Tinker made them shine, Mike made them fly, you made them iconic.
This saying was plastered on every box of Air Jordan 11s released annually in December. There’s a reason why the AJ11 is the most produced and sold sneaker every year, moving hundreds of thousands of units each time the shoe releases. The shoe translated both on and off the court with the patent leather catching eyes wherever the Jordan 11 is worn.
The shoe almost never existed as Nike execs had told lead designer Tinker Hatfield to stop designing Air Jordans, as they did not anticipate Michael returning to the game. Hatfield continued on, combining Mike’s request for a “shiny shoe” with the philosophy of a lawnmower that he owned (that was clean up top and rugged on the bottom) to ideate the Air Jordan 11. Aside from the patent leather, the shoe features the strong and lightweight carbon fiber shank plate for added support. The shoe also featured lightweight Phylon and a full-length Air unit for a cushioned ride.
When Tinker first showed the AJ11 to Jordan, he was speechless. When Michael gathered his thoughts, he declared that “people will be wearing these with tuxedos.” Tinker laughed at that notion until it became reality three months later when R&B group Boyz II Men rocked them with suits at the American Music Awards. That night, Michael called up Tinker and told him “I told you so, -expletive-.”
Those words could also be linked to Michael’s comeback to basketball, as his first game back with the Bulls saw a lackluster performance from Jordan in a loss to the Pacers. Michael wore the Jordan 10 for the remaining games in the 1994-95 regular season. The plan was to wear the AJ10 throughout the playoffs as well, but Mike couldn’t control himself from debuting the shoes in game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Orlando Magic. Mike debuted the “Concord” colorway for game 1 and 2 then slipped on Penny Hardaway’s Flight One for game 3. Jordan later wore the Black and Concord AJ11 for game 4, as described by analyst (and close friend to Jordan) Ahmad Rashad:
This shoe would later be dubbed as the “Space Jam” colorway, as Mike rocked the sneaker at the climax of that movie. The Bulls would end up losing to the Magic that season, but came back rejuvenated for the 1995-96 campaign. Jordan rocked the 11s throughout that 72-10 regular season and won every major accolade in the shoe including All-Star MVP, regular season MVP, Finals MVP, All-NBA first team, All-Defensive first team, and his fourth championship.
Mike and Tinker would later express their love for the Jordan 11, citing the sneaker as one of their favorite models in the entire Air Jordan line.