The Story Behind The Air Jordan 11

December 04, 2022 by Joey Birch

The Story Behind The Air Jordan 11

Sitting among the pantheon of the top Air Jordan silhouettes in history is the Air Jordan 11. More of a diehard fan favourite when in comparison to its counterparts such as the Air Jordan 1, 3, and 4, the 11 remains an annual jewel in the crown of sneaker releases, usually appearing within the top 10 sneakers of the year upon its conclusion. 

Originally released in 1995, the Air Jordan 11 was arrived during a pivotal time in Michael Jordan’s career when he decided to return to the court following a brief two-year stint playing baseball. At the time MJ departed the NBA, the Air Jordan 9 was on the verge of release and would later be made into cleats and seen on the feet of the basketball player on a different sporting stage.

During his absence, Nike would continue to release the Air Jordan 10 despite its predecessor being met with a less-than-stellar response. Over the time Hatfield had spent with Michael Jordan designing most of the sneakers in his collection up until that point, starting with the Air Jordan 3, he had gained a close relationship with the sporting legend and understood what gave him the competitive drive that allowed him to stand above the rest.

With this in mind, he had a grudge that MJ would in fact return to the hardwood floor and got to work on a secret Air Jordan project titled ‘Jordan Beyond’. As the name suggests, the 'Beyond' took the design of the Air Jordan silhouette beyond previous iterations with the inclusion of a semi-translucent outsole in conjunction with a carbon fibre shank plate in addition to the biggest selling point - the wrap-around patent leather midsole. 

Before MJ was officially shown the sneaker in his Arizona apartment by the design team at Nike which consisted of Hatfield, Ken Black and Howard White, there were rumours that Tinker had already given MJ a sneak preview of the silhouette. In an interview with Highsnobiety, Black says: 

"We brought material swatches to give him a sense of what the garments would feel like. The sneaker was nowhere near complete and looked fairly different than the finished product. I am pretty sure Tinker had already shown a version of the shoe to MJ when the rest of us weren't there. This prototype was more about figuring out if the function and feel — like the wrapped collar — worked, and then adding in the graphics and identity to it”.

It was the story of the tuxedo that sold the shoe to MJ; Hatfield was able to perfectly intertwine high-end performance with an intricate design that allowed the sneaker to be worn both on and off the court. 

While Peter Moore (designer of the Air Jordan 1) and Bruce Kilgore (designer of the Air Force 1) had attempted a similar feat back in 1987 with the Air Jordan 2, combining luxury and performance, it was Tinker that managed to perfect the combination. 

And so, the conceptual ‘Jordan Beyond’, officially became the Air Jordan 11 and on the 18th of March 1995, MJ simply announced: “I’m Back”

Despite Jordan making his return to the court initially wearing the Air Jordan 10, he still managed to stun fans on the 7th of May 1995, taking them by surprise when he came out in the OG ‘Concord’ colourway of the 11s. 

At the time MJ hit the court in the then-latest Jordan model, the design hadn’t been cleared to wear, only going to show his passion behind the silhouette. Additionally, the rule-breaking didn’t end there. In the same way, he started, Jordan returned to the court and instantly received a fine from the NBA for going against the league’s playoff dress code with his predominantly white sneakers. The entrance was almost perfect, reflecting the events that led to the original Air Jordan 1 ‘Banned’ advert, one of the most iconic adverts of all time, 10 years prior. 

With star-struck crowds amazed at the return of the greatest sportsman back to his mainstage, keen sneakerheads were similarly as amazed as what was on foot and the love for the Air Jordan 11 was instantaneous. The popular response garnered two additional colourways including the iconic ‘Bred’ and the popular ‘Columbia’ in addition to two low-top variants of the performance shoe with a slightly altered design titled the Air Jordan 11 Low IE which saw minimal Jordan branding and both pairs seemingly referencing previous models such as the ‘Bred’ Air Jordan 1 and the Air Jordan 3 with the inclusion of the elephant print. 

Despite the additional colourways that ensued over 1996, MJ still chose to don the original ‘Concord’ throughout the ‘95-’96 season, a move that at the time seemed slightly left field with players changing sneakers almost every half. 

Following the four additional colourways of the Air Jordan 11 in 1996, it wasn’t until four years later that Jordan Brand would return to releasing further colourways with the debut of the Air Jordan 12 taking place just a year after the 11. 

2000-’01 saw 12 colourways and variants of the Air Jordan 11 release featuring a set of two-tone colourways in addition to snakeskin versions. The two-year period also debuted the first women’s exclusive sizes in conjunction with the return of the fan favourite ‘Columbia’ colourway and the introduction of the first ‘Cool Grey’. 

As years have gone past, the Air Jordan 11 has seen fewer and fewer releases each year, with most of the later releases focusing around bringing back original designs such as 2021’s ‘Cool Grey’. Nevertheless, the AJ11 did continue to represent key moments in pop culture with the release of the 2009 ‘Space Jam’ Air Jordan 11 seen donned by MJ himself in the cult classic 1996 film ‘Space Jam’. 

Since its release, the Air Jordan 11 has remained a fan favourite within the ever growing roster of silhouettes. As time has passed, so too has the fanfare surrounding the once mystifying model. Fans have since become accustomed to the classic December release which sees Jordan Brand provide a special pair, usually a retro of a past favourite. 

In the past two years, we’ve seen the return of the Air Jordan 11 ‘Jubilee’ in 2020 as well as the aforementioned fan favourite ‘Cool Grey’ in 2021. For 2022, Jordan Brand is serving up the ‘Varsity Red’, also known as ‘Cherry’, colourway. 

Featuring simple colour blocking, the ‘Cherry’ 11’s, set for official release on the 10th of December, include all the classic features that fans of the model would expect with a clean white midsole tying into the bright upper and lacing system boldly broken up by the infamous patent leather section wrapping around the shoe which matches the red sock liner and bold Jumpman logo on the heel. Sitting atop the similarly usual semi-translucent outsole moulded with red traction points and a red carbon fibre shank plate, the release is perfectly simple. 

The annual release of the Air Jordan 11, much like other sneaker traditions such as Air Max Day, is one that fans will revel in. For the latest news on Jordan Brand, keep it Kick Game