The first time I ever saw Michael Jordan play, he was wearing the Air Jordan X. I was in second grade and the best player in the world was all that mattered.
Looking back on it now, it’s hard to fathom how someone could have such an undeniable impact on a nine-year-old kid. But it happened. Michael Jordan changed my life. And when he returned to the NBA on March 19, 1995, it changed everyone.
Ironically, when Jordan came back to Chicago for the first time you would’ve expected something revolutionary or mind-bending on his feet. Instead we got the Air Jordan X, a relatively tame sneaker for a line as trendsetting as this one. In the end, it would be swallowed by the hype around the Jordan XI, yet that should never cause us to lose focus on what made the X special, and on why you should be copping the “Bulls Over Broadway” Air Jordan X colorway that’s dropping at Champs Sports this Saturday.
Just like the Air Jordan XI, we can thank Tinker Hatfield for this shoe. He not only designed it, but he designed it believing MJ would never set foot in the NBA again. Not only did that affect the makeup of the shoe — the outsole plays like an ode to Mike, with all of his accomplishments — it also helped spawn the vaunted City Series. Without Mike around to actually wear the sneaker in the NBA, Nike released colorways for Miami/Chicago, Sacramento, New York, Seattle, Orlando, and even North Carolina. The white/black/red edition that Jordan would later wear in his return to the NBA, and what would eventually become the “Chicago” edition, actually started as a player exclusive for Harold Miner, one of the first “next Jordans.” Scottie Pippen eventually wore it for the Bulls. (Who remembers that classic image of Pippen pointing to his Jordan X sole and wagging his finger at the camera, begging Mike to come back?) The rest of the colorways all found homes within the league with Mitch Richmond (Sacramento – the white pair), Hubert Davis (New York), Kendall Gill (Seattle), and Nick Anderson (Orlando). The North Carolina edition was, predictably, worn by Tar Heel players.
By the time spring rolled around, baseball was in a lockout and Michael Jordan was lost. He started coming back to Bulls practices, started playing B.J. Armstrong one-on-one, and before you knew it the rumors were starting. March 19 in Indiana marked a new era in the NBA and even though Jordan shot 7-for-28 in his first game back as No. 45, he’d already made his presence known with Nike. And with Tinker.
During a normal design process for one of his signature sneakers, Nike always had Mike sign off on the final design. It made sense. But with the X he wasn’t around as often. He was busy playing baseball. When he eventually showed up and saw that Nike and Tinker had released the shoe with a leather toe cap, he immediately shut it down. Hated it. The “Steel” colorway had already hit the public but from that point on, Jordan told them to ditch the toe cap. They did, and the shoe was better for it. The lesson learned: Always trust MJ.
The sneaker also featured ghillie lacing and the aforementioned outsole, which spotlighted all of the amazing career achievements of the most talented basketball player ever, including the 1985 Rookie of the Year, his 63 points in the playoffs against the Celtics in 1986, the ’87 scoring title, the ’88 Slam Dunk Champion, the 1989 All-Defensive Team, his career-high 69 against Cleveland in 1990, and the 1991 NBA championship and Finals MVP, a feat he repeated the following two years. It was also the first sneaker in the Jordan line to have a lightweight phylon midsole. During the process, Tinker took pieces from the Jordan III, V, and VI.
On the court, MJ wore these sneakers for 21 games: 17 to end Chicago’s regular season and the first four games of the playoffs against the Hornets. He had some impressive moments, too, dropping a double-nickel in the “Chicago” X against the Knicks in only his fifth game back from retirement, and later opening up the playoffs with 48 points in a win over Charlotte in the “Shadow” X. The only problem was the Bulls lost in the second round of the playoffs against Orlando, and even by that point Jordan had seen the Jordan XI, fallen in love with the patent leather masterpiece, and ditched the X before it had run its course. In this regard, the shoe is somewhat of a lovable runt of the litter, the Jon Snow of the Jordan line.
The Air Jordan X wasn’t retroed until 10 years later when, in 2005, fans went crazy. The shoe was also a hit with the next generation, with a few of the returning originals flanked with new colorways like the vaunted “Ice Blue” and the “Varsity Red.” This red edition actually dropped during September of my freshman year of college. Even at that time, sneakerheads were still doing whatever they could to get their hands on a pair. I know. I remember. My roommate was one of those people.
It may not have the legacy of the sneaker that replaced it, but the X is still a versatile masterpiece that should have a place in any sneakerhead’s rotation.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney