THE AIR JORDAN 11 – FROM GRADE SCHOOL TO GRADUATION
HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS DISCUSS THE AJ 11 "CAP AND GOWN." IMAGES: CHRIS SHONTING WORDS: RUSS BENGTSON
With thanks to the Red Hook Initiative.
Back in 1995, the Air Jordan 11 was informally introduced as a formal shoe, as Michael Jordan debuted both the Concord and “Space Jam” colorways in the Eastern Conference Semis against Orlando. The following year, with the shoe finally hitting shelves, he’d win them a championship, wearing the black and red “playoff” pair as he won his fourth ring against Seattle.
As soon as it released, the Air Jordan 11—designed by Tinker Hatfield, with its distinctive patent leather shine—was worn for special occasions off the hardwood as well. It was worn to proms and graduations, with suits and gowns. People even got married in it. Not everyone could win a championship, but everyone could celebrate a special moment in a special shoe.
A full 23 years after that debut, the Air Jordan 11 remains a staple of both basketball and style, even for those who weren’t yet born when Jordan wore it first. Tyrese Arrington and Josh Allen, both 17, are high school seniors in Brooklyn who have only seen Jordan through highlights. “Michael Jordan is an icon,” Arrington says, “His name is always gonna be known. I definitely went back and watched highlights, sick highlights. Dunk contests, game winners—” Allen jumps in. “Jordan was a beast back then.”
And just as the legend of Jordan endures, his shoes continue to hold meaning. Both Allen and Arrington adopted Jordans early, inspired by both the look and the man. “Jordans have always been my way of expressing my style,” Arrington says, “whether it was dressing up or trying to impress people.” “He’s like a basketball player and a fashion symbol at the same time,” Allen adds. “I like that.”
“Growing up, everybody had Jordans,” Arrington says. “When you first put on a new pair of sneakers and tie ‘em up for the first time, it’s the best—it gives you a new confidence, a good feeling.
“You definitely gotta have a fresh pair of Jordans for a special occasion. Pull ‘em out, throw ‘em on, dress ‘em up.”
Allen agrees. “You always have to have one or two fresh pairs of Jordans just sitting in your closet waiting to come out for that special occasion. Like yeah, today I’m comin’ out.”
If any one Jordan is more special-occasion ready than the rest, it’s the 11, patent leather shining. “I actually have on a pair of 11s right now,” Arrington says. “The Jordan 11 basically goes with everything, they’re always gonna be classy whether it’s the Cool Grey 11, the Concords, there’s always gonna be something—the Columbia XIs—they’re always gonna be something that’s a fan favorite. No matter what sneakerhead you go to, they at least have one pair of 11s. And they go with everything, they go with jeans, they go with slacks, I’ve seen people throw ‘em on with suits. They go with everything so they’re always gonna be in style.”
“The icy bottoms, the patent leather—you could wear the 11s to play ball, to go out, with a suit or a tuxedo,” Allen says. “For every occasion you could wear ‘em anytime you want to.”
Like, say, graduation. Arrington and Allen are both graduating this year, and the all-black cap-and-gown 11 is dropping right on time. “Those go with my cap and gown, all black” Allen says. “The cap and gown shines a little bit in the light and the patent leather shines too, so it’ll go right together.”
Arrington is right there too: “I’ll definitely wear ‘em for graduation.” Twenty-three years after Michael Jordan first laced up a fresh pair of Air Jordan 11s for a special occasion, the tradition lives on in a new generation.