The date was October. 6, 1993. The best basketball player in the world, Michael Jordan, announced his retirement just three months removed from his father’s tragic death. Michael had lost the “sense of motivation, the sense to prove something as a basketball player.” Michael had already inquired to the Bulls (and Chicago White Socks) owner Jerry Reinsdorf that he had plans to pursue his father’s dream for him to play baseball.
The show had to go on for the Jordan Brand, as Tinker Hatfield had already started designing the next shoe in the line. The Air Jordan 9 was a celebration of sorts for Mike’s international legacy, with words like independence, freedom, athletic, and force inscribed on the sole in multiple languages. This unique traction contrasted the similar tech for the shoe, with Air units in the heel and forefoot and an inner bootie that was featured on the AJ8.
Unlike the Jordan 8, Michael did not wear the official Air Jordan 9 on an NBA court when the shoe launched in 1993. The shoe did appear in cleat form during Mike’s time behind the plate with the Birmingham Barons. Despite his retirement from the game, Nike still dropped commercials for the Jordan 9. The Jordan Brand played off of the retirement angle, claiming MJ disguised himself and had aliases like “Johnny Kilroy” and “Motorboat Jones” to still play ball around the world, as revealed by comedian Steve Martin:
In 2012, the Jordan Brand would play off these identities with six colorways for each of Jordan’s alter egos in the “Kilroy Pack.”
Michael would eventually don the black and white colorway on-court in the 1996 movie Space Jam. More than a decade after the initial release, MJ finally rocked the Air Jordan 9 on an NBA court, playing in the “Cool Grey” colorway as a Washington Wizard.