bulls at Madison Square Garden. That night, he wore a 14-year-old pair of Air Jordan 1s from his rookie season that were too small. Jordan finished Chicago’s 102-89 win against the Knicks with 42 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals.
Told by Gentry Humphrey, former longtime vice president of footwear for the Jordan Brand.
“Michael used to have three or four pairs of every shoe. So, he had an original pair of the ‘Chicago’ 1s from way back in the day. The crazy thing was that he was a 12.5 when he first came into the league. Then throughout his career, he went from 12.5 to 13 to 13.5 to 14. And so, at that point, he was squeezing his 13.5 foot into a size 12.5 shoe. It was amazing that he would squeeze his feet into those just to make sure he went into the Garden to prove a point. He probably should’ve changed his shoes at halftime because his feet were bleeding by the end of the game. He’ll tell you he’s not, but there are so many things that I believe he’s superstitious about.”
19. The one about the ‘Knuckleheads’
Told by Quentin Richardson, former NBA shooting guard. Richardson joined the Jordan Brand, along with childhood friend and Los Angeles Clippers teammate Darius Miles, in 2000.
“If anybody knows MJ, you know about his Flight School camp for kids. Because they would have some epic counselor games … Flight School used to be held at UC-Santa Barbara … two weeks … two sessions. When I went to college, they brought Darius because he was one of the top high school players. We were both counselors. It was our first time going. Fast-forward to after we get drafted by the Clippers, we’re in LA, which is an hour from Santa Barbara. When August comes, we’re like, ‘Man, we’re gonna go out there to the Jordan camp …’ because the runs used to be really good.
‘At this point, we had no Nike deal, but AND1 was courting us really hard. They had Larry Hughes and a few guys we looked up to. We were rocking a whole bunch of AND1. After we get through playing pickup, MJ looked at us like ‘Why y’all got all this AND1 stuff on? I thought y’all was Nike guys.’ Me and D-Miles were like, ‘We wanna be Nike guys but a contract ain’t happened.’ He was like, ‘Don’t even worry about it. Y’all gon’ be with us.’ We didn’t even know quite what that meant because Jordan Brand wasn’t what [it is today]. He just had the first years of it with Ray Allen, Derek Anderson, Eddie Jones, Vin Baker, and Michael Finley.
“Our agent Jeff Weschler was like, ‘I don’t know what happened, but Michael called up Nike, and you guys are gonna be with him on some special team.’ We started getting flooded with the most gear you could imagine. Today, they don’t give the same amount of gear they used to give. We got everything they made. Stuff that you wouldn’t wear, stuff that you have to give away because it was so much. We were literally in heaven.”
20. The one about the broken ankle
Told by former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, who became the first quarterback in the NFL to join the Jordan Brand in 2001.
“Every Super Bowl or NBA All-Star Game that I went to, when I’d run into Mike at a party, all we talked about was the brand. He was like, ‘Hey, man, how you like the shoes? The shoes good?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, man but when am I gonna have my own ad? When am I gonna have my own commercial?’ just to mess with him. Before I broke my ankle against the Arizona Cardinals [in 2002], my new Jordan shoes didn’t come in. So I wore Nikes, and I broke my ankle in them.
“The Wizards were playing the Sixers right after our football game. I went over on crutches and a boot to watch the game. I went to the locker room to talk to him and Charles Oakley. He was like, ‘What shoes did you have on?’ I said, ‘Man, I had on some damn Nikes!’ He was like, ‘Your shoes didn’t come in?’ I was like, ‘Nah, that’s probably why I broke my ankle.’ We laugh and joke about it every time we see each other.”
21. The one about Jadakiss and Mase
Told by Grammy-nominated rapper Jadakiss.
“Two standout moments of my career are being able to sit there with Biggie while he was making the Life After Death album and actually meeting MJ. He’s had me on the friends and family list for about 20 years now.
“But many moons ago, one time when the ‘Bred’ 11s came out, me and Mase were riding around all of New York City, looking for ’em. Mase actually found them, but I didn’t. But before going home, I stopped at one of the sneaker stores on 145th and Broadway. I said, ‘Yo, you got the Black and Red 11s? I need an 8.5.’ They only had an 8. I said, ‘Yo, call another store or go back downstairs, and look again. I need an 8.5.’ I was sitting in the store for an hour and a half. All of sudden, the salesperson goes, ‘Yo, J, I found the 8.5.’
“Something told me to put my thumb where the size is, and the ‘.5’ came right off! It was still the size 8s. He tried a gaffle on me. And if I didn’t use my head, I would’ve bought the wrong size. That was a good one, though. He tried to make an 8.5!”
22. The one about the coma
Told by Jim Riswold.
“The year the Air Jordan 20s came out [in 2005], I was in the hospital. I had lung surgery and was told there was a small chance the surgery could collapse my lung. And the day after surgery, my lung collapsed, which led to another week in the hospital under heavy sedation. There was a pair of shoes left on my nightstand. But I don’t remember anybody bringing them to me.
“I figured they were from Tinker. So, I called to thank him. And he says, ‘Did you look closely at the shoe?’ So, I looked. Then Tinker says, ‘Look at the f—ing strap!’ and hangs up.
“Sure enough, on the left shoe, Michael wrote, ‘Get well, Rizzy.’ ”
23. The one about the long-awaited autograph
During the airing of ESPN’s The Last Dance docuseries in 2020, Andscape interviewed fashion designer Virgil Abloh, a native of Rockford, Illinois, and lifelong Chicago Bulls fan. Abloh, the founder of Off-White and former artistic director of menswear for Louis Vuitton, designed seven pairs of Air Jordans before his death in November 2021 at the age of 41.
Told by Virgil Abloh, Nike/Jordan Brand collaborator from 2017 to 2021.
“The Air Jordan 1 that I did in white. You know, the very first experiment that led to the idea that eventually came out? I posted the final shoe on Instagram, which Jordan signed. Because back when I was a teenager, all I wanted was Michael Jordan’s autograph. I remember I applied and got accepted to his basketball camp. It was called Flight School. I still remember the form that I filled out. I was like, ‘This is going to be the year I’m going to basketball camp with Michael Jordan himself. Then I remember being devastated when that was the summer he announced he would play baseball. And the basketball camp got canceled.
“I spoke to Michael [in 2019] and we were talking about the Jordan 1 that I had done. He was congratulatory on how I interpreted it. And, you know, that 17-year-old version of myself was superseding the 37-year-old version of myself … I was like, you know, I need the autograph on that shoe to complete, like, a life sort of goal.”