How MJ and The Air Jordan IV “Fire Red” Changed Basketball
Beyond “The Shot,” the AJIV foreshadowed what the game would look like decades later.
Words: Ian Stonebrook
Don’t I know you from somewhere?
On Opening Night of the 1989-90 NBA season, the visiting team from Cleveland knew MJ. In fact, they knew him all too well.
The lights dimmed in Chicago to introduce the home team’s starting lineup. The 6’6” guard from the University of North Carolina was last seen by the away team that spring, fist pumping mid-air after hitting a big shot.
Well, not just any big shot, but rather, “The Shot.”
Months prior, on May 7, 1989, MJ hit a jumper that cemented him as one of the game’s great clutch players, pushing Chicago to the Eastern Conference Semifinals and sending Cleveland home for the summer.
Time passed, but the magnitude of “The Shot” did not fade.
As the lights began to brighten in Chicago Stadium on November 3, 1989, Cleveland saw MJ for the first time since “The Shot.” Both teams took to the floor for the opening tip. It was once again clear for Cleveland that the man who sent them home in the previous playoffs was the same man they were facing that night.
Well, he was the same, but he was also different. He had the same #23 jersey, the same forearm sweatband and the same baggy shorts.
What was scarily similar, but also scorchingly different, were his shoes.
Lacing up the Air Jordan IV Fire Red to start the season, MJ’s new game shoe was a blazing revamp of the Bred IVs he wore in the playoffs. Drawn over a year earlier by Tinker Hatfield, following the otherworldly success of the AJIII, the IV maintained the ¾ cut and visible Air cushioning of its predecessor. Enhanced flexibility in the forefoot catered to MJ’s quick moves, while plastic-winged support provided customizable lockdown for the lacing. The upper was altered by adding breathable, exposed mesh on the paneling and tongue vamp.
The shoe, and what MJ was still able to do in it, were visible problems for his defenders. In that fateful season opener, it became clear that MJ’s hot hand had not cooled down over the summer. In the Fire Red IVs, he started the season shooting 61% from the field and scoring a game-high 54 points. That scoring total would be his season high for the early part of the 1989-90 campaign, until he dropped what would be his career-high of 69 points months later, in the Fire Red Vs.
He would also do that against, you guessed it, Cleveland.
“MJ’s point guard play and sensational stat sheets painted a picture of what the game would look like decades later.”
In that first game of the 1989-90 season, Chicago lost the opening tip, but that was about it. In defeating the Bulls’ midwestern rivals in overtime, not only would MJ get 54 points, he’d grab 14 rebounds — more than any member of the opposition — and dish out six assists.
He did it all in the Fire Red IVs. MJ wore the heated take on the winged silhouette from the explosive season opener against Cleveland all the way through the NBA All-Star break in Miami. Prior to debuting the Fire Red IVs against Cleveland, the Air Jordan IV was already a pivotal pair in Air Jordan history. The silhouette was the first global market release for MJ and made a memorable appearance on the big screen.
On the court, while wearing the Air Jordan IV, MJ would often play the point guard position rather than that of the wing. MJ’s height, athleticism and aggressiveness were even more terrifying to opposing defenses and opened up opportunities for his teammates.
In the Air Jordan IV’s debut season, MJ racked up a career-high 15 triple-doubles, including seven straight in the spring of ‘89. MJ’s point guard play and sensational stat sheets painted a picture of what the game would look like decades later.
Since its 1989 release, the Air Jordan IV Fire Red has returned with a laser-etched homage to MJ’s career, the stamp of approval from a Hollywood star and Jumpman branding to signify modern celebration. Never before has the Air Jordan IV Fire Red returned with one-to-one detailing like the iconic Nike Air heel tagging.
Until now, for the first time in over three decades.
Releasing true to form with original branding, packaging and smoldering hues, the Air Jordan IV Fire Red returns with the same shape and styling worn by MJ back during his 1989-90 season start.
They say revenge is a dish best served cold. Unfortunately for Cleveland, MJ in new shoes had something hot in store.
The Air Jordan IV Fire Red is available starting November 27 on SNKRS, Jordan.com and from select retailers.