Ko Classic : Nike Air Jordan XI
Take a look back at a Classic review of a classic.
Read the review and find out why we think the answer is yes. by Professor K, posted July 26, 2000 There have been 15 shoes in the Air Jordan line to date and several have been, not only memorable, but historic. The Air Jordan I, Air Jordan V, and Air Jordan VI will likely be remembered as seminal works in the history of athletic shoe design. But of all of the Jordans released thus far, one best captures the essence of the man and his game and that shoe is the Air Jordan XI. The Nike Air Jordan XI was first released for the 1995 - 96 NBA season, Michael's first full season back in the NBA after his two year retirement. Many had felt that the Air Jordan line had begun to lose its way with a series of shoes, in the VII, VIII, and IX, that didn't match up to the previously released Air Jordan VI, and then there was the Air Jordan X, which many felt was the weakest release in the history of the Air Jordan line. With Michael rejuvinated and driven to return to his position atop the NBA, Nike provided him with a shoe that was up to the task and surpassed all that came before it, the Air Jordan XI. figure 1. The extensive use of patent leather makes the Air Jordan XI one of the most distinctive basketball shoes ever produced. Also visible above is the clear rubber outsole and the full-length carbon fiber "spring plate". While the Air Jordan XI made use of some design elements previously incorporated into the Air Jordan line, such as a clear rubber outsole and a speed lacing system, as a whole, the design was completely new, surprising, and a clear representation of Michael's sense of style. The element that stands out most is the extensive use of patent leather, wrapping over the toe and completely around the shoe. To our knowledge, no other athletic shoe had previously made use of patent leather. More than just a design element, the stiff patent leather also acts as a reinforcing element, providing the wearer with additional lateral support. While it is effective, the patent leather does not provide quite the level of support as modern day shoes using phylon (an example being the Nike Air Big Flyer Force) or TPU (an example being the Nike Air Pippen IV) in the midfoot and heel. There's no question, however, that the use of patent leather makes the Air Jordan XI a shoe that will attract attention. Whether this is a positive or a negative is for you to decide. The remainder of the upper is made of a ballistic nylon mesh. The upside of this is that the Jordan XI is a very light, comfortable shoe. The only downside is that, because the nylon mesh is very flexible, ankle support is not quite what it could be. Due to the high reach of the lacing system, it's still better than average, but an anti-inversion support would have made it excellent. Contributing to the overall support and stability of the Air Jordan XI is the full-length carbon fiber "spring plate." I believe that Nike refers to this device as a "spring plate" because it immediately "springs" back to its original shape after the forefoot area of the shoe is flexed (perhaps this was born out of Nike's continuing SHOX research). Unlike most other shoes which make use of carbon fiber as a midfoot support device, the carbon fiber plate in the Jordan XI runs all the way through the area of the forefoot which flexes. This means that the shoe is very stiff at the forefoot and is very difficult to flex by hand. Once on the foot, this really doesn't seem to be noticeable, but could possibly lead to more rapid foot fatigue. We also wonder if the carbon fiber, which is an extremely brittle material, would eventually crack after prolonged use. What we can say for certain is that in three test wearings the Air Jordan XIs offered excellent midfoot support and stability. figure 2. The speed lacing system makes lacing the Jordan XIs quick and easy, but if you want to maximize support and fit, make sure to lace them up tightly. Something that we can also say for certain is that the full-lenth Air-Sole unit in the Air Jordan XI does a great job of providing cushioning to both the forefoot and heel. We were actually somewhat surprised by the level of cushioning that the shoe provides. It may actually be a bit too soft for bigger/heavier players, but for guard and small forward-types, the amount of cushioning should feel great. Another aspect of the shoe that surprised us was its traction. We had been very disappointed by the traction, or lack thereof, of previous clear soled Air Jordan shoes (i.e. the Air Jordan V and VI), but we were happily surprised to find that the Air Jordan XIs provide very good traction. We can report, however, that one other negative characteristic of clear soled Jordans is carried over to the XIs, and that is that the clear portion of the outsoles yellows with exposure to the elements. Keeping the shoes in a box in a dark closet should slow the process, but if you actually want to wear the shoes this is somewhat impractical. figure 3. In our opinion the Air Jordan XI, more than any other shoe in the Air Jordan line, captures the soul and spirit of Michael Jordan. It's at once outlandish and understated, brash and refined. Appropriately enough, it is also one of the most coveted among collectors. To sum up, the Air Jordan XI Retro, moreso than any other Jordan Retro to date, delivers the goods, not only in terms of style, but also substance. The XI is a shoe that you could actually play a full game in and not feel like you wish you hadn't afterward (read our review of the Air Jordan VI Retro to see what we mean). Some may feel that the patent leather makes the shoe a bit too outlandish to wear in public, but others will love its distinctiveness. Whatever you think of its appearance, the Air Jordan XI Retro is a great performance shoe for guards or small forwards looking for a comfortable, light-weight, supportive shoe. Black/Varsity Royal-White Black/Varsity Red-White Medium Grey/White-Cool Grey White/Columbia Blue-Black